It’s not about ‘know thyself’ but being able to ‘wing it’

Why studying humanities will get you further in life than devoting yourself to much-hyped STEM subjects

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 5:17am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 5:17am

Everyone is big on STEM education these days. The government is paying top dollar to promote it. The MTR Corp has just sponsored a high-profile science, technology, engineering and mathematics contest for secondary school students, attended by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor herself.

Some humanities students may, as a result, feel neglected and unimportant. Don’t be. I used to buy into the STEM hype, too. Now I have had a change of heart. 

Ramped-up STEM education key to Hong Kong’s ‘smart city’ plans

At least in Hong Kong, a degree in biology, chemistry, maths and physics doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage in career advancement over one in the humanities and the social sciences. Engineering? Perhaps, so long as our government, the MTR Corp and the big developers keep building like crazy.

Humanities are not a disadvantage; they may even stand you in good stead. I can tell you the value about “know thyself”, being able to quote Shakespeare or Tang poetry and finding your spiritual core.

But that’s all propaganda, just like they tell law students to fight for justice and medical interns to save lives and end suffering; or politicians who only want to help people. 

No, if there is any real career value for humanities, it’s to help train you to “wing it” in most situations in life. Of course, a degree from a top university helps, too.

A recent survey in Britain has found that a ridiculous number of the country’s top politicians, judges, diplomats and opinion leaders, as well as foreign leaders with a British education, studied the famed Philosophy, Politics and Economics programme as undergraduates at Oxford. Do you think they possess superior intellect, or are just good at winging it? Who knows?

How humanities, not STEM, can foster creative innovation

The subject matters of PPE pretty much cover most exigencies in life, from those in cocktail parties to boardroom meetings and government consultations. Work a crowd, run a meeting: useful skill sets, one and all.

Elon Musk reportedly wants to discourage meetings at Tesla. But Musk is not your ordinary CEO nor Tesla your ordinary company. Most of us mortals need meetings to outshine our colleagues and impress bosses. Being able to “wing it” when presented with a tough challenge is a serious advantage.

Learn to speak several languages, be presentable and courteous; if you must offend, at least be witty, and calibrate your conversations, which can range from vulgar to erudite and sincere, depending on your audiences.

In all these, Jane Austen is a far superior guide than computer coding.