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Rekindling UWI Mona: Spreading a fire shut up in those bones.




Sashana Small's outstanding lead story featuring Professor Densil Williams' and Reverend Ronald Thwaites' thinking in today's (16/01/2024) Gleaner, to quote The Grace Thrillers 7:44 (at 7 minutes 44 seconds): " Is Like Fire Shut Up In My Bone" **.


For me, PVC Professor Densil Williams' vision for UWI Mona as a "global activist academy" resonates powerfully, calling for not just social engagement but also a re-examination of the academic framework within which activism flourishes. In this spirit, I propose we consider the vital role a robust Liberal Arts education can play in shaping UWI Mona's graduates as well-rounded, critically-minded game-changers, particularly within the seemingly disparate medley of natural sciences, medicine, agriculture, engineering, and the socio-economic sciences.

While technical expertise remains the cornerstone of these fields, equipping graduates with a strong grounding in the humanities and social sciences can unlock vast nation-building potential. Reverend Ronald Thwaites' and Dr Orville Taylor's historical references to UWI's past influence on policymaking, while gently countering the recent oration of Dr. Peter Phillips, emphasize the power of interdisciplinary engagement. Imagine a dangerously overloaded MP/minister or an engineer who understands the social implications of a new energy project, or a physician who can navigate the cultural nuances of community health outreach. This is where the Liberal Arts, with its emphasis on critical thinking, communication, and cultural understanding, becomes indispensable.

Firstly, let us not forget the power of "writing well." As Williams aptly states, impactful knowledge deserves a clear and compelling voice. Across all disciplines, the ability to articulate complex ideas persuasively is crucial, be it through research papers, policy briefs, or community presentations. UWI Mona can re-emphasize writing across the curriculum, fostering not just technical accuracy but also clarity, conciseness, and storytelling prowess. 

Secondly, in a globalized world, polyglot skills are no longer a bonus, but a near-necessity. Imagine an agricultural scientist fluent in Spanish, collaborating with farmers in the Dominican Republic, or a doctor speaking French, bridging the language barrier with Haitian patients. By encouraging language learning across disciplines, UWI Mona can empower graduates to connect with diverse communities and navigate the complexities of international collaboration.

Finally, cultural exchanges, particularly within the vast landscape of the 600+ million citizens of the Ibero-American nations through study abroad programs, can forge crucial connections and broaden perspectives. Imagine a Jamaican agricultural engineering student experiencing the innovative water solutions being pursued in Cochabamba's UPV in Bolivia, or a Trinidadian medical student studying traditional healing practices at UNAM or at Tec. de Monterrey in Mexico in these times. Such immersive experiences foster empathy, adaptability, and a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of global challenges, COP flop in Dubai or not.

Implementing these enhancements may require strategic adjustments. Integrating Liberal Arts modules into science and technical curricula, offering targeted writing workshops, and establishing robust study abroad partnerships within the OAS region are just a few possibilities. UWI Mona can draw inspiration from successful models like MIT's Global Languages program, Stanford's international exchange opportunities, or Argentinian UBA's most extensive exchange programs with partnerships involving over 300 universities around the world, tailoring UWI Mona's such initiatives to the Caribbean context and regional needs.

The potential benefits are immense. Graduates equipped with both technical expertise and a strong Liberal Arts foundation will be better equipped to tackle complex challenges, advocate for social change, and navigate the complexities of a globalized world. UWI Mona, by rekindling the flame of a well-rounded education, can truly stand as a leading "global activist academy," not just for Jamaica and the Caribbean, but for universities worldwide seeking to nurture a generation of maestros ready to shape a more just and equitable future. 



Here's the thing: The UWI Mona will upskill and massively move this country and region if the Medley of its various offerings is always, always rendered to the fiercest  bass-line of Liberal Arts Power "moving just like a magnet". (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1OxvcMRByk)  More Power Down to UWI Mona Principal Williams and his Team!

But first a little house-keeping!

My recommendation for UWI Mona is to implement specific entry subject requirements known as QSH (Categories: Quantitatives, Sciences, and Humanities) for all matriculants, extending up to CAPE or A levels. The outlined requirements for each category are as follows:

Quantitatives:

  • At least one of the following successfully pursued for at least two academic years preceding matriculation:

  • Mathematics

  • Computing

  • Physics

  • Chemistry

  • Technical/Engineering Drawing

  • Statistics

Sciences:

  • At least one of the following successfully pursued for at least two academic years preceding matriculation:

  • Computing

  • Physics

  • Chemistry

  • Biology

  • Environmental Studies

  • Geography

  • Agricultural Sciences

Humanities:

  • Students should be required to satisfy entry requirements in at least one of the following successfully pursued for at least two academic years preceding matriculation::

  • Caribbean Studies

  • Communication Studies

  • French

  • Literature in English

  • Spanish  

  • Portuguese

  • Art and Design

  • History

  • Literatures in English

  • Theatre Arts

  • Music

  • Chinese

  • Hindi

  • Russian

  • German

  • Arabic

  • Swahili

  • Hausa

  • Amharic/Oromo

This emphasis is on ensuring that students have a well-rounded education in quantitative subjects, sciences, and humanities to provide them with a comprehensive academic foundation.

Additionally, there needs to be a distinct perspective on the differentiation between training and education. The recommendation is for UWI Mona to evolve into an "Autonomous University" with a dual focus on both education and training.



To make this distinction clear:

  • Training: Equips students with the means and tools necessary to make a living.

  • Education: Kindles and builds thinking minds, enabling students to effectively wield tools and abilities in any situation.

This implies a holistic approach, suggesting that UWI Mona should not only prepare students for specific skills needed in the workforce but also foster critical thinking and adaptability for broader and more versatile application of their knowledge and skills.

**By the way:

In Jeremiah 20:9 (New International Version): "But if I say, 'I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,' his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot."

By Dennis A. Minott, PhD.

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