Concerned Learning Material Developers

The Value of the Humanities

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    Louise Sterling

    At a recent ETDP-SETA roadshow in Cape Town, I was disheartened to hear CEO Nombulelo Nxesi’s view on degrees in the humanities. Essentially, she said that these qualifications were worthless and universities must be pressurised to link the degrees to named occupations. I felt my heart sinking with these words; the effects of an excellent classical education build human beings with depth and sensitivity, and with a capacity for creative and critical problem solving and engagement – all of which are so needed in our global society.  I was delighted this morning to find this view shared by the philosopher Judith Butler.


    Philosopher Judith Butler on the Value of the Humanities and Why We Read



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    Alan Hammond

    I wonder what the Minister of Higher Education and Training would say? I can’t imagine he believes that his doctorate in sociology is worthless!!

    Marie Smith

    Yes, Alan I agree. And is the subject Sociology not valuable in understanding social issues, social development, social structures, crime, how the social world influences the way we think, feel, and act? Is understanding of such topics without value?

    A university describes Sociology as follows: ‘Sociology’s subject matter is diverse, ranging from crime to religion, from the family to the state, from the divisions of race and social class to the shared beliefs of a common culture, and from social stability to radical change in whole societies. Unifying the study of these diverse subjects of study is sociology’s purpose of understanding how human action and consciousness both shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures.’

    And link that to subjects such as Psychology and Community Development – is this then still without value?

    Do we really want to only develop people into ‘little boxes’ where they can fit in? Do all the current qualification frameworks provide insight into a bigger scene, the wider world? And how do they link to the wider world we live in as social beings? Do we want to train (not develop) people to live with blinkers on, only knowing about the technical aspects of their own occupations?


    As my first honours degree major is Sociology I am unable to support Nombulelo Nxesi’s view.

    In fact ironically it is the very absence of humanities that prevents intellectual debate on this promotion of the primacy of the market. While understanding the role of TVET in providing the means of work and livelihood, surely we gain nothing by developing unthinking human “robots” to serve the market. 

    I’ve added an additional paper by Prof Wheelahan on just this subject. 

    Tass Schwab

    Sweeping statements like this from any education leader is shocking. It discounts and entire field of valuable learning. We are a civilization that has been built on ethical values that stem from these studies. So lets look at one University that offers this (taken from the UCT Humanities web page for the majors or focus in humanities – )

    So do none of these majors of BA’s that have focused on Humanities count at all? Shaking my head and really deeply wondering what on earth is going on with our Leadership in South Africa…

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