Preparing Our Youth For The 4IR
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us. It is the current age of intelligent technology, built upon the development of the first three industrial revolutions. It is a global revolution of technological innovation that is transforming developed economies and challenging emerging economies. The 4IR cannot be ignored because it’s not just a trend that will dissipate when something more popular comes along.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just changing the world of work, but transforming how we live, interact and play through the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices. It is rapidly advancing and will continue to do so into the future. Like a living organism, I see it taking on a life of its own as it ushers in technological advancements that are unparalleled by any other industrial age.
The First Industrial Revolution introduced mechanisation and the invention of the steam engine and water power. Revolution 2.0 brought us electricity, which made life more productive and economies more prosperous. Other significant advancements during the Second Industrial Revolution were the telephone, aviation and the automobile towards the end of the 20th Century. In 1969, the third revolution was born, and so was telecommunications, electronics and the computer. Industry 4.0 was introduced as a term in 2015, and has brought the application of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, virtual worlds, cutting edge robotics and infinite opportunities.
The 4IR is the most rapidly advancing industrial revolution. