Go big or go home. We have all heard that phrase before. From a young age, we have been extolled to be the best we can be. And that can lead to stress.

That pressure starts as early as in primary school, and it doesn’t stop. By the time we enter polytechnic and university life, we are supposed to have it all sorted out: Know what we want to be so that we can further our studies as quickly as possible to get that edge in the workforce. We define ourselves as “med student”, “engineer”, “lawyer”, “artist” and more, diving into that single specialised field with little-to-no room to consider other options.

That’s all well and good if we have a game plan for what we want to be. But what if we haven’t yet found our calling?

Different people take differing paths to figure out what profession they want to pursue, especially in the coming-of-age where they are still trying to figure out their life goals.

A young person “forced” to decide on a course tends to be less incentivised to perform compared to a peer who is truly passionate about his or her course of study. That discouragement and disappointment can lead to a poor sense of self-worth.

Worse, this need for speed sometimes can consume a young person’s life as they race through their studies to get that coveted piece of paper, only to emerge educated yet clueless as to what they really want.

Looking towards a more diverse future

Thankfully, this looks to change. Recently, Education Minister Lawrence Wong announced that institutes of higher learning are reassessing their curriculum to integrate interdisciplinary learning. This is to better educate students across a wider spectrum of knowledge.

This is a great step in the right direction as it has been argued that jacks-of-all-trades perform better than masters-of-one. While the jury is still out on that, it is important to realise that success can come from both generalists and specialists.

Other than that, it presents students with more opportunities to figure out what they are interested in. Giving them more exposure into different fields of knowledge also allows them to discover and hone hidden talents.

The winds of change

By next August, NUS plans to put its first cohort of students into a newly-combined College of Humanities and Sciences. Instead of the usual subject-based structure, students will have more academic control to choose different lessons from multiple disciplines to invest in their strengths, interests and passions.

Also from next August, NTU freshmen will undergo a common core curriculum, replacing the previous general education requirement courses.

University students studying together on a conducive campus environment.
Image source: Unsplash / Priscilla Du Preez

Other schools’  push for interdisciplinary learning takes a more gradual approach.

Recently, SMU President Professor Lily Kong revealed details of the second phase of the school’s Vision 2025 plan. This plan focuses on three cross-disciplinary strategies to concentrate resources and efforts into more relevant areas of the economies and societies within Singapore and Asia

While no formal announcement has been made, similar revisions are taking place at polytechnics and ITEs as well.

Why it matters

With so many schools heading in this interdisciplinary direction, students will have much to be excited about. They will have more choices in their areas of study, not only to pursue their interests and passions, but to also gain a broader range of skill sets.

This increases job opportunities and creates a  learning environment more conducive to helping them chase or find their dreams.

Rather than being forced to frame themselves within a narrow scope of ability, students will be able to open their minds to more possibilities and test different waters to find out what truly appeals.

University students collaborating on a laptop
Image source: Unsplash / John Schnobric

It also boosts mental wellness as students can be more authentic and look beyond just their grades. This opens their eyes to how their hard work, effort and sacrifices will be for a good reason: a future of their making.

Changing the idea of success

Hopefully, this focus on interdisciplinary learning can lead to a change in society’s notion on what makes a person successful.

In primary and secondary school, the focus is on preparing students for their next level of education. But an over-emphasis on results and scores on a certificate can create a sense of elitism within the school, where the people who have the best scoring results are considered “better” than the others.

As a result, the less academically-gifted students feel that they fall short in the pecking order and their self-confidence takes a beating. This can create a downward spiral of stress and negativity.

At the tertiary level, we should teach our students that an education is more than just how well they score on a test, it is an opportunity to expand their horizons and find their passion to pursue as a profession. Having a closer and more hands-on experience with myriad paths of inquiry will help them in their journey of self-discovery.

That’s why the push for interdisciplinary learning is such a great recipe for success. Students will be able to challenge themselves in multiple areas and choose what suits them best in the future. And when they start working, this ability to take on multiple roles with different dynamics will make them a true asset to any company.

By changing the definition of success, the stressful environment in schools and offices will improve. While still important, qualification and grades on the resume would matter less, and passion and character would come to the forefront more.

As Minister Wong says: “Wanting to be a better person, wanting to do better in everything that you do. And that, ultimately, I think, is what education is about.”

Beneficial to other people

Apart from students, others gain too from this shift in educational focus.

Parents can rest assured that their children will have ample chances to pinpoint what works best for them. This will allow parents to better support their children in their endeavours and worry less over their futures.

Employers can expect more driven candidates who would look for more meaning than just a good salary in the job description. Their generalist skills can improve communication and cohesion within teams and their passion can be infectious.

A group of university stidents collaborating on a laptop.
Image source: Unsplash / Jud Mackrill

True success is when a person can hone their talents, be passionate about their work and lead a meaningful life.

Passion is a dormant fire present in all of us. Some of us just need a little extra help in igniting it. Once ablaze, passion drives us onward and allows us to lead even more fulfilling lives. That is the kind of life we all should aim to lead.

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