Liberal arts education is a system that allows students the liberty to select their degree plan according to their choice. Courses from any field could be taken irrespective of the intended/ selected major. Liberal arts education mechanism promotes diversity of fields, and acts as a great instrument to promote humanities. It makes a student an all-rounder, as any university that follows a liberal arts education system makes it compulsory for its students to take courses from a diverse range of fields including natural sciences, mathematics, social sciences, linguistics, etc.

In today’s world, liberal education is not being given its due status due to the prevailing animal nature of human beings-herd behavior. People consider taking majors related to computer sciences, engineering or medical – the ones which imparts technical skills, leading directly to the job market. Liberal education is not getting enough support from civil activists, as the conservative elements  consider it too liberal and the liberals consider it elitist-to be  precise, an expensive luxury. The general notion is that it will take a huge sum of money to create a psychology graduate who will be of no use. The same thought were shared by President Barack Obama in a speech delivered in January 2014. He said, “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree”. However, he later apologized for this statement.

In order to understand the importance of the aforementioned system, it is pertinent to trace its history. Liberal arts education was formally introduced by the Romans, when they were experimenting with a governing system now known as ‘democracy’. Twenty five hundred years ago, they realized that people who need to govern themselves must be taught the art of governance, hence liberal education was born. Before this event, people were only physically trained to survive and to serve the empire. There was this great debate in Greece between Plato  and Isocrates, as Plato along with the support of Aristotle saw  education as a search for truth; whereas, Isocrates considered  education as a skill to make a good living.

The Islamic civilizations, which ruled the middle ages, were keen followers of the idea of liberal education. There were hundreds of madrasas (schools) where music, religion, politics, history and science were taught collectively. This comprehensive learning-what the actual essence of liberal education is- resulted in the breakthrough in the field of mathematics, physics and biology. The examples of Algebra and Algorithms invented by Muslim scholars are quite prominent.

Liberal education has three main grooming facilities to offer. In the first place, it teaches one to write- expressing the actual thoughts rather than reproducing the crammed material. In order to write differently, thinking has to be done on the same pattern. Secondly, it imparts public speaking skills in students, as there are compulsory courses specifically designed to teach the said subject; additionally, there are class participation points and presentations in every course- irrespective of the discipline. Lastly, it allows freedom of ideas. Students are allowed to challenge the prevailing, traditional narratives. This enables them to raise questions and have opposing views. This practice teaches them the skill of critical analysis, which could be used in every field of life.

Liberal education system allows an opportunity for academic cross training, as students are required to take courses from the disciplines other than their major. For instance, a business major is bound to take a course from the sociology department. This activity prevents over-specialization and imparts a diverse skill set in every student, which sets them apart from the traditional lot. It further allows them an opportunity to explore other disciplines. A recent study revealed that humanities students from liberal education systems are more likely to pursue PHDs in natural sciences.

The modern world of today requires unconventional ways to solve problems. In the ongoing era, there is Google to find out formulas & theories, which were earlier required to be rote learned. The technology is there to be used further by defining the needs of people. In this regard, Mark Zuckerberg stated, “Facebook is as much psychology and sociology as it is technology”. A silicon venture capitalist recently presented a research that machines will reduce the need for human resource. He divided the job market into three segments. The first one is the service industry that includes house cleaning, assistance services, sales etc which cannot be fully replaced by machines. The second industry contains data processing jobs including accounting, insurance recording etc- this industry is being taken by the machines. The last category is the one that requires critical thinking skills; these are the jobs which confront un-programmed decisions, produce creative content and require capability to create new systems.

The success of liberal education system is evident from a very simple case: British universities vs. American universities. The latter are light years ahead to the former because they did not stick to the traditional yet conservative ideology of education- same is the case with the Asian world. Fareed Zakaria narrates his encounter with the education minister of Singapore. He inquired why Singapore was not more successful than the US despite scoring more on the international test charts. The minister replied: “We both have meritocracies; yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well like creativity, curiosity a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America.”

Liberal arts education system invites intellectual curiosity which leads to innovation and the uplift of humanitarian values. John Adams wrote during the American Revolution, “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics, philosophy, geography, natural history & commerce to give their children a right to study paining, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.” The world has had enough people who possess the crammed knowledge of skilled subjects; it is now time to move towards a brighter arena.


About Author

Abdul Haadi Khawaja is a student enrolled at Forman Christian College University, pursuing majors in Finance and Mass Communication. He is affiliated with multiple societies and is currently on the Dean's list of honour. His emphasis of work lie on history and the contemporary affairs of Pakistan.

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