President-Yoweri-Museveni

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni believes going to the university to study a course in Humanities is pointless and therefore advised universities in the east African country to rather focus on teaching science subjects.

“You ask these arts students what they can solve and they tell you, ‘for us we only think.’ Think about what?” asked Museveni at Ndejje University, while launching a Shs5 billion ($1.9 million) modern laboratory.

President Museveni is not alone in this school of thought; a lot of people believe studying humanities is a big waste of time as graduates of humanities are irrelevant in a nation’s developmental strides.

As if he had a personal vendetta against humanities, Museveni continued his onslaught, saying how unfortunate it was that universities still offer “useless courses” that render graduates useless after graduation.

“You find many of these people putting on big academic gowns but have no solutions to many of the country’s challenges. These people have nothing to help us because they offered useless courses,” Museveni said.

But as useless as the president who studies Economics and Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania thinks humanities is, Max Nisen did not struggle to find 11 reasons to major in humanities.

“The humanities are the study of people. Regardless of whether it’s history or literature, it’s one of the best ways to figure out how to understand and relate to people, and use language to convince them of your viewpoint. A brilliant technical mind isn’t always enough,” he wrote, as though he was replying Museveni in his piece that came more than a year before the Ugandan president’s speech.

Discussions have been on for decades on the relevance of humanities in today’s tech-driven world, but scholars continue to hold sway on the importance of humanities, even in technology.

Northrop Frye, world renowned literary critic stressed the vital role of humanities in learning and life.“The humanities graduate is not condemned simply to teach what he has been taught,” said Frye in an interview first published in the 1980’s.

“In fact he is much less likelyto be a victim of technological unemployment than someone who has learned only specific skills. The businessman who hires someone totally inarticulate soon finds out that such a person is no more use to him than someone who falls asleep on the job. But the humanities graduate who has developed good verbal skills, whose mind has been framed to flexible and adjustable, will find many options open to him,” said Frye.

While Frye may not be totally right in his assertion, he does bring to fore the flexibility and adjustability that comes with the training in humanities.

Humanities may be a verbal discipline, it is key to the development of any nation.

“The literary imagination,” which comes with the study of humanities, “creates a world of possibilities, and these possibilities are alternative ways of seeing things,” said Frye. This attribute is essential for any leader who would steer development. Seeing things in a different way show mental strength and help foster growth.

“Briefly, it is the business of the humanities to nurture the capacity to articulate. Articulateness builds the human community,” the literary critic said.

Apart from being the president of the United States, Barack Obama’s global respect and affection came largely from his articulateness, delivering wonderful speeches across the globe, making Americans proud.

A 2013 research by Georgetown University noted that graduates who majored in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics stand better chances of getting employed and earning good pay, while unemployment is higher for graduates with non-technical degrees.

“Unemployment is generally higher for non-technical majors, such as the arts (9.8 percent) or law and public policy (9.2 percent),” the report said.

“Graduates in psychology and social work also have relatively low rates (8.8 percent) because almost half of them work in healthcare or education sectors,” added the report that seem to echoe Museveni’s advice to psychology graduates; “Those who did psychology can for instance go and counsel prisoners at Luzira (prison),” Museveni had said.

The barrier of discipline seemed to have been broken in many African countries, with many companies in countries like Nigeria hiring anyone with a degree for duties that can be learnt on the job.

A stereotyped view of humanities as a pointless field of study has however made the myth popular.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems has exploded the myth in a recent study.

An article by Scott Samuelson titled ‘Would You Hire Socrates?’ quoted the study, which analyzed America’s Census Bureau data on the education and occupation of about three million U.S. residents.

Here is its finding: “at peak earnings ages (56-60 years) workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn annually on average about $2,000 more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields.”

Is studying humanities still pointless?

Not only that, the study also showed that a huge number of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems,” which are some of the several skills associated with the study of humanities.

The society needs to start seeing humanities as important as it really is

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