How interdisciplinary studies translates to a meaningful career
27 May 2021 — Written by Arpit Chhikara
Before we define interdisciplinary studies and dive further into it, time for a quick question.
If you have a problem at hand, such as overpopulation, how would you think about solving it? Some possible ways of looking might be:-
- Make healthcare facilities available at low prices to people living in a populated area. The infant mortality rate will go down and parents will have fewer children because children’s survival rate will increase. This is what Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing.
- See which places have a higher number of people per square foot. Then develop areas where there are more resources but fewer people. This will give people in densely populated regions a reason to change their cities.
- Have campaigns on family planning in places where the “more hands bring more money” mindset exists. Parallelly, upskill the parents to improve their earning potential so they don’t have to rely on child labour for income.
There could be a number of solutions. But what’s important is to know which of the above ideas came first to your mind? Chances are that you have a linear way of thinking if you could only think of one possible solution. This means you’ve expertise in one field which is the result of uni-disciplinary studies. On the other hand, imagine someone who came up with three different solutions from three different fields. This is what results from interdisciplinary studies, a central point of focus in a liberal education curriculum.
At the heart of liberal education is the belief that both your depth and breadth of knowledge are valuable. In simple words, the way to effectively learn is to specialize and alongside, expand your existing ways of looking at things. This is the reason liberal education focuses on studying the following disciplines:-
- humanities - language, history, literature
- arts - fashion design, painting, theatre, music
- natural sciences - biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics
- social sciences - psychology, sociology, economics, computers, accounting
Pursuing a course in liberal education allows a student to pick one major and a number of minors. With this approach, you may very well believe your child will come out of school and college with a knowledge spanning multiple disciplines.
Every minor subject a child learns, the more opportunities open up for them to choose a meaningful career path. Consider a case where a student pursues her major in history and minor in biology, music and economics. Upon finishing college, she could do research on modern vs ancient trade systems. Or make a documentary on contemporary Indian musicians across different states. She could also dive into anthropology or archaeology. Reading this, you must be wondering, “Shouldn’t I be making her expert at one thing”. Of course, you should. That’s why the major subject. But the world doesn’t work in isolation, it works in systems.
At Beyond 8, for instance, we engage our learners in activities that immerse them in interdisciplinary learning. Recently, it involved mulling over an image of African women bringing water on their heads, walking bare feet on the hot desert sand. The children were asked to observe as many things as they could. What resulted was a long list, ranging from patriarchy to emotions to geography. In the next step, we asked the learners to apply their minds to mitigate the problem. Multiple solutions emerged: creation of artificial rain, digging wells, afforestation, creation of water from air and what not!
Following this, they were informed that scientists with UN funding had installed a hand pump after digging a well. The picture of people using the well was shown. In this image, the women appeared extremely unhappy with the solution. Again, they were asked to reflect on this image.
The children realised that the women probably needed that walk as a break to just be with other women in such a society. And thrusting a sophistication like a hand pump could actually prove bad for their social lives and mental health. When the learners went on to broach the situation with empathy, they were able to reach new and meaningful outcomes.
Everything is connected to everything else hence the focus on - interdisciplinary studies. You can’t make a dam without considering the social cost of displacing people and the environmental cost of removing a forest. For a mechanical process to happen, we can’t let go of humans and nature. In short, the real world works when we have experts whose expertise is holistic, that is, interdisciplinary. Therefore, this aspect, the getting-ready-for-the-real-world one, should be a parameter worth keeping in mind when deciding for your child’s higher education. And if you ask us, liberal education is what the modern economy requires because gone are the days of traditional schooling.
Wondering if your child would do well with liberal education? Talk to us on our website to know more about how we bring interdisciplinary learning to life for our students.