STEM obsession in Hong Kong reveals myopic thinking on the role of the humanities in a balanced education system
I write to express my grave concern over the overemphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in recent years in Hong Kong. It is perceived to be forward-looking, but the much-trumpeted STEM education ironically exposes the regressive and myopic thinking of our policymakers.
First, the stepped-up effort to introduce STEM education triggers the marginalisation of the humanities, as evident in the mushrooming of initiatives and functional teams relating to STEM. Stretched to an extreme, it is made an independent subject in some schools.
The humanities (history, geography, languages, etc) are dismissed as being wishy-washy. “Educators” flock to enlist the STEM army, lest certain practices are considered as not being scientific enough and they become associated with stupidity. Yet who should be ridiculed for the blatant neglect of humanities disciplines?
Professor David Faure is right in saying, “It is a mistake that the faculties of social sciences and business schools don’t include Chinese history in what they teach” (“To understand China and its future, look to its past, social historian says”, August 2).
Secondly, the hype around STEM defies the aim of the education reform, which is to break the barrier between the arts and science streams. However successful the image-building campaign, STEM is but a reincarnation of the paradigm that prioritises science over arts.
A deep understanding of human civilisation is not necessary even if an “A”, for arts, is tactfully incorporated into the modified version, STEAM.
Thirdly, STEM is not exclusive to a multidisciplinary approach to education; humanities can do the same. Debate education, for example, can develop students’ problem-solving, analytical, critical-thinking and numeracy skills. The training in generic skills, which form the basis of the education reform, serves to equip students with 21st-century skills and the implementation of STEM is not a necessary condition.
As a frontline teacher who believes in a liberal arts education, I have to stress that I do not oppose STEM. What I am against is the idolisation of STEM at the expense of humanities education. The administration should promote a balanced curriculum for the benefit of students and society as a whole.
John Ng, Lai Chi Kok