The Star over the weekend, published a few articles, here and here with regards to the choice of Science versus Arts stream for students moving on to Form Four. As highlighted by Tiara, an enthusiastic proponent of the Humanities, the articles were a tad disappointing in that they conceded, or at least hinted at the superiority of the Sciences over the Arts. (Trust Tiara to be quick to the draw in responding to the reports ;))
Reading the articles, it's fairly clear that there is a strong societal bias towards the Science stream, practically indicating that students taking the humanities courses are of weaker intelligence.
A principal in Petaling Jaya highlighted that generally, "good students prefer to do Science as they find it more challenging compared to Arts." Another principal, Mary Wong, argued that (horrors!) "doing Science forces you to be more analytical and diligent."
To put it bluntly, that is such a load of rubbish.
Firstly to put things into perspective, I was a mixed Arts and Science student for my 'O' Levels i.e., I took Geography and English Literature, complemented by (pure) Physics and Chemistry, as well as both Mathematics subjects. For my 'A' Levels, I ditched Geography for History, and took on Economics and Mathematics. I did reasonably well for most of the subjects, with no distinct superiority of Arts or Science over one another (I'm not a straight 'A's student), with the exception of Mathematics, which I consistently aced. Hence I'd like to think that I have the necessary perspective to "comment" on this "which-is-better?-science-or-arts" debate.
There is no such thing as Sciences being more "analytical" than Humanities. They are all subjects which can (severely) test the human mind, and it's analytical levels are in fact only limited by the teachers, the teaching methodology as well as the students themselves.
In fact, contrarians such as Tiara might even argue that the Arts are clearly more analytical for the answers aren't carved in stone like the sciences whereby E=MC2. And because there are no concrete answers, students of Arts subjects are required to be more analytical to argue, substantiate and flesh out their case.
There is also a clear misconception that the Arts subjects are all about memorising facts.
Nesa Sivanesan, whose son completed his PMR recently, advised him to go into the Science stream. “I felt it was the path of least resistance as he fared better in subjects such as Mathematics, Science and languages. He hates History because he doesn’t like memorising dates.My 'A' Levels history tutor, Mrs Sng would have flipped on such flippant remarks on her pet subject. History, contrary to popular perception, isn't so much about dates but about analysis of events. History, for example, is less about when Melaka is conquered, but more about why it has fallen and whether it was inevitable.
Again, it is possible to argue that Science and Mathematical subjects have their fair share of memory work, with all the biological terms, chemical names, physics and mathematical formulas.
In addition, a student who excels in Sciences may fare terribly in the Arts, and obviously vice versa. Hence, streaming should never be a matter of the superiority of the sciences over the arts, but instead be a question about the individual's aptitude.
The parental, school and peer pressure for top students to enrol into science courses despite a preference and aptitude in excelling in Arts subjects will only find misery when confronted with test tubes and dissected frogs. And such misery would certainly be detrimental towards the student achieving his or her own potentials. It is unfortunately not helped by the fact that poorly performing students are automatically 'relegated' to Arts courses, giving the wrong impression that such courses are only suitable for weaker students.
In fact, I would argue that all students, in which ever streams should have compulsory subjects from other streams to shape more rounded individuals for the subjects would test a persons different faculties. In Singapore, even my school mates in a Pure Science stream taking Physics, Chemistry and Biology would have to take English Literature as one of the compulsory subjects. On the other hand, all Arts students will have to take a "combined science" paper to have a better understanding of the sciences.
I would certainly encourage the Ministry of Education or the relevant schools to offer the "in-between" streams where students get a good mix of the pure sciences as well as the Arts subjects. I for one, who would not have survived biology (I will probably throw up or faint, if I ever had to dissect a living being), benefited immensely from such a stream for it enabled me to be an all-rounded adult e.g., an Arts cum Social Science degree graduate managing a company specialising in computers and information technology.
The only argument which I find plausible, in choosing Science over Humanities, with the exception of aptitude and ambition, is that if one has strong interest in both, but is yet undecided on which stream to choose. In such a case, it is definitely easier for a science student to pick up an Arts subject in tertiary education, instead of say, an Arts student taking up Physics for his degree.
Other than that, take the stream or subjects which your heart tells you to. This advice comes from someone who has graduated in Philosophy and Politics, and yet has no problems gaining employment and achieving a little success for himself.