The Role of Education in Taking Care of the World
: The Value of the Liberal Arts and Humanities
by Kumudu Kusum Kumara
History has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the …commercial man, the man of limited purpose. This process, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance, obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organization.
Rabindranath Tagore, Natioanlism 1917, cited in Martha Nussbaum, 2010
…….for the true humanist, neither the verities of the scientist nor the truth of the philosopher nor the beauty of the artist can be absolutes.
Hannah Arendt, “Crisis in culture” in Between Past and Present
(January 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the post-war era of Sri Lanka, the desire for rapid economic growth and ‘development’ has resulted in a strong focus on the discourse of the knowledge economy. Making Sri Lanka the miracle of Asia by doubling its per capita income in half a decade is now a shared vision in our society, and one of the main means to this end is said to be the development of a knowledge economy via, among other things, a rapid increase of student intake to universities.
The Sri Lankan discourse on ‘education for economic growth’ is derived from a contemporary global discourse within which knowledge is taken to be the engine of growth in the current era. It is believed that the knowledge economy will propel us along the path of ‘development’. Naturally, education is taken to be the means of developing a knowledge economy. The university is expected to play a major role in a global system that is increasingly based on information and its speedy exchange worldwide.
The prevailing discourse on the knowledge economy and ‘development’ in Sri Lanka requires us to address issues such as the specific characteristics of ‘development’ and how they would affect the well-being of different segments of the populace, how the prevailing avenues of income generation in the country would fit into the idea of a global knowledge economy, to what extent our universities are equipped to offer opportunities for students to become innovative so that they can contribute to a knowledge economy, and what measures should be taken to retain innovative knowledge workers within the local economy.
The object of this essay is to explore the consequences of tying education to economic growth in the manner proposed by the knowledge economy discourse that is prevalent today. Specifically, it focuses on the possible ramifications that adopting a policy of education for economic growth will have on the future of arts and humanities education and its impact on the human society. This study will trace the place of arts education in Sri Lanka, and will delineate how the perceived non-innovativeness of the liberal arts education is now being questioned and how such an education is once again being considered valuable by the business sector itself.
This paper also argues that preserving arts and humanities education is valuable to the nation for several reasons. Firstly, it helps develop capacities of citizens which are central to the sustenance of democracy, which in turn maintains the stability of our society, especially given its diverse character. Secondly, the university was traditionally the place set apart for the study of things which are central to human existence. There is a need to preserve a space for basic research focused on arts and sciences, the value of which cannot be measured by mere relevance to contemporary needs. Finally, education, as opposed to professional or vocational training, is how civilisations traditionally introduced the world to the young in a manner that would preserve both the world and the civilisation. Continue reading The Role of Education in Taking Care of the World : The Value of the Liberal Arts and Humanities