STEM Vs arts: Making room for both

Over the years, the view attached to science and technology, engineering and mathematical subjects has downplayed the contribution that non-STEM subjects make.

Rwanda formulated a policy to become a middle income country by 2020 through its Vision 2020. The framework entailed developing and spearheading a strong base of science, technology and innovation.

In the academic year 2018-2019, public universities enrolled 60,029 students in the science field. 61% of these were government sponsored. In the era of big data, science and technology, engineering and mathematics, liberal arts degrees have been disguised as somewhat ‘not important’.

Nevertheless, it is also crucial to emphasise the pragmatic values of humanities disciplines: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that the humanities have an essential role to play to help face major global challenges today, as well as achieving the sustainable development goals.

Ange Noella Uwase, a medical student, is convinced that the changes on the global market should not influence one’s choice, as ‘qualifications don’t matter as much as capabilities’ — rather, she supports creativity and innovation.

“We are in a world where neither science nor arts or any other field cannot determine someone’s success, rather, your competence in terms of creativity and innovation. Undertaking any field does not guarantee you a job. The government may promote certain fields, but it’s a matter of getting out of the box and creating new stuff that is beneficial to all,” she says.

An instructor guides students at Nyundo School of Art and Music. There is need to create balance in all fields of study, experts say. File.

Dr Rose Mukankomeje, the executive director of the Higher Education Council, says that as much as government efforts are mainly on science subjects, arts are still as important.

“International organisations have conducted research and realised that the world needs more people in the science sector: We need medical doctors, we need nurses, we need engineers (engineers in different fields). They also realised that we need people who have done food technology, agronomy in order to feed our people. Look, climate change is also knocking on our doors and we have no control over it. Therefore, we need people who must be trained on those changes, so this is why we are putting a lot of effort to bring people in those areas,” she says.

Nevertheless, she says that, as government, they cannot neglect any subject because they are all needed to build a country.

“Arts are very much relevant. In building a country, we need politicians, accountants, lawyers……all of those subjects, we need them. This is why we have a lot of private institutions that are training those people in non-STEM areas,” she adds.

Speaking to Prof Phillip Cotton, Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda, the plan that universities have is to find more joint ways between STEM and non-STEM subjects starting with the next academic year.

“It does not matter whether you are non-STEM or STEM, you still need to have an understanding about ethical decision-making. You still need to have an understanding of ICT, you need to be literate, you need to be financially literate, and you need to be proficient, whether in economics, political science, civil engineering, architecture or medicine. So, there is a whole range of attributes, we call them gratitude attributes that cut across,” he tells Education.

He also cautions students who neglect arts because they have a plan to transform the way in which people learn. He says that they will not allow any student to graduate unless they are proficient in language and have an understanding of political science and geopolitics.

Experts argue that through the study of non-science, technology, engineering and mathematical subjects, critical thinking, analysis and humanities contribute to the development of an inclusive society.

As the government strives to increase STEM admissions in higher learning institutions to 90%, some argue that there should be a significant balance to give all the gifts an equal chance.

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