From the Principal – Return to Humanities

Posted 27 June 2019 3:30pm

The more things change, the more they stay the same

With a foundation in the Junior School, each subject in the Senior School bridges the gap between Year 6 and tertiary entrance. The Senior School, from the beginning of next term, will return to the prior model of offering nine discipline-based faculties.

Earlier this week I addressed students at the Senior School Assembly about the rationale to ‘return to humanities’. Here is what I had to say…


In recent years, educationally and in the jobs market, we have seen a necessary correction to ensure we are creating a workforce, or developing a workforce, that has skill capabilities in the areas of information technology, engineering, the sciences and mathematics. A shallow view is that STEM subjects are preferable to humanities, social sciences or the creative and performing arts. As mentioned, a shallow view.

To use an analogy from my own background teaching in the sciences, it is akin to declaring one as dominant and one as recessive. But education and to be well educated is not so simple, as mentioned, a shallow view.

What better way to understand the importance of the Humanities and the Social Sciences, than to look back in history. Do you ever wish you had a crystal ball that could tell you exactly which subjects to study (when asked to make subject selections), which course to do at which university, and which field of work to enter to make you happy, or rich, or famous, or fabulous? In a way, we have available to all of us a crystal ball in the form of the study of subjects that inform us about the past. History. Have you ever heard the phrase – the more things change, the more they stay the same? Studying the past, History or a Social Science, is the greatest weapon to preparing yourself for the future.

Yes, we are in a period of disruption (digital or otherwise), but humans are humans. I do concede that the digital age has enabled us to jump online and to move beyond working within and alongside our local community and interactions. In the digital age (with the click of a button), we can communicate with every person. However; we will still need to work as a human collective, seek the crowd wisdom and manage the broader global narrative. This is also a bigger challenge, but can be a powerful amplifier and hence, have a much more powerful impact. Now, more so than before, the understanding of what makes us ‘human’ attains a higher value within large organisations; however, regardless of future academic pursuits and careers, the importance of understanding people will never be outdated.

Which is why we need the Humanities for balance…back to the Humanities. The job market has always been largely unpredictable and is in a constant state of flux, but only if you are describing the market by ‘job title’. This is too linear and again a shallow view. The job market has been remarkably stable, and valued very similar qualities in potential employees or leaders, if you look to history. Those who study a range of disciplines across the school, whether by completing the IB, or through a BSSS course, are developing skills within themselves to face the future of work, thrive in the future of work and put simply, influence the future of work.

Anna Owen

Note: Jared Diamond’s new book, Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis, explores how past nations and civilizations have handled major crises and what can be learned from them. Solving the big societal problems of the current century  including climate change, poverty and displacement, and racial intolerance — all require understanding humans from multiple perspectives.