The time has come for the value of the ‘human’ in the Humanities to be revived, says Dean of the UWI Faculty of Humanities and Education, Professor Evelyn O’Callaghan, amid falling demand for humanities degrees – as a time capsule marking the university’s 70th anniversary was laid on Wednesday.
The capsule was an initiative of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, as a contribution to the University’s 70th anniversary celebrations. A relic was buried by each of the departments in the faculty, to be unearthed during centenary celebrations.
In remarks read by Professor Frederick Ochieng-Odhiambo, the faculty’s Deputy Dean (Planning), O’Callaghan noted that as Barbados and other regional economies continue to reel from the effects of fiscal downturn, tertiary education was deemed as an “expensive” privilege, where the only worthwhile investments were in areas that would lead to ‘lucrative careers’.
“The only value of that education, it seems to many, is to qualify students for a job. Hence, parents, partners, school-leavers and lending organizations are more willing to help pay for training in Law or Medicine or Business in the belief that these degrees automatically qualify graduates for a profession. There is a lot less confidence that [Bachelors of Arts] or [Bachelors of Educations] degrees do so.”
As a result, the numbers enrolling in the humanities have declined, O’Callaghan noted.
“Here, History has been badly hit; French has more than last year but still relatively few, the Creative Arts Centre has classes with three and four students. Will we survive?”
O’Callaghan said she believed the answer lay in the diversification in the hiring practices in technology-driven enterprises, in order to have a greater understanding of human behaviour and interaction.
“Technology companies need . . . to include more people from backgrounds in philosophy and psychology if they want to tackle the problem of misinformation online, warns the head of one of the biggest internet charities.
Mitchell Baker, head of the Mozilla Foundation, observes that “if we have STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] education without the humanities, or without ethics, or without understanding human behaviour, then we are intentionally building the next generation of technologists who have not even the framework or the education or vocabulary to think about the relationship of STEM to society or humans or life.
“Because that is what the Humanities teach us,” O’Callaghan’s remarks continued. “What it means to be human. How we think, what values we hold and why, how our culture has developed in a particular way, what has gone into our history and how the people who write it have shaped and reshaped it; how we imagine and make art from that imagination, how we communicate and how we learn languages, how languages work and how our brains process their signals; how we appreciate creativity in music, dance, visual and performance art and why, what values we hold and how we acquired them.”