Are We Ready for a Liberal Arts Education?

A couple of weeks ago, Dr Tony Tan broached the idea of having a liberal arts programme for undergraduates in our local universities. While this is not exactly a new concept, a reader of the Straits Times wrote in to ask a pertinent question: Is Singapore society ready for the consequences?

On the surface, it seems like this is a programme whose time has come (some say, even one that is long overdue). Those who have gone through a liberal arts education in the US claim that there are many benefits of the programme including increasing one’s self-esteem, opening minds to more possibilities, and being more creative. Indeed, Singapore’s education system, while often lauded for producing high achievers in Maths and Science, has also frequently been criticized for its narrow, over-emphasis on memorization and rote-learning. As the reader notes, Singaporeans work hard, but not creatively; we can memorise our job routines well, but lack the capacity to rise above pre-taught instructions.

But it is towards the end of the letter that the reader raises this issue: that when the creative bend of liberal arts graduates start to challenge traditional ways of doing things by employers, how will a conservative, hierarchical culture respond? Will we as a society be able to ‘tolerate’ such talented but unconventional individuals? To me, this is the crux of the issue. More than just being about our education system, it also forces us to re-examine our willingness to accept different perspectives and ideas that do not always necessarily fit the standard molds that we have been used to for so long.

How you can use this blog entry:

Paper 1 (Education, Singapore society)

Paper 2 (AQ – Singapore’s education system, work culture)

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~ by irwin on May 17, 2010.

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