THE ongoing industrial revolution and its impact on the academic preparation of future university graduates figured as the central discussion of a recent conference I attended. I felt honored to be invited as a resource speaker, but I was happier to be able to bring forward the case of the so-called "soft sciences" in the latest industrial revolution.
The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Graduate School and the UST Alumni Association collaborated for this event, which had the title, "Academe, Alumni, Industry and Government Summit of the University of Santo Tomas." It was themed "National Multisectoral Summit for Educational Transformation."
As with many conferences about industrial revolutions, one would have expected lectures on the impact of technological and scientific advancements in this summit. But this event had another side to the story, which I was privileged to discuss. This side was on the new vibrancy of the liberal arts in the 21st century's scientific and technological boom.
Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum presented the challenge of today's industrial revolution.
"The new industrial revolution has the potential to robotize humanity, and thus compromise our traditional sources of meaning work, community, family, identity," he said. "Or, we can use the new industrial revolution to lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny."
To be sure, it rests on the liberal arts to respond to this new societal concern of retrieving the deeper meaning of human reality. These points are what I raised during the summit.
Increased globalization has paved the way for the fast-changing nature of social relations and human interactions. Social media, virtual realities, online communities and many more technology-mediated connections blur our usual understanding of the meaning of being human, which used to be personal, physical and tangible. We need philosophy, literature and sociology to explain these phenomena to us, including where these would lead society. Historians can also seek new ways of interpreting historical data offered by advanced technology, so that historical narratives can shed light on the many questions about the distant past.
Businesses are beginning to see the power of liberal arts in developing and promoting their brand in the market and their existence in society. It includes the abilities to peer-teach, to persuade and to use emotional intelligence.
The liberal arts are also essential in policymaking. For example, the democratization of knowledge as a result of technological use needs to be scrutinized using the discerning nature of the humanities, especially in the face of political and legal tensions.
Education is best served through student-teacher interaction. The liberal arts can aid in maintaining healthy student-teacher interaction even if it now takes place in new virtual spaces. There is an ongoing evolution of education caused by online instruction and the use of artificial intelligence. New ways are needed to shape new paradigms for digital pedagogy.
Scientific and technological advancements have caused divisions between nature and culture, public and private life and human and non-human life. The creation of a cybernetic organism is also not far from becoming real. Discussions on autonomy, free will and genetics are not far from being the bone of contention for moral and ethical considerations.
In the previous industrial revolutions, society intensely felt the impact of technology and scientific advancements. Today, the liberal arts must not let itself be left unnoticed. It has to take an active part in slowly transforming the world for the whole of humanity.
The new industrial revolution now places humanity, not technology, at the center of the world. Technology is at the disposal of man, not the other way around. This industrial revolution is about the human person with a powerful tool in his hands technology.
Jesus Jay Miranda, OP is an organization and leadership studies resource person. He teaches at the Graduate School of UST and the ELM Department of the Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC-College of Education of De La Salle University-Manila. Contact him at [emailprotected]
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