The need for a diversified curriculum

Interdisciplinary

In 2010, Steve Jobs famously mused that for technology to be truly brilliant, it must be coupled with artistry. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he said. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” So true does it seem so long as we take innovation as an art instead of a job.

Our world is changing — economically, socially, and politically. We have reached a stage in India where our students have started viewing the world differently and their place in it as thinkers, decision makers and important stakeholders. To meet the challenges ahead, we’ll need help from a broad range of non-technological innovators, including economists, political scientists, psychologists and artists.

As the contemporary world becomes more complex, we need an education setup that caters to this diversity not only in terms of challenges but also in the ways to address them. It is time, therefore, that we accepted and embraced the crucial contribution that an education in liberal arts provides in building a new innovation agenda in the country.

The move to strengthen the liberal arts offering in our colleges  should not be at the cost of traditional science and technology subjects. It is not about replacing one model of education with another, but  aimed at diversifying curricula and learning experiences to better meet the varied needs of students.

Reasonable exposure

The essential interdisciplinary character of an education in liberal arts provides students the necessary exposure to the multifaceted character of human nature. Alongside science and engineering fields, reasonable exposure to subjects across other major streams considerably increases the awareness of disparate domains of knowledge that would ordinarily remain totally alien to students of traditional single-stream system. The ongoing digital revolution will make this exploration between technology and liberal arts obvious for the next generation.

A growing testament to the new dictum is that thinking will be now more important than knowing. We need to revolutionise education to encourage creativity and need to teach our boys and girls to play, take a chance and create. By not teaching liberal arts to our students, we will hinder their capacity to innovate.

Innovation by its very nature has to be disruptive, exciting, and backed by enthusiasm and a will to succeed. The risks involved are mostly personal as well as
institutional. It is the liberal arts that trains students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the technology sector where few things are black and white. In the dynamic environment of the technology sector, there isn’t always one right answer when you make decisions.

How correct one is depends upon many factors  and situations that make the decision relatively correct or otherwise. An interdisciplinary background in liberal arts education becomes useful at such junctures.

The educational and the subsequent employment landscape in the country is undergoing rapid and unpredictable changes.

While an education in science and technology does give the technological know-how and the capacity to be innovative, it is the grounding in liberal arts that provides the temperament and drive to integrate and apply the scientific knowledge to real-world work settings. 

India has embarked upon a series of innovations across the country’s higher education sector to broaden opportunities for students, and prepare them to navigate and thrive in an increasingly uncertain and complex world. Equipping students with the environment and infrastructure they need to develop their innovation potential is now an essential element of a university education. It also opens up numerous possibilities for young graduates to strive, innovate and succeed. This is the generation of critical thinkers and problem-solvers that will help carve India’s innovation future.

(The author is associate dean – faculty of liberal education, FLAME University, Pune)

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