STEM vs. Liberal Arts, the open debate

Technology, or science, versus liberal arts. It’s an old debate and one which is growing more heated over time. At the beginning of 2016, Matt Bevin, governor of Kentucky, suggested that graduates in the Liberal Arts don’t measure up to the country’s labor market needs. Thus, they don’t contribute to economic growth and, as a result, the state of Kentucky should eliminate their scholarships. He told the Associated Press: “There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors. There just will,” Bevin said. “All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so. They are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer.”

Similar thinking has been adopted in a few states such as Florida and North Carolina, whose governors have openly questioned the public investment in humanities degrees in favor of a growing support for technology degrees. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, in Spain, the most recent education reform, the LOMCE, followed a similar philosophy and reduced the number of teaching hours devoted to Philosophy in the country’s universities, over the opposition of many teachers and parents.

On the other side of the coin, the number of degrees and state plans to improve the education in Science and Technology increases. In Singapore, the government already prepares all students from the age of three for coding circuits, drones and videogames. Science subjects, also known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), are “in”, whereas Arts and Humanities seem to be out.

Nevertheless, prestigious institutions such as MIT remark that many engineering projects fail because they don’t pay enough attention to the social and cultural contexts in which these projects take place. In this way, a study from the University of the State of Michigan established a direct correlation among successful students with STEM degrees and their education, rich in subjects such as Music, Art, Literature or History. In a more and more technological society, shall we prioritize an education in Science over one in Humanities?

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