CNN's Fareed Zakaria defends value of liberal education

Nobody knows where jobs of future will be and that’s why a liberal education is not such a bad choice, says CNN host and public intellectual Fareed Zakaria.

Defending a liberal education

9 years ago
Duration 7:24
Featured VideoCNN host Fareed Zakaria explains why a liberal education prepares people for the working world

Nobody knows where jobs of future will be and that's why a liberal education is not such a bad choice, says CNN host and public intellectual Fareed Zakaria.

Zakaria, an American journalist who was editor of Newsweek before becoming host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS defended the value of a liberal education in face of persistent arguments that today's youth need skills and business-driven training.

Zakaria, who was in Toronto recently as part of the Holt Renfrew Men Speakers Series, said on CBC's The Exchange with Amanda Lang, that the ability to reason, to understand science, to write and to understand other human beings are important life-long skills.

"We're living in very anxious times where everyone is worried about the issue of what kind of job is going to be available to me, to my kids, to my friends. And as a result of that, people have begun to look for something very practical. Very immediate," Zakaria said.

He points to defunding of liberal arts programs at universities as a discouraging trend.

"The problem is, it's not really the right way to think about education because these precious years 18-22, you are investing in yourself for a lifetime of work. And for a lifetime of life. At that point, you don't know what what kind of work you're going to be doing 15 years out," he said.

"You're learning to think, you're learning to write, to analyze, to work with people in teams. These are very strong basic skills," Zakaria said.

Test scores not everything

He points to the rise of new technologies – and the fact that 15 years ago no one would have thought of making a living out of designing a cellphone app.

Successful economies are not built on high test scores on standardized testing, but on open economies in which people learn to innovate, he said. He points to the consistent middle-of-the-pack test scores of American teenagers, which has not stopped it from having the world's largest technology innovation sector.

"Economic innovation depends on having a dynamic, flexible economy. An open society, open to people and ideas from the rest of the world," Zakaria said.

"A non-hierarchical work culture in which anyone can challenge the authority of their seniors, whether in academia or in business."

The Israelis and the Swedes also do poorly on test scores, but those countries punch above their weight on entrepreneurship, he said.

"Perhaps, very importantly, confidence, you can actually measure this, and it turns out the Americans, the Swedes, and the Israelis all score very high on the confidence index. Why is that important? Well,entrepreneurs have to believe in themselves. They're the kind of people who are always being told "this idea's not a good idea, it's been done, somebody else has done it, it won't work," and they have to believe in themselves."