I have borrowed the word ‘broadband’ from the Internet terminology for general application, as it is expressive of a certain need that I consider imperative for deepening and broadening the quality of mind and intellect. The need has become all the more compelling in the context of scientific and professional pursuits assuming overriding importance in the estimation of the present generation as well as at the levels of the society at large and national governments.
So much so, admissions to the humanities and social sciences courses in universities have plummeted. This is not a phenomenon pertaining only to India or the developing countries, but envelops the entire world. The gap between the ‘two cultures’ — as C.P. Snow dubbed them — separating those educated in science and those in humanities has almost unbridgeably widened.
The prevailing craze for science courses and various professions such as engineering, medicine, computer sciences, accountancy, data processing, financial analysis, sales and marketing and business administration has put an immense pressure on the educational system to cater to the insatiable demand for them. This is understandable. They command a lucrative market. Science and technology are making rapid strides and to all appearances, setting the future course of humankind. Winning laurels in them is a legitimate aspiration. Professional courses are also attractive judged from the narrow angle of exams, marks and grades, which have nowadays begun to weigh heavily in the minds of both parents and students.
Specialisation, however, comes at an exorbitant price. A specialist or expert gets “cribb’d, cabin’d and confin’d” in his own discipline, his mind preoccupied with “hard” data and quantification. He has little incentive or confidence to step out of the corner into which he has painted himself. Absent the training and opportunity to become a well-rounded personality, he is ill at ease in the highly variegated, and sometimes bewildering, intellectual, social, cultural milieus of the world outside. Human affairs and human values, in their broadest sense, become unfamiliar terrain for him.
With the result, the society is being deprived of the contribution of large numbers of talented and skilled persons to the solution of its multifarious problems. A pity, because the master key for lifting society to the broad, sunlit uplands of all-round progress lies precisely in blending specialisation and technical expertise with the sensitivity to the plight of human beings in society.
To my mind, such a consummation cannot be brought about unless humanities and social sciences are included as an integral part of the syllabi and curricula of professional courses. Their role in endowing the human personality with a glow and glitter of its own can hardly be exaggerated. I am happy to see this view gathering support and strength all over the world.
For instance, I notice the Academy of Europe, in its position paper on the situation of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Europe, issued on January 17, 2012, has been categorical in declaring that they are “essential to nourish our spiritual life, imagination and creativity, and to understand both ourselves and man’s relationship to his environment…(they) foster the self-awareness, critical reasoning and methodological reflection that is vital to any democratic decision process.”
The statement also points out how they promote “ethics and good governance (which) are essential for the well-functioning of the globalised contemporary society”.
Professor Homi Bhabha, Director of the Mahindra Humanities Centre at the Harvard University and the Anne F.Rothenberg Professor of Humanities, extols Humanities and Social Sciences thus:
“The humanities are a set of educational disciplines — literature, history, the classics, theology, philosophy; but the humanities also represent a world-view in which human values — justice, rights, freedoms, interests, inclusion — are the measure of progress and development. In this sense the humanities are neither quantitative nor qualitative — they are integrative.
“The humanities build knowledge through communities rather than on the basis of models. In their integrative role, the humanities help to draw together various aspects of civil society, making connections between the spheres of education, civic associations, the media, trade unions and professional organisations. The humanities create affiliations between these various institutions of civil society by addressing the issues of evaluation, judgment and interpretation.”
Making a study of humanities and social sciences mandatory for all professionals is the only way to foster the broadband human breed that would measure up to the challenges of the future.