Wed | Dec 2, 2020

Outside the box – creating a new normal through humanities

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Aisha Spencer

“And some will think outside the box.”

– Damian Marley


During this time of social distancing and quarantining, it has become evident that even with the principles of science and technology that provide us with access to practical methods for securing our lives, humanities-based principles and skillsets have played a key role in enabling us to evolve. In light of this, we might want to rethink our approach to education in the future.

The humanistic side of life is often seen as secondary, but if we observe all that has been happening since March 2020, it has become quite evident that much of what we have unearthed, discovered, and reconstructed is intricately connected to the response of human beings to the challenges they face. In fact, our ability to move forward as a community of people, in such a short space of time, is due largely to the humanistic approach many have taken to handling the business of life during this pandemic.


The question is, have we acknowledged the value and power of the role of the human response as a significant stabilising force in the management of tragic, debilitating, and uncertain circumstances and times?

Have we noticed the increased number of artistic designs used by the Government to educate? The adaptable press conference and media spaces that have quickly adjusted for the purposes of context, relevance, and the security of health? The display of musical talent uniting people across the globe? The multiple, dynamic methods of communication across diverse arenas? The immediate and crucial production of masks to meet personal, medical, and cultural needs? The presence of sign language translators, digital humanities experts, and news reporters who have been schooled to understand the purpose of journalism? The use of images and symbols as part of a revolutionary process to indicate that in whatever pandemic we face, ‘black lives will always matter’?

These daily snapshots of ‘real-life’, and the human response to real life, demonstrate the pivotal role of the humanities in equipping human beings with a philosophical mindset, an innovative and artistic set of skills, and a solution-oriented focus that is crafted through knowledge and awareness embedded within the sociocultural and historical experiences of our society.

The success of any invention has never simply been based on that invention itself, but more importantly, on the ways in which that invention is used to affect human lives and nature. It is the ‘soul’ of an idea or experience that allows us, as human beings, to attach worth to any invention or tool. Perhaps this ‘new normal’ is teaching us to place more value on creating and honing principles and skills that enable us to study, understand, and record the human experience as a fundamental part of the growth and development of a nation.


How we school our students going forward has to include not simply the science of knowing, but also the art of applying that knowledge so that we do not merely encourage the creation of humanlike ‘robots’, but instead, fully functional human beings.

This stay-at-home period has revealed that it is the humanistic element that allows students to ‘experience’ learning rather than exist as mere receptacles of knowledge. The technology-based products that have become so essential in our daily lives remain ineffective if not used in tandem with motivational learning principles, creative models of teaching, and in-depth analyses of student and teacher personality types and their impact on online spaces of learning. Hopefully, this period has taught us that transformation and productivity are not dependent solely on access to knowledge, but also on how we ‘humanise’ the spaces and experiences of learning and communicating in different contexts, across various platforms, and for diverse purposes.

Dr Aisha Spencer is senior lecturer, language and literature education and deputy dean, Faculty of Humanities and Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus.