August 13, 2019

Should Investment In STEM Subjects Be At The Expense Of Arts Courses?

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Over the years, a lot of relevance and emphasis has been laid on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects, against arts-related courses. In addition, there has been increased pressure on African universities to enroll and graduate more students pursuing STEM studies.

This is because STEM is considered to be the future of innovation and has been at the epicenter of all technological and science advancements to date. Well, no doubt about that, however, from the proponents of arts studies and evidence that humanities are needed for a more integrated approach to development, there is need for strategies that incorporate and give value to both axes.

As someone who pursued a science subject and is today working and advancing an arts related sphere, I know firsthand that STEM might be necessary for technological progress, but without the arts, it is impossible for students to reach their full potential – arts subjects give students the freedom to harness the capabilities of STEM subjects. Imagine if we hadn’t studied languages, business management or communication skills while in Medical school, what kind of doctors we would be.

Anyway, late last month, The Chronicles published a story on the fate of art courses after 2020, where Government University Scholarships will be for STEM courses only. In one of their articles about the same issue, it was revealed that for the last two academic years, no single student had been admitted into the History department of the University of Rwanda on Government sponsorship, and neither had any student applied to pay for themselves. It was further shocking to learn that in the whole country, nearly all professionals who hold a university degree in literature and linguistics are above 45 years, which means that no new people are joining the field.

READ: Who Is Manipulating Government’s University Education Policy?

Well, this calls for urgent address and this goes to educationists, policymakers and all Rwandans. One thing that I find ironic is that most of the people pushing for this policy didn’t even pursue STEM courses, why – that’s the beauty of having options. I would like to paint a picture of how the world would be without linguistics, historians, communication practitioners, lawyers, social workers, human resources, politicians, business managers, journalists, mediators, even musicians and artists.

The danger to this is that in the near future, qualified human capital for arts and competent STEM will be in short supply compared to the continent’s development needs, an imbalance, which could hinder growth and undermine the foundation for sustainable development. Thus, there is a need to ensure a healthy balance between STEM and humanities and social sciences and here is why:

  • They are equally important for the sustainable development of our countries. The investments needed in STEM shouldn’t be at the expense of undermining the arts courses but to address the imbalance (have both axes pursued)
  • There is nothing as beautiful as having a pool of options. There must be a right to choose to do medicine or communications. At least the world has proven the need for such a diverse community
  • The main development problems like abject poverty, malnutrition, population increase, gender inequality do not necessarily require scientific or technological solutions, they need a touch of arts, they need  raising awareness and constant behavioural change

Actually what is needed is to attract more students to pursue the STEM courses, how:

  • The costs for the STEM courses should be more affordable. It shouldn’t be for only the students on government scholarship.
  • The entry  marks for STEM courses are so high, which limits many from pursuing the course, even if they would want
  • Ubudehe categorization should not be one of the core determinants of the students who receive government scholarships. Some students have been denied a chance to continue with school, just because they are in the 3rd category of Ubudehe, yet their families cannot afford University tuition. 
  • Ensure the right infrastructure for STEM courses is in place. This includes laboratories, test centres, computer labs – among other facilities, that will encourage the students to take up STEM subjects
  • Integrate some humanities courses into STEM subjects and the vice-versa could work as well
  • Leverage some new technologies to change the way students learn humanities and social sciences through innovation.
  • Find the right approach to teach STEM courses because they have been portrayed by some teachers as being difficult – a problem that can be attributed to poor teaching skills.
  • Get more girls and women into STEM – and the younger, the better.

It’s therefore important to note that scientists may become less important without the necessary ‘soft’ skills like communication, sociology and leadership. So, instead of treating the symptoms of a disease without being mindful of its underlying causes, let’s increase the enrollment into STEM courses but ensure we do not do it at the expense of arts subjects.

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