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The liberal arts in Africa

October 19, 2007, 5:27 am

Inside Higher Ed has this fascinating (and too brief) interview with Patrick Awuah, president of Ashesi University in Ghana. While Ghana has several large universities, Ashesi is the first (and only) liberal arts college in this African nation. Awuah was asked about the Ashesi’s liberal arts focus:

I think that the liberal arts focus is probably the most important thing that we’re doing at Ashesi and it’s driven in part by my experiences at Swarthmore, but also comparing that with the experiences of my colleagues who were educated in Ghana for college. In Ghana the educational system is very heavily dependent on rote learning, just memorizing facts and repeating them to faculty. It does not prepare people to be problem-solvers. So what we’re doing at Ashesi is trying to set this example that we hope others will follow, where the process of education should be about asking the right questions and looking at issues from multiple perspectives and thinking critically and thinking analytically, both qualitatively and quantitatively. [Emphases added]

I think that’s a worthy definition of the liberal arts in any setting. It would be nice if every liberal arts college in the United States — and the students, faculty, and administrators who inhabit them — had a similar approach and a similar sense of purpose. You can bet that the Ashesi students, intent on bettering themselves and their country, are probably more concerned about the process of education than they are about which sorority will give them a bid, who’s throwing a party this weekend, or who they’re playing in sports next week.

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