Rinku Khumukcham

Holistic development of students without the study of humanities not possible

Written By: / Articles / Saturday, 14 January 2023 17:15

A few minutes into a discussion to convince the head of a private university in India about the importance of restructuring the language curriculum, I realised he had programming languages in mind, while human languages were my concerns. He dismissed the discussion by stating “as I always think about significant things like ‘these’ (these being C, C++, JAVA, and PYTHON), I didn’t understand that you’re talking about English and French”. By then I was familiar with the ecosystem of Science & Technology (S&T) institutes and was not surprised by the elitist attitude underlined by the use of the word ‘significant’ and the subservient reality that faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) were subjected to.
As John Hildebidle says it is not easy to establish the relevance of the “innumerate mole” called humanities in the ‘techno-jungles’ of science and technology institutes.
For some, humanities and social sciences are subjects that are shallow which encourage research without producing any visible outputs. For many, HSS is a service department and the faculty of HSS can teach anything other than Sciences, Maths and Technology. Many of them do not even distinguish between the numerous disciplines that exist under the umbrella term humanities and social sciences, thereby over-generalising the concept of ‘specialisation’.
Those who fail to understand the actual role of humanities or liberal arts in education consider this discipline, says John Hildebidle, as a “blend of providing a way for high-powered scientific workers to relax and offering some ill-defined moral instruction. “S&T counterparts of humanities often wonder what these fascinating topics are researched in an HSS department without producing tangible output. They question, as Pramod K. Nayar rightly points out, the social usefulness of the humanities stream and the research by evaluating them in terms of the contribution to the society, to the knowledge community and to the parent institute. The touchstone here is the measurable, laboratory-based, experimental research framework that generates concrete results. The intellectual labour that the HSS faculty and scholars undertake becomes incomprehensible as there is usually a complete closure to anything that cannot be objectively measured, quantified and experienced.
Humanities departments in S&T institutes are an overlooked entity as they are forced to fit within the criteria that are designed for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) departments. As Costa underscores, by ignoring the specificities of humanities discipline, the system forces the department to belong to the evaluation framework designated for the STEM departments. This results in diminished social impact and deviation in research orientation in the field of humanities.
The architecture of the S&T institutes in terms of documentation is not conducive for the needs of research in humanities.
After all, what could go under ‘consumables’ when a researcher in literature submits a project proposal!
Structurally, HSS department exists as a stand- alone entity inside the vistas of an S&T institute. By no means can one argue that humanities discipline produces morally sound and ethically perfect humans.
The conversation between Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore on the nature of reality back in 1930 is worth mentioning here. True genius sees beyond the superficial and understands the obscurities and impossibilities in offering definite characteristics to the phenomenon called ‘truth’. Towards the end of a series of interesting exchanges about spirituality and scientific truth, about the abstract and the concrete, Einstein said to Tagore: “Then I am more religious than you”.
The scientific temperament which endorses the importance of finding truth through objective, experimental, scientific method also values the abstract, philosophical, subjective positionality that thinkers absorb in their process of finding truth. The reality in the present world is worrying though. Perceptions and perspective generation are not given importance in the S&T Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as the focus is more on product than the process. The pursuit of absolute truth often becomes a pseudo search because researchers fail to understand the ultimate goal of any research: the common good of humanity.
While discussing the distinction between education for profit making and that for a more inclusive type of citizenship, Martha Nussbaum foregrounds the role of humanities in enabling democracies to deal responsibly with the global challenges.
It is through the learning of literature, liberal arts, and languages that students develop their perspectives and acknowledge diversity that exists in a multicultural world in which they function. Of course, studying/researching the STEM subjects is important as it helps create a world that is worthy of living as Jared van Duinen maintains; but human imagination and higher order thinking skills were the pivotal factors that triggered all inventions and discoveries. The fast-developing framework of Design Thinking emphasises the role of creativity and critical thinking. Artists and nuclear physicists are collaborating in the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. Various S&T institutes have gradually begun to recognise the value of humanities and allied disciplines. IIT Gandhinagar established a Centre for Creative Learning back in 2017 and in the first week of October 2022, by integrating Art into the STEM stream, a STEAM mission was announced to educate over 1 million children in India.
This transformation from STEM to STEAM is still not recognised by many S&T institutes in India even when they endeavour to implement the new education policy - NEP 2020 — that emphasises the importance of humanities in all disciplines.
Haim Ginott, a holocaust survivor and an educational psychologist, in his famous work writes to the teachers: “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, and educated Eichmanns.” Global citizenship, multicultural competencies, higher order thinking skills and 21st century skills are all aligning well with the humanities discipline and without recognising the quality research that is definitely interdisciplinary in nature and the teaching that focuses on the philosophy, ethics and the very art of living, S&T institutes will not be able to foster holistic development of their student community.

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About the Author

Vijay Garg

Vijay Garg

Vijay Garg is a regular contributor of Imphal Times, mostly related with Education. Vijay is a resident of Street Kour Chand MHR Malout-152107 Distt Sri Muktsar sahib Punjab. Vijay Garg, Ex.PES-1 is a retired Principal from Government Girls Sen Sec school Mandi Harji Ram Malout -152106 Punjab. He is also the author of Quantitative Aptitude, NTSE , NMMS, Mathematics of XII, ICSE numerical physics and chemistry many more books.

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