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Relevance of the humanities

Feb 14,2019 - Last updated at Feb 14,2019

There is a widespread misconception in our part of the world, perhaps in others as well, that the humanities are not relevant to students' employability and to so-called labour market needs.

What would you do with the university graduates of history, philosophy, literature, religion, etc. in the age of business, technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

What could they contribute? What function do they have in the real world?

Most of those who hold such prejudicial position favour what they call "practical" or "applied" specialisations: medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, law, business, engineering, etc.

It is these and other similar professions that have "valuable", "utilisable" skills in the workplace.

Such a position is at best short-sighted, as the humanities disciplines are not only "relevant" in today's world, but, in fact, much-needed.

By way of crystallising the matter, let me state the following:

What counts in today's world of education, and by extension, employability and the labour market, are not academic programmes, degrees and specialisations per se, but learning outcomes and skills.

Employers are after what the potential employees can and cannot perform on a daily basis in the work place: the actual personal and technical skills they possess, and not certificates and transcripts.

The graduates are subjected to interviews and tests, and it is through these, as well as during the probation period, that their abilities are evaluated and judged. And if these abilities fit the tasks they are expected to perform, they are hired, kept and promoted.

When I finished my undergraduate education with a degree in English literature many years back, I applied to the position of translator at an international translation company in Amman. On the day of the interview, I took with me all the possible documents I thought they would ask for, based on my experience with applications to institutions in our public sector.

When I arrived, they showed no interest whatsoever in my certificates and transcripts but asked me to sit behind a typewriter to translate.

It was on the basis of my performance on the typewriter and the interview on the second day that I was hired.

This is the situation today at most respectable and high-pay companies and institutions: they are after the personal, interpersonal and technical skills that the applicants have, and not their academic backgrounds.

With the exception of some specific disciplines and professions, such as medicine, engineering, pharmacy, etc., a lot of employers are after what the applicants can actually do in the workplace, rather than what precisely they studied and where they went.

The question then is: What skills do the graduates of humanities possess?

They are the skills that the workplace and the market need. And many of these skills cannot be developed but through liberal arts and humanities programmes.

Among many others, these skills are: information management, teamwork, communication skills, writing, critical thinking, diplomacy, cultural and cross-cultural skills, empathy, emotional intelligence, leadership and many others, including many of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution skills.

For these skills, and for many other reasons pertaining to individual and communal health and welfare, the humanities are both relevant and necessary — as relevant and necessary as, if not even more than, other disciplines.

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