Science vs Humanities
People struggle with different kinds of prejudice in society, but there is one which is very deeply entrenched and it shows no sign of letting up…the belief that science is ‘better’ than Arts or Humanities. That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘intelligent’ than those who study languages or design. That people who study science and mathematics are more ‘hard-working’ that those who study history or architecture. And so on and so forth.
This year a brilliant girl whom we know chose to study architecture and her parents, both doctors, disapproved. They let her though, because they were convinced that their brilliant daughter had chosen architecture because she didn’t want to work hard. After she was a few months into her course they found that she was working very hard indeed and often stayed up till three in the morning to work. The reaction of her parents? But if we knew you weren’t averse to hard work we would have persuaded you to take up medicine. The fact that she was doing something she loved (the reason for her hard work) or that even students of architecture studied hard was something that hadn’t struck them.
But this girl is lucky. Because there are umpteen examples of parents forcing their children to take up science (followed by engineering) even if aptitude tests reveal that their children are better suited to the Humanities. Boys are pressurised far more than girls. It is strange that this attitude of parents hasn’t changed all that much inspite of the economy opening up and well-paying career options for Humanities students being available. From advertising and architecture to law, management or even the airlines, the fashion industry, TV, publishing….the list is endless…
Old attitudes are dying hard. Naturally. It’s not just society which is giving out these science is holier-than-humanities vibes. The prejudice has been well institutionalised. Why, entrance tests to management institutes are biased in favour of of those who score high on mathematical and scientific ability! But why? Isn’t people management the basics of good management? And studying the humanities can give you that extra edge. And if some people want to disagree, tell me how many questions does a CAT entrance exam have that tests the ability to work in teams, potential leadership skills or even judgment in real-life situations? You may be a cat in mathematics, but hey if you turn out to be the Hari from the Naukri advertisement, then you aren’t a good enough to be a manager. Sure, humanities students can turn into Hari’s too, but we’ll only know if entrance exams test these abilities, give weightage to them and reduce the emphasis on scientific and mathematical ability.
Prejudices exist in the west too. There are people who believe that engineering, mathematics, and science is “much more difficult and important and useful.”
While a basic knowledge of science and mathematics may be required in certain disciplines, so are people skills! Take medicine. Medicine needs something more than even people skills, it needs some amount of innate compassion for human beings. People who have an abundance of this quality may not all want to do social work…some of them might want to become doctors too. And they may not be brilliant in mathematics or science. In India particularly many good people lose out on medical careers even though they are passionate about the field because of high levels of competition. Getting into a government medical college (where fees are affordable) is impossible unless you are a brain, academically speaking. And good private colleges are beyond the reach of the middle class.
I read a very interesting report (unfortunately could not find it online) about how medical schools in America are trying to attract Humanities students and are altering the criteria for admission. In any case, the education system out there does allow combinations (of subjects) that we can only dream of here in India.
Our education system does not allow a combination of Humanities and Science subjects after the 10th grade. It’s either ‘Arts’ or ‘Science.’ In the 11th and 12th grade if you take Science its Chemistry/Physics/Mathematics/Biology plus a language or two. That’s what they call pre-med. There are no options of taking other subjects, with a lower/minor or higher/major category tag.
No wonder science courses are thought to be more ‘useful.’ It’s the system. The entrance tests, even for design institutes are biased in favour of science students. How then can we expect society to change?
UPDATE: Snigdha has provided the link which I wanted. The one which talked about how medical schools in the US are trying to attract humanities students. It is a Newsweek article and this is the link. Just quoting an except (which is a quote from two people interviewed in the article:
We’re living in an increasingly complex world, and the liberal arts give you the skills to understand that better…the students who come in with a humanities background see patients more as a whole patient…these students often outperform their peers, with higher rates of competitive residency placements.
But if anyone wants to react to this please read the whole article! And remember it talks of skills related to medicine, not engineering or other technical tasks.
Related Reading: Busting the IQ test myth
Indian parents take the role of ‘career counselors’
Study on the correlation between early schooling and professional success
What makes children score well at school
The connection between Emotional Intelligence and Academic Performance