Liberal Arts Important To College Education

The democratization of education coupled with the exigencies of economic survival has necessitated training in specific practical skills to secure one’s future.

The purpose of education has been debated for centuries and continues to be relevant today. The advantage of an education, historically, was confined to a select, privileged few. Its purpose included instruction in the practice of religion and its rituals and to impart trade skills that were necessary for economic well-being. The immensely influential Greek philosopher Plato, who deliberated on the meaning and purpose of education, believed in a tiered system where at the elementary level music and literature would be taught for refinement of the character along with physical training which lent grace and good health to the body. To those who demonstrated exceptional ability, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and dialectics was taught and honed over the years with multiple exit points for students based on their levels of achievement and would move on to serve in business, trades, military, courts etc.  The ones who reached the highest level of academic achievement would be philosopher-kings, lead the government, and work for the advancement of knowledge. This education focused on holistic development of the individual by preparing them to address the challenges of life and lead a life of happiness and fulfillment.

The democratization of education coupled with the exigencies of economic survival has necessitated training in specific practical skills to secure one’s future.  But the price one pays for this uni-disciplinary approach is a total absence of understanding of the multiple perspectives that inform a subject. Non practical skill based courses too suffer from the same malaise. This leads to ill-equipped students who are unable to deal with the pace of obsolescence and update their repository of skills to meet the demands of the new. 

Liberal education seeks to address these inadequacies and more. Like Plato’s ideas, it goes beyond the current and seeks to develop habits of life-long learning that enables students to pick up skills that addresses the demands of the future. Liberal education hones the ability to think critically and effectively. It enables intellectual growth by application of these skills to examine, analyse and synthesize information obtained from multiple sources and demands that every issue or problem be informed by inter-disciplinary perspectives. It provides exposure to all aspects of human knowledge and affords an opportunity to make an in-depth study of a subject.  It educates students by giving them the fundamental tools and techniques, borrowed from multiple disciplines that can be used in any stream of human endeavor. Students have the opportunity to engage in academic programs across cognate areas, which is not always possible in the traditional higher education system. At FLAME University, students can choose to specialize in two different areas. This provision allows students to balance their divergent interests by exploring the Social Sciences or Business along with coursework in the Humanities or even the Physical and Natural Sciences. It also allows them to combine programs with a research and academic focus such as International Studies and Psychology, with programs that involve more hands-on professional training in Mass Media such as Marketing, Advertising & Branding, Film & TV etc. Students can also choose to complete an independent research project which presents students with an opportunity to either focus on that specific discipline or to identify areas of intersection between their major and minor and raise related questions, or a course in economics may look at the impact of profit motives on the environment and the ethical questions that such a pursuit raises. Some interesting combinations include a major in Psychology and a minor in Music, or a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Public Policy. 

The structure of the liberal education program involves breadth and depth of study. Breadth of study allows students to explore different disciplines before making a decision about their specialization. The breadth of study that students are exposed to encompasses the essentials of liberal education. It includes foundation courses whose aim is to equip students with the basic tools of logical and critical reasoning, strengthen their written and oral communication skills, expose the students to develop an understanding of human society and culture and the forces that influence their evolution and development, provide an overview of the theories, principles and facts of our understanding of the material world around us, teach the students to speak in multiple tongues  for effective communication in an increasingly globalized world and develop their aesthetic sensibilities in the fine and performing arts.  This is achieved by placing it in a multi-disciplinary framework. 

The philosophy of liberal education is at the core of higher education in the United States. In a recent Forbes guest column, Steve Sadove, former Chairman and CEO of Saks Incorporated, writes, “A 2014 study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found that liberal arts majors earn more than most professional majors at their peak earnings ages. It also has been reported that a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees.” In India, there are very few liberal education universities like FLAME. The truly liberal education focused universities concentrate on developing abilities to communicate clearly and effectively through writing and speaking which is essential for success. Their programs go beyond intellectual achievement and seek to inculcate the values of good citizenship and to realize the potential of the individual. They aim to nurture sensitive, informed, ethical, and responsible global citizens who use knowledge to bring about positive change in society. They are transformative in their approach with by providing opportunities for the practice of leadership. 

To sum up, with its focus on the cultivation of habits of learning, critical thinking, communication and good citizenship, liberal education seeks to hedge the danger of the irrelevancy of conventional education to address the problems of the future and provides a framework for success in career and happiness in life.

*Dr. Santosh Kudtarkar is Associate Dean – Faculty of Liberal Education, FLAME University 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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