By Cian Pierce
STEM; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These fields of study are pushed on us from a very early age, schools favour stem subjects allocating them bigger budgets, spaces and overall, more time is offered to their teaching. This emphasis on STEM education, especially in public schools can lead to a degradation of the status of arts subjects such as music, art, etc. and many other areas of the arts that are a vital part of literature, culture and entertainment, which has the unfortunate consequence of leaving arts programs underfunded or cut from curriculums. For this article, I sat down and spoke with a handful of current UCC students to get their opinions on the divide between STEM and the Arts, and the pressure to prioritize one over the other.
Do you feel there is pressure on people (especially minorities and women) to go into STEM fields as opposed to the Humanities?
Yes, 100%. It comes from the ongoing mentality that the Arts aren’t useful, therefore if you study the arts /you/ are not useful. This pressure doesn’t just come from secondary school stem talks, or parental pressure, but also from inside universities. When I was in first year of my course (BA English) we had a careers talk that discussed how English was great for economics. What?! And on places like UCC Confessions or social media in general you get posts from STEM students (and sometimes exasperated Arts students) about who there’s no careers in the Arts and your study is wasted if you don’t do a Master’s (which many can’t afford to do). It’s great to be encouraging STEM and to make the field of study more accessible to minorities and women- but the way that it’s being done is making the Arts and Humanities seem like a less desirable and worthwhile thing to study. ~ Claire Watson
With school’s lesser enthusiasm for the Arts, there is an implicit narrative that the Arts are somehow lesser, unnecessary, unprofitable in the long run or just a general waste of time. Students are often discouraged from taking arts subjects because they suppose the skills aren’t transferrable to work outside of school beyond further study into arts, this leads to students who are uninterested in STEM studying those subjects for three or four years in a way that doesn’t further their interests or future. What makes the situation worse, is that when education begins to devalue the arts, it trickles down into the population and society as a whole will begin devaluing the arts. This has been evident over the course of the past two years with the treatment of the entertainment industry along the course of the pandemic.
As an Arts/Humanities student, do you think education is becoming more STEM-focused?
I definitely feel education strongly encourages people to enter STEM fields, at least in Ireland. Likely because a lot of major companies set up shop here, it’s a pretty stable area to get work in, but I also don’t think everyone can do STEM or is capable of it – preferably we can have an equal spread in all fields. ~ Kate Rasmussen
Some of the common rhetoric used to uplift STEM at the expense of the Arts is that “STEM subjects get better jobs”. The argument follows that STEM subjects and degrees are a “good investment” that will offer higher returns. This “return on investment” argument leads to students being discouraged from engaging with arts studies, and worse, it makes studying arts subjects in further education more expensive. However, an education in the Arts/Humanities is worth way more than meets the eye as their pursuit of greater understanding through literature, art, politics, language, and philosophy, for example, can have monumental impacts that shape both the individual and wider society.
What do you think STEM could learn from the Arts/Humanities and vice versa?
What Humanities could learn from Stem [is] bringing Humanities into the future through technology. ~ Barra O’ Drisceoil
STEM could learn from the Arts/Humanities how to think more outside the box, be more creative and analyse situations more critically. ~ Connor Healy
Though they’re often described as opposite ends of the spectrum, STEM and the Arts/Humanities have always gone hand in hand. When both are valued and held in equal regard, we are then able to understand more about each other and the world around us. At the end of the day, we need to realize that one field of study isn’t better than the other and we should work to dispel the toxic attitudes perpetrated because there is more to life than just employability and job opportunities.