Saturday, October 22, 2005

Liberal arts the best preparation for life

Edward Chen Kwan-yiu
EDU4 南華早報 Edward Chen 2005-10-22

Liberal arts is one of the oldest undertakings of civilisation: theinitiation of youth into responsible membership in society. It is widelyrecognised as the best form of undergraduate education and prepares thestudents for life instead of a job. In a study in the United States, it wasfound that 60 per cent of its leaders received liberal arts undergraduateeducation. From ancient Greece to Confucius China, the liberal arts wereconsidered conducive to the harmonious development of mind and body. In thesixth century, the seven branches of liberal arts learning - grammar,rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, were offered bythe medieval universities in Europe.

Today, liberal arts education normally encompasses three main areas:the humanities; physical/biological sciences and mathematics; and the socialsciences. And the full term is liberal arts and sciences. Regrettably,liberal arts education has given way to professional training in Asia inmodern times. Liberal arts colleges and education were almost unknown herebefore Lingnan's advocacy.

Liberal arts education starts with three prerequisites: small size -1,000 to 2,500 students; a residential campus - usually with hostels for 80to 100 per cent of their students to live on campus; and student-orientedapproach in teaching and use of resources. Liberal arts education makes adifference because of its cross-disciplinary curriculum design; a closeteacher and student relationship; small-class teaching; narrative evaluationinstead of multiple choices; a rich campus life; extensive opportunities forservice-learning, and a rigorous international student exchange programme -weaving formal and informal curriculum, professional training andwhole-person development into a coherent whole.

Ten years ago, when Lingnan relocated to Tuen Mun, we saw in Hong Kongan obvious niche in the higher education sector for liberal arts education.Lingnan was given only a student number of 2,000 and had residential placesfor 75 per cent. With the prerequisites fulfilled, we started to build upthe distinctive liberal arts teaching and learning processes andenvironment. As a result, we have been able to generate distinctiveoutcomes. The educational aims of Lingnan are to equip students with the"ABC" of liberal arts education - Adaptability, Brainpower and Creativity -and develop their sense of community, their cognitive, communication, socialand life skills. By cultivating such non-time bound qualities in thestudents, it is the best preparation for whatever work they will be asked toperform in this ever-changing world.

Edward Chen Kwan-yiu is president of Lingnan University.


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