The fu­ture won’t wait

SA needs a new tech­nol­ogy-driven pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion model

CityPress - - Voices -

The in­flu­ence and im­pact tech­nol­ogy has on how we do things is im­mense, in­evitable and ir­re­versible. The fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion com­pels us to think cre­atively about our fu­ture in­clud­ing, of course, our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems. It en­joins us to over­haul ar­chaic ped­a­gog­i­cal mod­els and strate­gi­cally use the “in­ter­net of things” to pre­pare the fu­ture work­force for the, mainly un­known, chal­lenges that lie ahead.

Let me ex­plain.

The bound­aries be­tween the in­ter­net, the phys­i­cal world and its more than 7 bil­lion in­hab­i­tants are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly blurry.

Ter­mi­nol­ogy such as “robotics”, “ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence”, “au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles”, “mo­bile com­put­ing”, “smart­phone”, “vir­tual re­al­ity”, “in­ter­net of things”, “3-D print­ing”, “an­a­lyt­ics”, “clean en­ergy” and other dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies and ap­pli­ca­tions are at the cen­tre of what is con­ceived to be the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion.

The most ef­fi­cient and big­gest taxi-hail­ing ser­vice in the world, Uber, doesn’t own any taxis, while the largest on­line hos­pi­tal­ity ser­vice in the world, Airbnb, doesn’t own any prop­er­ties. Ama­zon, the third largest re­tailer in the world, and Alibaba are fast clos­ing in on Wal­mart and CVS. These com­pa­nies are reap­ing the re­wards of adopt­ing dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies and ap­pli­ca­tions that rad­i­cally change in­dus­tries.

It is, there­fore, not in­con­ceiv­able for the world’s largest, most ef­fi­cient and ac­ces­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion of the fu­ture to be tech­nol­ogy-driven and dis­rup­tive.

The glar­ing dis­con­nect be­tween our con­tent-driven ed­u­ca­tion model – largely de­vel­oped in the nine­teenth cen­tury – and fu­ture de­mands by a skills-based, tech­nol­ogy-driven econ­omy can only be ig­nored at our peril.

It is not sur­pris­ing, although per­turb­ing, that our pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem was rated 126th out of 138 coun­tries in the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s 2016/17 Global Com­pet­i­tive­ness Re­port, while our higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing sys­tem was ranked 134th.

What is star­tling, how­ever, is the ap­par­ent lack of ur­gency and co­her­ence in pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion by our gov­ern­ment in or­der to rad­i­cally trans­form our ar­chaic 19th cen­tury ed­u­ca­tion model to one that will best pre­pare young peo­ple to adapt to the de­mands of the fu­ture econ­omy.

It is also telling that the 2017 ANC pol­icy dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment on ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t men­tion the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion at all, while this phrase only ap­pears once, and in gen­eral terms, in its eco­nomic pol­icy dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment.

In­ter­est­ingly, the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan: Vi­sion 2030 also doesn’t men­tion the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. It does, how­ever, make ref­er­ence to some el­e­ments associated with dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies with­out delving much into these or of­fer­ing co­gent pro­pos­als for the fu­ture econ­omy and ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems.

The omis­sion of a dis­cus­sion on this sub­ject by the re­cent ANC pol­icy con­fer­ence, and in the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, is of grave con­cern given that as the in­cum­bent gov­ern­ing party, ANC poli­cies end up be­ing adopted gov­ern­ment poli­cies.

World-renowned Bri­tish au­thor and in­ter­na­tional ad­viser on ed­u­ca­tion Sir Ken Robinson says: “The fact is that given the chal­lenges we face, ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t need to be re­formed – it needs to be trans­formed. The key to this trans­for­ma­tion is not to stan­dard­ise ed­u­ca­tion, but to per­son­alise it, to build achieve­ment on dis­cov­er­ing the in­di­vid­ual tal­ents of each child, to put stu­dents in an en­vi­ron­ment where they want to learn and where they can nat­u­rally dis­cover their true pas­sions.”

Dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion aware­ness must, there­fore, be the guid­ing prin­ci­ple be­hind a new ed­u­ca­tion par­a­digm as we en­sure our adapt­abil­ity to the de­mands of a chang­ing world.

A new pub­lic ped­a­gog­i­cal model that fuses el­e­ments of Montes­sori, pro­ject/in­quiry-based learn­ing, green schools, in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary learn­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive, Stem and lan­guage im­mer­sion ca­reer/tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems is de­sired. Working mod­els such as those of­fered by Sizwe Nx­as­ana’s Fu­ture Na­tion and Spark pri­vate schools, with the lat­ter us­ing a blended on­line and con­ven­tional sys­tem, al­low for high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion at a lower cost than that of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

An in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple of suc­cess­ful ap­pli­ca­tion of dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem can be found at the Higher Col­leges of Tech­nol­ogy in Abu Dhabi, that in­vested in a wire­less notebook plat­form for stu­dents. Lo­cally, the Gaut­eng depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion is in­vest­ing heav­ily in dig­i­tal de­vices and fu­ture class­rooms.

These ap­proaches will make it pos­si­ble for ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments to of­fer open on­line con­tent through tech­nol­ogy as tra­di­tional brick-and-mor­tar schools be­come in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant.

The fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion will im­pact both lowand high-skilled jobs. This tech­nol­ogy-driven rev­o­lu­tion will likely fur­ther po­larise the labour mar­ket as low-skill and, pro­gres­sively, mid­dle class jobs.

A re­cent brief con­ver­sa­tion with a learned se­nior coun­sel friend of mine on the po­ten­tial im­pact tech­nol­ogy will have on most pro­fes­sions helped re­veal just how un­pre­pared most of us may still be. Af­ter all, as he as­serts, “robots can­not lit­i­gate”.

My retort was: “Wait un­til Mr Robot SC en­ters a court­room of the fu­ture and suc­cess­fully ar­gues case law based on noth­ing but ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.” The IBM Watson AI Ross plat­form is al­ready steal­ing lunch from some US lawyers through its cog­ni­tive plat­form-based le­gal abil­i­ties. From con­tact cen­tre call agents, ju­nior lawyers, health­care pro­fes­sion­als, to in­surance and stock bro­kers, ad­vances in the min­ing and ap­pli­ca­tion of meta­data, an­a­lyt­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence could ren­der hu­mans per­form­ing these tasks re­dun­dant.

New labour op­por­tu­ni­ties will, how­ever, emerge, re­quir­ing new skills. Mas­sive reskilling would thus be re­quired in or­der to al­low af­fected work­ers the op­por­tu­nity to ac­quire new and highly sought-af­ter skills in the new econ­omy.

The key to any suc­cess­ful in­ter­ven­tion by gov­ern­ment will en­tail mas­sive in­vest­ment in the early child­hood and foun­da­tion phases of ed­u­ca­tion in or­der to en­sure that our young are geared for the fu­ture econ­omy.

Learn­ers, ed­u­ca­tors and com­mu­ni­ties also need to in­cul­cate and value in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion for ed­u­ca­tion as part of our cul­ture. This can heighten per­for­mance ex­pec­ta­tions (and out­comes) and min­imise drop-out and fail­ure rates, par­tic­u­larly in our pub­lic school sys­tem. Also, in fu­ture politi­cians could find it com­pelling to lessen gov­ern­ment’s role in the de­liv­ery of ed­u­ca­tion con­tent. They could, for in­stance, limit gov­ern­ment’s role to pol­icy for­mu­la­tion, reg­u­la­tion and pro­vi­sion­ing of an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for suc­cess­ful pub­lic-pri­vate sec­tor part­ner­ships. Robert Shiller, 2013 No­bel prize win­ner in Eco­nom­ics, re­cently said: “We can­not wait un­til there are mas­sive dis­lo­ca­tions in our so­ci­ety to pre­pare for the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion.”

The R2 bil­lion ques­tion is: Will South Africa wait un­til there are mas­sive so­cioe­co­nomic dis­lo­ca­tions be­fore she re­sponds to the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion?

I’ll lis­ten on the wire­less.

Khaas is an IT en­gi­neer, busi­ness­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dig­i­tal IQ, which spe­cialises in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy se­cu­rity

TALK

TO US Is gov­ern­ment do­ing enough to en­sure that pupils are ready for the fu­ture econ­omy?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word SCHOOLS and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: ALET PRE­TO­RIUS

TRANS­FOR­MA­TION SA ig­nores the crit­i­cal need for new mod­els of learn­ing that make use of dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies at its peril

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