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Unwise separation!

Mar 18,2023 - Last updated at Mar 18,2023

It is high time to revisit the separation, in our school system, between the so-called “literary” and “scientific” streams, as well as others. Such separation is no longer relevant, in addition to violating good educational practices.

There may have been an understandable rationale behind the separation in times past.

There was a time when several graduates of our school system, and often before completing high school successfully, were appointed as teachers. Because of this, they may have at that time needed a level of specialisation in either the “sciences” or the “humanities” generally, so that they could teach the relevant subjects with some expert knowledge.

This rationale may have been especially compelling since most teachers did not have post-secondary qualifications, enabling them to have the expertise they needed to be subject specialists.

Since post-secondary education became increasingly widespread as of the 1950s and early 1960s, why continue the separation?

In our opinion, the separation is no longer warranted and if anyone thinks otherwise, we would appreciate hearing from them.

There are many reasons why the separation is not only unnecessary, but is in fact harmful and damaging.

The first pertains to the fact that channelling students at the start of high school into a “literary”, “scientific”, “commercial”, “industrial”, etc. stream is unfair to most students who are unable, at such an early age, to decide which stream suits their wishes and abilities best.

Choosing a major, or specialisation, is best done at the university level. In fact, several reputable universities in the world give students until the third year of a bachelor’s degree to decide which subject to major in; after two years of studying a variety of subjects.

How many of our students who have been channelled or “forced” into a track all these years regretted, or were even hurt, by such an arbitrary decision, instead of having chosen what suits them best, enabling them to excel in studies and be happy in a career that matches their interests and abilities?

It is interesting, indeed, in this very context, to mention that several international universities accept students, after finishing high school, as “undecided” and give them two or three years to decide.

The second is that the labels or categories themselves, “literary”, “scientific”, “commercial”, and others are no longer pertinent; in fact, they may have never been pertinent in the first place. Does “literary” necessarily mean that a student enjoys philosophy as much as he/she enjoys sociology, psychology, business, languages, literature, political science, archaeology, etc? 

And does “scientific” mean that a student will find him/herself in physics as much as in math, chemistry, biology, engineering, etc?

Who says that math and physics are closer to chemistry than to philosophy?

The third relates to the fact that in today’s world the tendency, at both the school and university levels, is more towards interdisciplinarity than towards separate disciplines. Both students and professors excel more today and come up with new knowledge when they interact across disciplines and subjects than when they confine themselves to one discipline or subject.

Based on this, many universities give students the opportunity to specialise, for example, in math and economics, in biology and archaeology, in engineering and business, etc.; these are interdisciplinary choices that are impossible to make at our universities because of the separation between the “scientific” and the “literary” tracks, and others.

The fourth, which constitutes a stigma, refers to the creation of biases for and prejudices against the more “desirable” tracks and the less. Students who are channelled into the former are seen as “smart,” “brilliant”, “excelling”, “gifted”, etc. while those lumped under the latter are spoken about reductively and derogatorily.

Such unfair separation or segregation ultimately amounts to some sort of an apartheid in fact.

The fifth has to do with the unfortunate fact that our society as a whole, and not just certain individuals, ultimately suffers because both experience and research have proven that societies do not advance on the basis of science alone, or the humanities alone; but on the basis of both, together and in complementarity.

For these reasons and others, such unfair segregation in our school system needs to be reconsidered; sooner than later.

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