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China moves to expand humanities, liberal arts in higher education
Chinese advocates push for a move away from rote learning and STEM obsession toward studies that offer more flexible thinking and problem-solving. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Even as higher-ed reformers in the U.S. ratchet up doubts about the value of a humanities degree, a high-profile push is underway in Hong Kong to expand liberal arts offerings in the city's eight universities, wrote Ben Wildavsky for Hechinger Report.

The push, led by businessman Po Chung, targets "the rote learning, test obsession and narrow career focus that still characterize much of the Asian education system," Wildavsky wrote. "They think its past time for colleges to introduce a broader range of subjects, to promote greater intellectual curiosity, and to foster creative thinking. And theyre convinced that these changes will, in turn, build a workforce of rigorous, creative thinkers just what they think is needed to meet the fast-changing needs of a transforming economy."

While the Chinese education system has long been envied for its outstanding test score results, skeptics have also long worried that rote learning would reduce the kind of problem-solving ability that makes for long-term productivity in changing technological environments.

For instance, Deseret News National reported a year ago on a school program being used nationwide in Malaysia called "Thinking Schools," which specifically try to root out rote learning in elementary school.

Our lives are all about providing answers, but actually we should be providing questions and then getting students to think about their own thinking, Lionel Jackson, senior vice president for education at Malaysia's National Innovation Agency, told the Deseret News. Its a long journey that weve just started. But we are beginning to see some change happening.

Last year Forbes also reported on the growth of liberal arts studies in China.

"While the future of small liberal arts colleges in the U.S., many seeing anemic funding and attendance rates, looks tenuous, in recent years, educators and administrators in countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are focusing on schools which focus on critical thinking and creativity," Forbes reported.

Just as the U.S. begins to move away from traditional liberal arts programs and turn to specialized online programs, Asia is discovering there is benefit in the creativity and well-rounded perspective that comes from a liberal arts education, Chester Goad, Ph.D., who sits on the editorial review board for the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, told Forbes. Seeking to break away from their own traditionally homogenized and rigidly specialized educational system, Asian countries began in recent years to find inspiration from our system.
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