Education that enhances our humanity | Inquirer Opinion

Education that enhances our humanity

I recently overheard two young professionals talking about their years earning their music degrees in one of our country’s top universities. One of them lamented what he considered as wasted time, the efforts he spent studying general education subjects that are unrelated to his chosen field of mastering a particular music instrument. The young musician cited chemistry as one such subject that he was required to take, and which he finds useless in his chosen field of music.

The view that general education subjects in college—including elective subjects unrelated to one’s degree course—are a waste of time and resources, is an opinion shared by many young people. This is especially true among those still toiling in college, as well as new graduates who are struggling to find their niche in their chosen professions. In fact, I may have entertained the same view during my college days. It may also be an opinion prevalent among parents who see college education entirely for its utilitarian purpose for their children.

It’s a view that’s unfortunately gravely mistaken. Our colleges and universities are remiss in their mission if they’ve been failing to make students, parents, and even teachers understand the very crucial importance of general education subjects and the taking of electives in other fields of study.

Young people are made to go to colleges and universities for two equally important purposes. First, to train them in specific professions that can serve as their means of livelihood in life. Second, to prepare and mold them as complete and well-rounded human beings when they go out into the real world. Very often, we fall for the view that the first purpose is the solitary reason why we pursue college education.


When young people go out into the real world to start practicing their professions, venturing into business, or pursuing their passions, they will not live in a vacuum. They will be affected by a multitude of issues “unrelated” to their line of work, such as economics, politics, health, environment, religion, food, cultural traditions, among others. They will not be cloistered in working and living conditions peopled exclusively by members of their profession. They will be interacting with people with a cacophony of interests and background. If they are equipped merely to talk about their line of expertise, they will come across as cold and ill at ease in dealing with people with other backgrounds.

The paradox of people who excel impressively in college but who transition into oblivion in real life, has something to do with a myopic immersion in academics that’s steeped only in the first purpose of education. Their failure to attain the second purpose of education, leads to difficulties converting scholarly achievements into real life success because they’re handicapped in dealing with the real world.

There’s also the factor that young people choose professions they’ve been exposed to all their lives because of their parents or close relatives. But when they experience other fields, they can have Eureka moments when they discover that they have innate talent or they develop passionate interest in something else. My wife, for instance, got into law and politics because she’s been exposed to these fields growing up. In her middle age, however, she’s learned that her real passion rests in music, which is the field that gives her so much joy in life. So many others have shifted careers after belatedly discovering their real interest.

For some people, discovering or cultivating interest in a second field apart from one’s chosen profession can spring from exposure in other fields. While the legal profession has served as my bread and butter, and my means of doing public interest advocacy, I’ve developed a keen interest in the arts. Art is the one field that brightens up my day after long hours of working on other people’s problems. Looking back on my college days, I should have gotten elective subjects in arts and humanities, and that would have anchored my then latent interest in the arts with grounding in art theory and history.


College education is not meant to turn us into robots meant to perform a singular skill all our lives. Our college years are supposed to expose us to a myriad of interests that enhance our humanity, even while we train to acquire one specific skill for sustenance purposes.

If all of these still fail to convince them, young people should remember that talent and good looks are spread across all professions. If one gets lovestruck with someone from a different field, how can you make an impression when all you can talk about are tooth decay as a dentist, fungal infection as a doctor, and bouncing checks as a lawyer?



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