Fareed Zakaria: STEM Education Is Important, But It’s Not Everything

The world is constantly changing, but the breakneck pace of technology innovation makes it difficult for educators and parents to prepare students for an uncertain future.

Many schools have wisely prioritized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in their curricula, but in our push to teach the cold, hard, and rational, we should not forget the humanities.

“A lot of what makes you succeed in life is not related to STEM. They are things like how to think clearly, how to express yourself clearly, how to write clearly, and the ability to place things in context,” says Fareed Zakaria, author, Washington Post columnist, and host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. “I would argue that we’re entering a phase where those traits that I just described will actually be more important, because computers are increasingly able to do routine coding. Computers are able to do some of those rote, repetitive skills that people used to learn technical skills for. But what a computer can’t do is be human.”

Zakaria stopped by PCMag’s offices for an episode of our interview series, The Convo, during which he discussed how to prepare children for a world that will be increasingly mechanized and automated (see the full video of our conversation below). Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to that question.

Zakaria’s goal is to put complex, global socio-economic forces in context and translate them for the average person. Part of this mission led him to write In Defense of a Liberal Education last year, in which he argues that while math and science are important, the humanities (arts, literature, theater, music) should not be forgotten. This isn’t some vague notion of touchy-feely kumbaya-ness. The humanities are necessary to cultivate marketable skills that can’t be replicated by a machine.

“There’s a bigger issue I’m raising of ‘what does it mean to be human?,’ but surely some of it is these creative skills, these soft skills, and these contextual skills. And the final part is the ability to work together. People have to want to work with you. That’s an incredible skill to have in life — to make people want to work with you,” he says.

These soft skills are not things you easily pick up in an engineering or biology class. They are cultivated though social interactions and connecting with others by experiencing their art.

Those who are best prepared for the future have mastered technical and human skills. “You’ve got to be able to do all of that,” Zakaria says. “There are some people who are technically proficient, and they should definitely do engineering and science or whatever. But there are others who don’t. Each should know a little about each other’s field. But when you listen to Steve Jobs when he announced the iPad, he said the DNA of Apple was the marrying of the technical with the liberal arts — I think that’s the sweet spot.”

You can hear more of Zakaria’s takes on the future of technology and humanity on his new CNN special The Next Big Idea. Zakaria speaks with experts from various disciplins about how flying cars will one day be a reality, where innovation comes from, how technological progress effects jobs, and much more. The Next Big Idea debuts September 3 at 10 AM ET on CNN and CNN International.

The Convo is PCMag’s interview series hosted by features editor Evan Dashevsky (@haldash). Each episode is broadcast live on PCMag’s Facebook page, where viewers are invited to ask guests questions in the comments. Episodes are then posted on our YouTube page and available as an audio podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes or the podcast platform of your choice.


Originally published at www.pcmag.com.