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Higher Learning Dilemma> Archive
UPDATED: October 28, 2009 NO. 43 OCTOBER 29, 2009
Is Non-major Education Practical?

General education can be compared to agricultural production. It offers sunshine, air, water and soil. Because general education does not stress rigid division among different disciplines, it offers learners rich and full nutrition from all aspects. In this rich soil, students are able to grow more freely and healthily.

Ding Hongxian (Zhenjiang Daily): The idea of non-major general education has stirred up disputes because it drastically challenges our usual thinking. In the current education system, many universities attach great importance to professional knowledge, focusing on employment. They are proud to be the alma maters of the rich entrepreneurs or high-ranking government officials, showing how higher education has deteriorated concurrently with the rise of materialism.

Under these circumstances, an emphasis on general education is more important than ever.

As we pursue educational reform, we should always be open to problems that may arise. The right attitude is to face possible problems, solve them in a tolerant manner and push forward the reform of higher education actively and prudently.

No to general mediocrity

Wen Zhisa (rednet.cn): The courses provided by the Boya School include Ancient Chinese History, Chinese Art History, Introduction to Modern Life Science, Chinese Poems, Introduction to Psychology and Seminar on Ethics Issues, which are more of an educational hodgepodge than general education. As we all know, the study of literature, arts or philosophy, each an arcane discipline in itself, requires years of learning and research. Spoon-feeding students so many courses in such a short period of time makes it hard to digest all the information. The most probable result will be that their knowledge of each subject is no more than fragmentary.

What's more, a great scholar cannot be cultivated only with a handful of courses on social science. His (her) biggest difference from average people lies not in the depth and breadth of knowledge, but in academic independence and freethinking.

Reading classics merely improves wisdom and temperament; it does not make one a great scholar.

The Boya School's attempt to cultivate great scholars through the so-called non-major general education is doomed to be a total failure.

Peng Xingting (Beijing Youth Daily): I am puzzled by the idea of non-major general education initiated by the Boya School. As early as ancient times, people knew the importance of the technical division of labor. By now, with the development of natural and social sciences, we have numerous disciplines and majors. Non-major general education is an absolute misreading of general education.

As its name indicates, general education is a kind of basic education, namely, teaching basic knowledge about language, culture, history and science, developing personality and cultivating a sense of citizenship. In this sense, general education aims to cultivate overall personality, without negating the need to acquire technical skills.

As a matter of fact, higher education in developed countries has been committed, for over a century, to bridging the gap between general education and discipline-based education.

In truth, the non-major education program in the Boya School has gone too far to the other extreme. The essence of the university should be integrating common and professional knowledge, not attending to one at the expense of the other.

Wu Lihua (Zhuhai Evening News): Fundamentally, general education is a basic education that does not preclude the need for discipline-based education. People have varying interests and gifts, thus we have to concentrate on training them in particular majors or skills, rather than making each student Mr. Know-It-All. Geniuses, like Leonardo da Vinci, belong only to their time. Even the greatest minds in history, like Albert Einstein, were deficient in some fields.

The Boya School's attempt to develop general education is a response to materialism in higher education. However, it is too optimistic to say that non-major general education will be able to produce great thinkers and scholars.

Xiao Shizi (Xinmin Evening News): There is a natural contradiction between general education and discipline-based education. Students from wealthy families can enjoy so-called general education. For those university students who are still concerned with bread-and-butter issues, are they entitled to the luxury of general education? Obviously, general education teaches them how to think, but it does not teach them the skills they need to earn a living.

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