Old school: Humanities Departments need to overcome their outdated functioning mode


Republica National Daily

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The number of students in the Humanities faculties is declining globally, most alarmingly in the universities in the West. While some educational centers have fared relatively well even amidst adversities, some have looked on helplessly at the disappearance of their Humanities departments. Those universities that have given continuity to their Humanities faculty while also investing in the Sciences and Management are, to me, the best providers of pragmatic knowledge.  

The Philosophy departments at many British universities are being closed owing to financial constraints, Keel and Middlesex being the most recent examples. I blame the pedagogues for this state of affairs. Philosophy is at the core of the Humanities as the discipline engenders some of the most profound ideas. Thus the idea of a university is incomplete without incorporating the discipline of philosophy. The irony is that we don’t have a graduate (MA and beyond) philosophy department in Tribhuvan University (TU) or in any other university in Nepal. Likewise, theatre studies are faring better but film studies still languish sans any university-level program.

What are Nepali universities doing to attract students towards the departments like History, Political Science, Psychology and Culture? TU is Exhibit A of the neglect of the Humanities in general. Consider this bizarre situation: the English department overflows with students while there are more teachers than students in other departments. The academicians have run out of likely solutions to correct this imbalance. Some departments are financial burdens on the university but they still continue to run because TU is a state university and few find it inconvenient to burden it with big educational and financial losses.

In the meantime, I want to look at the concerns of the younger scholars in Nepal.  I am extremely impressed by the ideas brought by young Nepali academicians educated in India, Japan and the US. Most of them have completed their PhDs in the last five years and are informed about what is going on in university faculties in Nepal. Many are conducting researches on the goings-on in the universities in South Asian, East Asia and the West. Below are just some issues of mutual concerns we have discussed recently.  

We find that the decline of the Humanities is primarily owing to the pedagogues’ inability to negotiate with the latest trends in globalization, the rise of consumerist culture and the heightened environmental concerns. The Humanities can focus on such issues in traditional departments like History, Psychology, Political Science and Culture. But these departments have failed to adapt to the needs of the times. They have not been able to attract youths with up-to-date programs which can turn out graduates capable of negotiating the complexities of modern professional world.

Take the topic of tourism in Nepal. Is the department of History open to the concerns of tourism?  How many students are asked to do research in this field? What can be done to synchronize the needs of tourism with the History department? The History department, for one, can include courses on tourism. The important thing is to remodel the departments in ways that allow students to find productive work once they graduate. Similarly, the Department of Culture cannot take the sole responsibility for teaching courses on travel and tourism. Economics and Political Science may do their bit too.

Furthermore, there should be more interdepartmental connections. For example, a student of History department must be able to take courses from the department of Economics, if he so desires. If he wants to concentrate on the history and economy of tourism, he should be allowed to take courses from any Humanities department.

Such interdepartmental education needs an overhauling of disciplinary rigidity, seen especially in TU.  Once you have majored in English in the I.A. or plus-2, you have to ‘die’ in English. The rules and regulations do not allow a student to change track. Tribhuvan University is reeling under this ancient educational method and few educationalists are keen in changing it for the better.

I am aware that many of the academicians in TU are knowledgeable about modern trends of education, from Hong Kong to Paris. They do not acknowledge the educational patterns of the leading universities because they know if they agree they have to work harder.

Once, TU was one of the prestigious centers of education in South Asia. Now, its Humanities departments refusing to wiggle out of their old moulds, it has been stuck with the same-old programs which have little valuable insights for their students. We all are responsible for changing this sclerotic system: from students to teachers to politicians to guardians.

Source: Published in Republica National Daily on 30th November