As a freshly certified computer science graduate, I am often served praise and admiration from people when I tell them what I have studied. ‘That will get a you a good job’, or ‘You’re going to be so rich’ are amongst the comments I receive, particularly from the aunties and uncles of the older generation of my Pakistani family.
Although this is to be expected of the traditional immigrant collective, it is the similar responses I hear from younger people that intrigues me most, especially the arts and humanities students. Of course, this is consistent given a society and an economy that venerates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Those who choose this path are promised wealth, security and respect in a workforce that increasingly favours analytical academic backgrounds. This is further reflected by the capitalist nature of our culture, where STEM based companies inject the most productivity into the wider economy. Popular figures such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs reinforce the desirability of being a part of this industry – it is now cool to be a geek.
Furthermore, the crux of this thinking trickles down into the education system; the number of students studying STEM courses in the UK is now at a record high. Whilst this phenomenon is by no means new, it is indicative of a perpetual problem that is experienced by the education system and indeed wider society. We are encouraged by the system to study the subjects that will gear us towards a good, stable job – the only difference being the industry deemed most desirable by the economy at that time. For instance, Silicon Valley now enjoys the same celebrity status that once belonged to Wall Street. This encouragement is exercised through both the competitive rhetoric within the education system and a continued fiscal policy bias toward STEM.
However, as someone who fell prey to this problem, I hold a different view – I admire those in the arts and humanities, and the reason is deeply personal. As a child, my passion for them quickly surfaced. I was naturally inclined towards Art, English and Drama. I adored History and Fiction, would gawk over old maps and watch films far more than I did my maths homework. Intriguingly, I never naturally excelled at mathematics and science, but was encouraged by my father (a doctor) to take them on. In his eyes, a subject such as Art was but a hobby, the real pursuit of education being attaining a skill that gets you a stable job. My teachers often resounded the same thoughts, and I began focusing on the very things I was not naturally good at. I reluctantly became somewhat isolated from the arts as time went on, and inevitably specialised in STEM past the point of no return.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my subject and have always had a great admiration for STEM. However, following such a road has clearly left my peers and I at a distinct disadvantage, and I became increasingly aware of this after befriending people across other disciplines. They knew so much more about people, culture and art. More importantly, they possessed significant emotional intelligence, but lacked in the skills that I possessed that made me think logically and analytically. In the face of this I found myself growing resentful toward the education system. Why weren’t we taught philosophy or politics as core subjects at school? Crucially, why were we actively discouraged from pursuing these? The result of this rubric has created a huge disparity in society, where those with significant cultural influence can be incredibly emotionally unintelligent and the arts and humanities are often mocked as being ‘soft’ subjects.
Despite my disaffection, I am by no means suggesting that the converse should occur. Rather, I argue that no particular subject should dominate the curriculum. Indeed, it is the case that some arts and humanities graduates struggle to think analytically. Employers often complain about their apparent lack of mathematical faculty, but are equally malcontent with the communicative inadequacies of STEM graduates. Without sounding too Utopian, I argue that a broader access to knowledge may work to preserve education for education’s sake. Yes, there is a distinct shortage of STEM graduates in the workforce, but far too often job satisfaction is put below competitive advantage on the scale of importance. I would love to have been more encouraged to draw as a child. Indeed, it may have made me a smarter, more satisfied human being today.