Education in the Liberal Arts is rapidly becoming the thinking individual’s academic pursuit of choice, superseding traditional qualifications that can be more unidimensional. What does it offer that makes it uniquely suited to the changing landscapes of society today? How does it hold up to the world of tomorrow and the challenges it will present? Here’s how a Liberal Arts education is poised to recreate societal perspectives and act as the perfect toolset in navigating an ever-evolving world.
An Introduction to Liberal Arts
It is paramount, to begin with, what a Liberal Arts education entails, since many are often unaware of the scope of a liberal arts education or construe it as being relevant to political beliefs. In reality, an education in the liberal arts may span a wide variety of subjects and interests, from STEM subjects to philosophy and the creative arts. Neither is the inclusion of the word “liberal” pertinent to a particular political stance, instead it seeks to represent a liberation of thought. A Liberal Arts education helps to diversify an individual’s knowledge across multiple disciplines. In doing so, one learns to not only consolidate a knowledge base pertaining to their interests, but also think in myriad ways.
For instance, to a purely STEM major the benefits of analysis and inquiry in a subject such as history may not be readily apparent. A student, however, who pursues STEM subjects as a part of his liberal arts curriculum will soon grapple with the realisation that the thought processes of one subject do not transfer easily to another. The sciences demand accuracy, hypotheses, and exact proofs, whilst a subject like history require being able to look through another’s eyes and an acceptance that there might not always be a right answer to how a situation played out. Literature requires more abstract thought and creativity, while psychology and philosophy help students in understanding people, and themselves, better. Pursuing a liberal arts education in India has more than a few benefits.
Giving Society Better Thinkers
The variance promoted by an education in the liberal arts nurtures lateral thinking in an individual, and enables them to use more than one approach while finding solutions to problems. The outcome is having individuals in society who can apply knowledge and strategies that span lessons from different domains of academia; offering perspectives that are often unique and out of the box. On a neurobiological level, exposure to multiple disciplines requires different kinds of thinking, promoting intellectual growth that can be transferable to a number of real-life situations.
Infusing individuals into society who have been challenged to develop multifaceted intelligence promotes in-depth conversations and unorthodox perspectives to long-standing issues. The results can be applied in places ranging from boardrooms to coffee tables. Social perspectives can then evolve to accommodate new and unexplored lines of thought.
As a famous literary detective once said of his brother, Mycroft Holmes, “We will suppose that a minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question; he could get his separate advices from various departments upon each, but only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other. They began by using him as a short-cut, a convenience; now he has made himself an essential.”
The Importance of Soft Skills in a Highly Connected World
Traditionally, deep domain expertise has been the most important predictor of success in a career. In-depth knowledge of the technicalities of one’s work and the factors that affect it has always been a fairly accurate gauge of achieving success. The advent of greater connectivity in the world and the evolution of society over time has now brought other factors into play, such as the importance of better interpersonal communication and soft skills. These form a large part of what prospective employers look for today, because of the high likelihood of interaction with other people of various backgrounds, personalities and cultures.
The emphasis of liberal arts courses on soft skills results in students being able to write well, construct coherent arguments, as well as process, retain, and apply the information they have read. It enables one to acknowledge diversity in people and thinking due to the spectrum of subjects one is exposed to. It is a microcosm of the modern workspace in terms of diversity, and has a greater likelihood of furnishing the requisite soft skills and communication expertise to an individual.
As George Calhoun writes for Forbes, “When I speak to the firms that hire my students, and I ask them what skill set they are looking for, at the top of their list are what they call the soft skills.”
Eradicating Intolerance and Narrow Mindedness in Society
Open-mindedness and empathy are the bedrock of forming professional and personal equations in society. In sections of the populace and the world that display intolerance towards other individuals living differently from theirs, a comprehensive education would do much to remedy the turmoil that results from a lack of understanding. In many parts of the world today, whether it be at the workplace or in society, discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, race, and religious beliefs remains an impediment to optimal productivity and interpersonal cohesion.
The benefit of a liberal arts education specifically is that it encompasses a wide expanse of subjects that promote an in-depth appreciation of rationality and one’s broader relationship with the world. Such an approach does not leave much room for intolerance, bigotry, and hatred, but instead promotes careful analysis, a challenging of what is established as fact, and a willingness to alter preconceived notions based on the emergence of new evidence.
