When my mother was in high school over 30 years ago, to graduate from upper sixth form was a special feat. Sixth form graduates were the ones getting jobs in places banks and the public sector. Only the very white, the very bright or the very rich attended university. By the time I started school, to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree was the gold standard. Now, the four year degree is seeing its time.
In her 2016 Jamaica Gleaner article, “Are Degrees Failing Jamaica?” Sashakay Fairclough wrote:
The world is changing. A university education is no longer the way to escape poverty. In fact, it appears to bring persons closer to it. It is simply not the great equaliser anymore.
Choose a career that is marketable, bankable, future-proof and lucrative, they said, pursue a degree in the STEM field, they said, it’s the future.
I agree that getting a liberal arts degree makes life tougher for graduates because the courses are not immediately linked to a career path but to choose a job based on the trajectory of the economy is only half of the story.
For STEM: Slow Start
In high school my first Math teacher was the lower school Art teacher and in second form our Integrated Science teacher was one of the Physical Education teachers. In third form qualified teachers taught each course but my introduction to specific STEM subjects, especially Math, which in integral to all science subjects, was very poor. I have never liked Math since first form for this reason.
Better teachers at earlier levels of schooling improve student performance in the long run. I liked Literature in school for a while because I had a fantastic teacher in first form and the relationship I formed with the subject stuck. Nowadays teachers receive STEM scholarships so hopefully future generations will receive what we did not.
I know a lot of people who studied a science degree in university and graduated to find that their field is underdeveloped in Jamaica and that more advanced degrees are needed to enter these careers abroad. Most return to the classrooms, becoming teachers, some pursue further studies or they become low-mid level assistants or they have to go back to school for completely different degrees. STEM degrees require modern machines and technology to flourish else advancement in the areas of research and exploration is limited. Jamaica lacks technological developments thus these degrees can sometimes feel useless.
In Defense of The Liberal Arts Degree
Due to the above mentioned reasons a lot of university students pursue liberal arts degrees but if you have parents like mine this is the road of most resistance. Not many parents want to sponsor a degree that does not have courses linked to a direct career and it is for that reason that you find a lot of students who would love to go into the Arts choose degrees that they do not what to do.
Franklin Johnson stated in his Jamaica Observer article for January 2014:
Most students prefer what is easy, popular with peers, or on TV — not the best way to choose your degree… A post-slave society needs educated youth who love learning, explore, but have a competence and innovate. A degree is now a bauble, a trophy, and few care what they read.
A degree is just expensive paper that we buy, literally. The misconception is that the liberal arts graduate needs to land a ready made job after school but the liberal arts degree offers more versatility than anything else right now. We are in the age of personality where everyone has access to the same information at the same time, thus room has been created for influencers to work on behalf of companies and collectives in all areas of art. Getting a liberal arts Bachelor’s degree now more than ever is not an indication of artistic ability or creativity (because school can’t teach that– it more ruins it) it just says, “I can handle work and I can manage my time.”
All-in-all, either type of degree one chooses to do does not better or dampen the chances at success especially now when the Bachelor’s degree is becoming more and more obsolete (getting a Master’s isn’t the answer either).
The next generation needs to be those who will advance in STEM but we need better teachers at the earliest levels of schooling to make that happen, the equipment available to take advantage of the skills learnt in the classroom needs to be up to par in the real world as well and people should stop bashing the liberal arts degrees and offer more funding because while STEM shows a practical approach to problem solving, liberal arts degrees rely on emotional reasoning and creativity/ entertainment to encourage peace of mind and to bring about enlightenment. Both areas of education are equally important, both areas are being short changed and that is sad because both areas still have a long way to go. — Bless.
Footnotes: Do you realize that there are so many depressed college dropouts or a lot of depressed college graduates out here ’cause we doing degrees for our parents? It’s an epidemic. Some of us graduate with degrees we hate or can’t fully use in this economy so we settle for jobs we are overqualified for or hate. We soon become zombies: we live for the weekend because the nine-to-five is just something to get through. The stress of the early morning wake up at 4am or 5am and the traffic to get the the 8am and the traffic to get home is exhausting. The inadequate pay/ the high cost of living cause the stress. The stress overtime becomes frustration resulting in the notoriously poor attitude that Jamaicans are known for. In a year or less we are grabbing at the work visa and the green card, soon we are working just to runaway. Look round you, there are a lot of unhappy Jamaicans going to work just to survive. And let us not forget that all this is made 10x worse if you have student debt…
[cover art: Margaret Bowland, Power (2014)]