Liberal studies in India are relatively young but growing in popularity. How important is liberal studies and why do you think students should choose it?
For the skills required to solve the problems facing their society, we look at the social and physical sciences that lend themselves to developing policies and creating techniques and technologies. Liberal studies will teach students to draw on history, literature, the arts, film, and other similar branches of human knowledge and creativity to clarify the (perhaps intractable) moral problems to which a society may face in its political and technological choices.
For example, digitization is changing almost everything we are used to, the way we do business, the way governments work as well as the way citizens interact with each other. While this has the potential to improve our lives, it also poses new challenges. Digitization and big data help us solve problems more effectively and efficiently, while the digital divide creates deep fissures and disparities in the opportunities an individual faces. So, in this given context, liberal studies is an area that will encourage a student to use digital technology as a tool for creative thinking and also develop a growing awareness of the challenges that digital media can produce. Liberal studies are gaining importance because today it is imperative that young adults are well prepared to meet the challenges that will be thrown down by a rapidly changing society and be able to provide solutions to those challenges.
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UPES School of Liberal Studies takes the transdisciplinary learning approach. What does it mean? And do you think there is a need for universities to change their approach to designing curricula for students?
Young adults trained at UPES will be able to identify, formulate and solve the problems of the society in which they live. In addition, they will be trained to anticipate problems so that they can prevent them as much as possible. The objective of the school is not only the pursuit of knowledge. The program promotes awareness and deep understanding of the issues facing the society around them and strives to achieve this goal by focusing on the importance that individuals have with the state and society as as citizens.
There will be three distinct parts in all programs at UPES School of Liberal Studies: a) Class Lectures (both theoretical and practical) – which is essentially the disciplinary training of core subjects
b) Application of all that is taught in the classroom to experience neighborhood issues – This will allow students to relate classroom theory directly to the world around them and challenge their existing knowledge. This will also train students in fieldwork and the use of qualitative and quantitative data. c) Each lesson ends with a list of open and topical questions. This is to encourage students to conduct research towards a deeper understanding of specific aspects of the society in which they find themselves so that they are better placed to anticipate and meet future challenges.
Liberal studies are said to focus more on ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’. How does this encourage students to be critical and think differently with a creative mindset?
One of the main aspects of liberal studies is that it encourages students to apply their knowledge, thinking, and understanding to a situation rather than giving them a planned response to problems. This creates in students the habit of exercising their minds and finding solutions. One of the requirements for anticipating problems, and therefore preventing them or reducing their impact, is the ability to construct alternative realities of how things might turn out in the future. If we can’t do that, we will always react to problems. We will always fight fires rather than prevent fires. The ability to think in the abstract, to understand the relationship between things and to visualize the context in which things will take place are all brought together by critical thinking. And that’s not all, imagining alternative realities requires creativity!
Today’s world needs more problem solvers for a sustainable society. What training and skills does the next generation need to become global leaders capable of solving real-world problems?
The world is connected and so are societies. What happens locally can be extended globally, and what happens globally could have serious implications for locals. Thus, our students must be trained as citizens of the world; they will need to be connected to their immediate neighborhood as well as to the world at large. Local and global are not mutually exclusive choices. Instead, they feed off and influence each other.
Let’s take a problem we face today—the air quality in Indian cities. It is an environmental problem and a health problem. How do we solve this? It depends on how the city was planned or organically developed. It depends on economic activities in and around the city—brick kilns, stubble burning, forest cover, movement of goods and people in the city, slum growth, and various other factors. Is it possible that one type of expertise solves these many factors that all lead to the problem we are facing? We need economists, urban planners, logistics experts, architects, sociologists and behavioral scientists, and then, of course, scientists, engineers and technologists. It is impossible for anyone to have expertise in all of this. So we need different experts to work as a team. And, for this, each team member must have an appreciation of the perspectives that other team members bring to the discussion of the issue. And that’s what we try to do at UPES. We try to break down the silos in which we train our students.
What can a student find themselves learning in liberal studies and how will it help them build a successful career?
The things we observe around us are the results of the interaction of various factors in a complex system. These factors include human behavior, nature, technology, regulations and standards, among others. A liberal studies student is trained to understand this system. A student graduating from this program can therefore work with companies, governments and non-profit organizations or civil societies. Careers include journalism, law, politics, economics, social work, behavior management, and public policy. Some may also pursue graduate studies in one of the specific specializations.
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Disclaimer: This article was produced on behalf of the UPES School of Liberal Studies by the Internet Times Spotlight Team.