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In praise of integrated education system

Remember graduating high school with a question – ‘Now what?’

Well, seems like there’s really a solution that only needs access and penetration into the educational systems of the nation. There aren’t many high schools in Bhutan that teach subjects like Psychology or Politics, so when a student signs up for a Bachelor’s Degree in such a subject, she is unaware of what is to come his or her way. Students who are clueless about choosing an honours subject need directions. Imagine if you could actually be introduced to an arena of different disciplines and were walked through them in a time frame of a year or so, and then you could choose the subject best suited for you.

I will take you through what has made me love the system of education – Liberal Studies.

Liberal Studies is a combination course that allows one to get an overall exposure to a variety of subjects from different fields of study, namely, Sciences, Mathematics, Business, Management, Languages and Literature, Psychology, Media and Journalism, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Computer Science, Art forms, Music, Theatres and Dance forms. After being acquainted with level two of each of these, one gets a clear picture of the job prospects and field of further study in each individual subject, making choice far more scientific, and focussed. This course is open at both graduation as well as post-graduation programmes in many parts of the world, especially in countries like the United States, Canada, South Africa, and in many parts of Asia, specifically in India.

The concept of Liberal Studies as an essential course in formal education can be traced back to the Roman Empire. It was rooted in the basic curriculum of the Classical and Hellenistic Greece, owing to the necessity of not one, but a number of various disciplines for complete development of human mind. During the Middle Ages, four ‘scientific’ arts – Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy were grouped together as the Quadrivium. After the 9th Century, the three remaining subjects under humanities – grammar, logic and rhetoric, were grouped as the Trivium. Thus, a two-fold total of seven subjects began to be considered as elemental in the educational foundation of European elites, functionaries of public administration and practitioners of law and medicine.

There has always been a wrangle between two set of ideas encircling knowledge. Given that there is no end to knowing, often a question is raised – should one be a Jack of all trades, or master of one? Introducing the two sets of ideas now, whether one should be well-informed about multiple disciples, dabbed with numerous skills, or shall one be learned in only one field in depth. Since the world is no more an easy sea to cross, with all the global issues in layers, and the limited resources for an ever increasing population, I believe in being learned in multiple disciplines. After all, ‘Jack of all trades’ doesn’t necessarily mean master of none. In Liberal Studies, we are given basic training in all of these subjects to induce interest in the idea of Totality of Education.

University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Williams College and Amherst College in Massachusetts, Trinity College, Connecticut and Washington and Lee University are some of the esteemed liberal arts colleges in the World. In India, the concept of liberal studies became popular around seven years ago. Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gujarat, offers diploma in liberal studies for the first two years of bachelors’ degree, followed by two years of honours in one subject that a student believes he is the most proficient or interested in. Narsee Monji, Mumbai, has opened a bachelors’ degree course in liberal arts from 2018. Symbiosis University, Pune, Shiv Nadar College and Ashoka University, Delhi  and Christ University, Bangalore, are other pioneering colleges that provide bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in liberal studies.

Former education minister Thakur Singh Powdyel, now the President of Royal Thimphu College, presents a atypical idea of liberalisation of education. “I believe in a very holistic system of education, where the nourishment of one’s mind should come from how an individual connects to another, or to the environment, or to the global culture,” he says. “Education in itself was meant to exist as liberal and totalitarian in nature. Institutions these days operate to ensure financial profits, overlooking the idea of elevation of minds in the process. When a nation stresses on growing the economy of a country beyond a certain level, it fails to secure the virtues and morals of its citizens. Education beyond books and lectures leads to development of humanity, something the world needs the most today.”

Bhutan has always painted a discrepant picture to the world by measuring development through Gross National Happiness. The president believes that this speaks a lot on the willingness and potential of Bhutan to grow towards achieving spiritual and humanitarian development. In 2010, attempting to restore education in its core functions, he initiated the ‘Green School’ Programme wherein a sense of being alive, sensible and empathetic was popularised through concepts of Natural Greenery, Social Greenery, Academic Greenery, Aesthetic, and Spiritual Greenery and Intellectual Greenery.

Liam, a student of Quest College, Canada, says, “What I liked the most about Liberal Studies is how I get to build my own subjects and explore exactly what I want to know about, not what my university demands me to.”

A nation functioning at an average unemployment rate of 2.56 percent needs the creation of more jobs. Also, a varied idea of education can benefit the minds of the students by allowing them to be more informative and market-ready. An integrated approach to education is often less thought of in many parts of the world. Nevertheless, it is the very basis of cultivation of discipline, morals, and education in the society.

Contributed by 

Mayuri Ghosh

Ms Ghosh is a Liberal Studies student currently interning with Kuensel.

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