The idea of a liberal arts education began in Ancient Greece. Originally, a liberal arts education was the body of knowledge considered essential for a free human being. It included many different areas of study ranging from grammar and rhetoric to astronomy and arithmetic. A modern liberal arts education raises an interesting question- what knowledge is required for a free human being?
In the United States this tradition of education continues in many universities that require their students to study a wide variety of subjects. The emphasis of study varies between universities but the basic principal is the same: a good education gives a student the opportunity to explore many areas of knowledge. In the modern world this range of exploration is essential. As societies become increasingly interconnected and businesses intermingle understanding a wide range of topics assists the formation of these bridges.
The essence of liberal arts is that it focuses on breadth of knowledge as well as depth. It stresses communication skills and emphasizes analysis rather than repetition.
There are two methods generally used to introduce students to the breadth of knowledge. One method is to establish a core curriculum. The other is to provide a student with optional courses that they can take in any program of study. ULAB combines these two methods. The core curriculum ensures that all students have some common background to share ideas and build a foundation for further education. At the same time optional courses allow a student to continue pursuing a wide base of knowledge or to concentrate their studies in the form of a minor.
A modern liberal arts education is valuable on both a practical and a theoretical level. In practice understanding the interconnected pasts of different societies can help to facilitate trade and business. The ULAB core provides an example of this in the World Civilization course. In this course students learn about the interconnected pasts of people across the world.
In theory the application of ideas from one discipline to the subject of another can produce spectacular results- such as the combination of ancient philosophy and modern ecology to produce new ideals of sustainable development. The ULAB core also provides an example of this through the Introduction to Sustainable Development course. In this course students are exposed to the sustainable philosophies of history as well as modern techniques of organic farming.
Through the rigorous pursuit of varied topics a liberal arts education does not answer that ancient question- what knowledge is required for a free human being? Instead, a liberal arts education gives every student the opportunity to answer that question to his or her own satisfaction.
Read here: “The Importance of Liberal Arts Education” by Prof. Dr. Gowhir Rizvi, delivered at the ULAB Foundation Day, 8th October, 2012.