Reforming Education: A Liberal Approach

“Wait, why are you taking that?”

This is the usual question I get when I tell Malaysian peers about the courses I’m taking this semester. On top of Calculus III and Intermediate Macroeconomics, my current schedule also includes a healthy dose of Introduction to Theatre and Critical Thinking & Expression.

I must admit that before I came to the States I was a bit skeptical about all the humanities and electives I had to take. It almost seemed like an excessive amount of triviality. I mean, what was I going to do with Sociological Perspectives or Art Appreciation?

However, being exposed to the humanities has taught me a lot of things. Primarily, it’s taught me that there is a certain element of subtlety in the humanities that is often overlooked. From stage design to philosophy, there is a broad range of subjects that simply cannot be defined by scientific reasoning or numerical values.

If you look closer, you might even notice a certain mesh between the humanities and the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) fields. Good paintings require an in-depth knowledge of geometry and proportions while philosophy requires statistical-like reasoning and logic. To quote mathematician Jerry P. King, “The keys to mathematics are beauty and elegance; not dullness and technicality”.

I believe both STEM subjects and humanities form an intricate and almost inseparable relationship. Being able to study in the United States has made me realize how grateful I am to have the opportunity to attain a liberal education that balances two polar opposite ends of the spectrum. The United States places great emphasis on this balance in order to produce well-rounded individuals with a diverse set of skills.

If you had told me in high school that I would consider a double major in mathematics and economics, I would’ve laughed at you. I hated anything to do with mathematics with a passion. In retrospect, I realized I hated it because I couldn’t ever see how I would apply it. Taking economics in college has shown me how applicable mathematics could be. I still find the fact that you can use mathematical models to predict future outcomes and even individual decisions absolutely mind-blowing. Aside from predicting market trends, mathematics is a tool heavily used in fields like behavioral economics, which closely evaluates incentives and decision-making processes. What’s ironic is that students in the science stream in Malaysia weren’t usually given the option to take economics. Likewise, students in the art stream were usually discouraged from taking additional mathematics.

Hence, I disagree with Malaysia’s current education system. I don’t think there should be a definitive line that divides the humanities and the sciences. These fields were meant to complement each other. Forcing students to choose between the two only serves to further limit their personal development and growth. Why should they be forced to choose between the so-called ‘science stream’ and ‘art stream’? Why should students in the science stream be viewed as the crème de la crème?

High school should serve as a preparatory groundwork for students. Schools should allow students to explore all their options before they embark on their pre-university or undergraduate years. Unfortunately, so many of my peers had no idea where they were going after highschool. In fact, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do after I graduated. Students are leaving high school floating and flitting between various options that they are only semi-interested in. They blame themselves for their uncertainty, but the real blame should be placed on a broken institution.


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