The Allure of Liberal Arts
It is rare for one to pick up a Pakistani newspaper and not find a piece about the issues of education. Almost everything about this topic has been discussed at length, sometimes by students themselves, and sometimes by established scholars. Before we dive into how liberal arts education is beneficial for Pakistan, let us see what it actually is.
Liberal arts education is an approach to learning that emphasizes broad knowledge and skills, rather than specialized career training. It often includes a variety of topics in the humanities and social sciences, such as literature, history, philosophy, foreign languages, art history and culture, communication studies, political science, and economics.
In addition to the core courses, many liberal arts colleges around the world offer courses in physical and natural sciences. Liberal arts education encourages students to develop creative and critical thinking skills through exposure to various disciplines, which is the ultimate goal of this learning.
By taking classes from multiple areas of study, students gain a greater understanding of their world and their place within it. This type of education helps them think critically about complex issues so that they can make informed decisions in the future. As it is clear here, this is not a kind of education that revolves around some specific career or field. It helps students across multiple careers and in their lives generally, as the things it teaches are universal to all human societies.
Flaws in Pakistani Education
Most of us in Pakistan are familiar with our education system, one that is largely focused on acquiring material wealth and security (and that too in a naïve way). Our nation seems to be quite obsessed with the ideas of safety and stability in life, even though such things always elude the majority of our people paradoxically.
It is this simplistic thinking which says that a certain degree in a popular field (business, computer science, medicine, etc.) would be enough to lead a “respectable life”. However, this narrow approach to life can lead to a generation of young people who lack the skills needed for creative or critical work, putting limits to the success that they can achieve in the global corporate sector. This also hinders them from having diverse, meaningful, and enriching life experiences.
I see a liberal arts education as an antidote to this issue, providing students with the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects and develop a broad range of skills. Such an educational path can help create well-rounded citizens who are better prepared to face the challenges that come their way.
The Fifth Industrial Revolution
The nature of jobs around the world is changing rapidly. AI like ChatGPT is increasingly becoming a part of all industries, from finance to manufacturing, and the number of jobs affected by automation is only growing. Automated processes are taking over many of the mundane, repetitive tasks that once had to be done manually, freeing up employees to focus on higher-level problem-solving and analysis—skills that can be learned through a liberal arts education.
Companies today need employees who can think critically and creatively about complex situations; they need individuals who have strong communication skills as well as an understanding of different cultures and perspectives. A liberal arts education provides students with these abilities and helps them develop the critical thinking skills that employers value in their workforce.
The modern corporate world also requires agility—the ability to rapidly adjust to changing circumstances. Liberal arts students often come out with an understanding of the world, as well as a broader view and appreciation for different cultures. This opens up opportunities to collaborate across countries and industries, essential in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.
Religious and Cultural Heterogeneity
A liberal arts education can prove to be invaluable for students in the corporate world, but its benefits go far beyond that. It has the potential to drastically improve their lives on both a personal and social level by encouraging them to embrace diversity and inclusivity.
In our society, narrow-mindedness and tribalism based on religious beliefs, ethnicity, or family affiliations are pervasive. Through the study of different perspectives, young people can break free from such limiting identities and gain a broader view of the world. They will learn that there is no one right way of seeing things. A liberal arts education would also help them to let go of conformism, the very malady which ruined our education system in the first place.
Young people can be inspired to think and act independently, to stand up for ideas they believe in regardless of their unpopularity. This will enhance their creative problem-solving abilities, which are essential skills in any field. On a personal level, the liberal arts curriculum encourages students to develop self-awareness and cultivate strong critical thinking skills.
Students will also learn how to interact with others more effectively and become more open-minded about different cultural backgrounds or ways of doing things. All the above components add up to create an educated individual equipped with both hard skills and soft skills that can excel in today’s globalized world.
It is not the case that liberal arts education does not exist in Pakistan. It does so, but mostly only in private universities which are simply out of the financial reach of Pakistan’s vast majority. The government needs to take the lead in addressing this issue by making sure that liberal arts education is accessible and affordable for all. This can be done through providing subsidies or grants to public universities, as well as incentivizing private institutions to open their doors to students from low-income backgrounds.
Independent individuals can also play a part in helping to spread the availability of liberal arts education. They could donate funds, volunteer at educational institutions, or even develop programs specifically tailored to bringing this kind of education into rural communities.
In conclusion, it is evident that Pakistan needs a liberal arts education system in order to form well-rounded, enlightened individuals who are capable of living and working in a multiethnic world. This would benefit not only our students but also the corporate world and society at large. By embracing this holistic approach to education, we will open up a much brighter future for our children.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.