In Summary
  • Similar. There are no rigidly defined boundaries between arts and sciences. Any science is also an art and any art is also a science. The compartmentalisation of subjects of study as arts and sciences is only being done for academic, pedagogical and administrative expediency.

There is a falsehood that is increasingly getting popularised in Uganda. It is grounded on the presumption that science, and not arts education, is what you need to eliminate the burgeoning youth unemployment in the country, banish absolute poverty, bridge the existent income inequalities, trigger-off socio-economic transformation and fast-track Uganda’s transition to a middle income economy. This is evident in government’s clarion call for greater emphasis to be placed on science-oriented curricula.

Approximately 70 per cent of the government-sponsored students currently in public universities belong to the sciences. And, a salary structure that is acutely skewed against arts teachers with their science counterparts earning twice as much is, so to speak, the icing on the cake. So clearly, the future of arts courses appears bleak, especially when some top politicians are even talking about the need to stop the overproduction of “useless” arts graduates!

I think this is a misconception and here is why. First, it is fundamentally wrong to look at arts and sciences as though they are two non-complementary mutually exclusive polar opposites. They are actually two sides of the same coin. The similarities and complementarities between arts and science disciplines far outweigh their stereotyped differences. For example, scientists seeking to develop an efficacious vaccine against a ravager disease such as Ebola or HIV/Aids must take into cognisance the historical, geographical, economic, political, sociological, cultural and even religious circumstances of the target populations.

Similarly, the reconstruction of historical, geographical and sociological facts heavily relies on systematic application of scientific knowledge, as well as its methods and techniques of interrogation. For instance, without their mastery of the relevant facts in chemistry and biology, students of geography can at best have only a shaky understanding of chemical and biological types of soil erosion. In the same way, a history student must rely on the “Carbon 14” method to have some historical relics accurately dated. He/she must also be conversant with the scientific concepts of genetic mutation and selective adaptation to fully grasp the theory of human evolution.

In short, there are no rigidly defined boundaries between arts and sciences. Any science is also an art and any art is also a science. The compartmentalisation of subjects of study as arts and sciences is only being done for academic, pedagogical and administrative expediency. Otherwise, our students need an interdisciplinary understanding of the school curriculum – not a disjointed subject-based comprehension.

What we should be striving for is greater integration rather than compartmentalisation of the different branches of study; deeper bridging and not more widening of the gap between arts and sciences – all with a view to allotting both of them a balanced emphasis. That kind of integration and interdisciplinary approach to the teaching and learning of arts and sciences will make the story of scientific discovery and the chronicling of humanities more compelling and the underlying concepts or generalisations more broadly understandable, as well as actionable. And, the technical proficiency of the graduates from such a hybrid curriculum would never be in doubt.

That just goes to confirm that it is not enough (for example) for a medical student of Makerere University to qualify with a First Class degree in Human Medicine. He/she must additionally learn about the history, culture, traditional beliefs, the political economy and geography of his/her clients if he/she has to become a successful practitioner. This will also make it possible for him/her to offer advice that resonates very well with the client’s values and socio-economic background.

Because arts disciplines are more about general knowledge and intellectual skills as opposed to hard occupational skills, they help to shape one’s persona by, inter alia, arousing his or her penchant for alternative ideas/answers, enhancing his/her ability to tolerate alternative facts, inspiring him/her to embrace contextualised decision-making and arousing the development of compassionate feelings.

Remember, education is not just about producing graduates to serve labour market needs per se. It additionally has other moralising, socialising, civilising, democratising or modernising functions. The talk about “overproduction” of worthless school graduates is, therefore, an absurdity. Is it not hypocritical to advocate for “holistic or an all-round education” without giving equal emphasis to both arts and sciences?

Henry Edison Okurut
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