A brighter future: ‘Universities must nurture humans, instead of just technicians’

Published: November 24, 2015
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Panelists talk during a session held at Habib Univeristy in Karachi on November 23, 2015. PHOTO: HABIB UNIVERSITY

Panelists talk during a session held at Habib Univeristy in Karachi on November 23, 2015. PHOTO: HABIB UNIVERSITY

KARACHI: Through liberal arts, we are teaching subjects that are compulsory but are unfortunately missing in the curriculum, said renowned academic, Dr Deborah Fitzgerald.

The professor of history of technology and a former dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shed light on the importance of liberal arts education at a discussion hosted by Habib University (HU) on Monday. Her talk was titled, ‘Enhancing Impact and Effectiveness of University Education’ and was part of the varsity’s Yohsin Lecture Series.

Dr Fitzgerald spoke about the impact and effectiveness of university education in today’s world. It aimed to raise awareness among students studying at the HU about the importance and role of universities and liberal arts subjects in a society’s development.

The professor explained that MIT had designed its curriculum in such a way that at least a quarter of the courses are related to liberal arts.

She reasoned that these subjects polished the students’ potential and instilled in them a sense of social and civic responsibility. “At the MIT, we changed the system and believe it is important for doctors and engineers to study arts subjects,” she said.

Explaining the reason and importance of imparting liberal arts education, Dr Fitzgerald said that as the world changes and we face severe consequences of climatic changes and man-made problems, our students should know how difficult it is to manage human challenges, rather than just technical ones. Her views were seconded by Dr Shoaib Zaidi, the dean of the School of Science and Engineering at HU. Dr Zaidi said that the HU has been a pioneer in Pakistan in the promotion of liberal arts subjects.

“You can easily answer any mathematics question accurately but answers about plants and their advantages would be different from all the students,” said Zaidi. He also explained why it is important for students to study communication skills, climatic changes and other topics to meet the demands of the changing society.

After attending some international conferences last year, the HU faculty board has changed some subjects and courses, in view of the issues of sustainability in terms of Pakistan. “We have decided to spread awareness and education for a better society in terms of communication and interaction,” he said.

Dr Fitzgerald briefly defined the emergence of the digital economy, globalisation, dominance of financial institutions and presence of computers — all the factors that have led to a belief that students should be concentrating on STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine. She pointed out that Pakistani universities can also meet the target and challenges to give due importance to liberal arts while maintaining technical leadership as the MIT and other international universities have done.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2015.

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