As Zena Hitz writes in The New Statesman, “Reading, studying, and learning have the power to liberate us from the effects of prejudice and oppression so often built into the structures of work and wealth.”
Understanding Socioeconomic Systems with Greater Clarity
One of the benefits a liberal arts education confers is compassion arising from a deep understanding of social and ecological issues. In a nation that has been struck hard by the Covid 19 virus, especially sections of the populace that relied exclusively on daily wages, the importance of a holistic education that enquires deeply and tries to understand living circumstances outside one’s own cannot be understated.
As most liberal arts programs involve some form of fieldwork, students come face to face with understanding the trials of living under different socioeconomic conditions. They are encouraged to apply their problem-solving skills to issues arising from poor economic conditions. They must then utilise teamwork and leadership where appropriate to develop sustainable and practical solutions. This fosters in them a wide-ranging and personal awareness of how life can be challenging for different strata of society and imbues a big picture mindset. Educated in this manner, students are aptly placed to apply their problem-solving skills and real-world understanding of socio-economic issues to aid the nation.
In the long run, society receives better leaders, better team players, and professionals who are not caught up in theoretical answers, but instead rely on their real-world experiences to make holistic decisions.
It is common knowledge that vast parts of education systems around the world still rely on rote learning and outdated systems of teaching that do not translate well into real-life competence. Instead of equipping students with practical know-how, formulaic and insipid academia produces graduates that can only perform adequately inside of specific systems and even then not to their full potential. This is not just prevalent in state and government schools, but also in STEM majors and degree colleges across the country and the world.
In a study published in the Nature journal, it was found that STEM undergraduates from Russia, China, and India lacked critical thinking skills as compared to their United States counterparts. While the outcome of such a study is undoubtedly dependent on multiple variables, it does help highlight that academic systems require strategic review and upkeep in order to provide students with an education that does not falter with the march of time, instead adapting to meet the demands of a changing world. Foremost among the needs of such a world is the development of intellect that is not limited to a handful of scenarios.
A liberal arts education addresses these systemic deficiencies by furnishing critical thinking skills and promoting an interconnected knowledge base as discussed earlier. While technological and science subjects often require frequent updating and constant learning, the perspectives, real-world application, and thought methodologies conferred by a liberal arts education can often be timeless. This further demonstrates the value of having more breadth of knowledge across academic disciplines over depth of knowledge in one field, as it provides the base for longevity of one’s academic proficiency. With the impending rise of automation and artificial intelligence, the ability to think independently, critically, and uniquely is a skill that will likely have a lot of takers.
Unpredictability and the Tools to Tackle it
The biggest lesson from the global pandemic was that anticipating the future and planning only in a linear manner for one’s personal and professional life can be a futile task. One must instead seek to develop preparedness that holds one in good stead regardless of external circumstances.
A report posted by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workforce transitions and the need for the acquisition of additional skills are set to rise significantly following the Covid pandemic. In such scenarios, individuals capable of quickly adapting to new situations, assimilating requisite talents in a short span of time, and possessing a broad spectrum of prior skills will have a significant advantage over the rest. As Lynn Pasquerella writes for Harvard Business Review, “Employers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning and cross-cutting skills as the best preparation for long term career success.”
A liberal arts education goes further than traditional academia in providing a strong base for adaptability. With the average of career changes per person rising in recent years, having skills that can apply across the board in multiple positions will be essential. It is plausible that such individuals would form a stable fulcrum for the rest of society in the event of sudden global and environmental changes.
The advantages provided by a liberal arts education vary significantly from narrow academic doctrines. In the past, a liberal arts education was considered the domain of a dilettante, lacking enough return on investment to be seriously considered as an academic pursuit. But, with the demands placed on new graduates and working professionals for more integrative knowledge, seems to be changing. Now, the opportunities available to a student of the liberal arts are varied and rewarding.
On a societal basis, an individual, who learns across multiple disciplines, is capable of analytical thinking, operating with broad-mindedness and empathy, will always be highly sought after. With more men and women who stand for rationality, imagination, and wisdom gleaned from different sources, the hope remains that society is spurred into evolving along with the same principles. The liberal arts shall therefore help herald a new societal perspective over the course of time that will only prove beneficial to the human race.
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