Give liberal arts system a chance to flourish

I agree with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that we do not need to have a carbon copy of Yale University in Singapore ("Yale-NUS 'has to adapt liberal arts model to Asia'"; Tuesday). But with the Yale-NUS partnership, we need to give the liberal arts education system a chance.

Its main objective is to foster a learning environment in which individuals are encouraged to learn through a breadth of disciplines, from multiple communities and from one another.

Classes are small, and in-depth discussions are favoured over sessions dominated by lectures.

Students ponder over questions challenging society, making connections and sense of the world, and drawing from real-world experiences. The student is encouraged to think critically and connect the dots through everything he has learnt.

The answer at this stage is not the emphasis; it is the thought process that is valued. Creating this atmosphere should be the focus, rather than trying to shape the direction of a system that is still in its infancy in Singapore.

A proper liberal arts education will equip students with the tools to think critically and analytically and to seek different perspectives.

It will instil in them the curiosity and passion for continual learning.

PM Lee has said that Yale-NUS College has to adapt the liberal arts education model to Asia.

Yes, Asia is important.

But to be competitive in this evolving, global market, we want students to think and exercise their thought process; that is, not only from the point of view of this region or country, but also to examine other continents critically and perhaps to even look at Asia as though they were on the outside.

Singapore has worked hard to get this partnership. If allowed the opportunity to flourish, a proper liberal arts education will equip students with the tools to think critically and analytically and to seek different perspectives.

It will instil in them the curiosity and passion for continual learning, regardless of whether it is located in the Eastern or Western hemisphere.

The students will not pretend they have the answers to everything and will have an open mind as well as willing and listening ears - skills an astute policymaker and leader should have.

Bernard Chen Zhong'en

United States

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Give liberal arts system a chance to flourish'. Print Edition | Subscribe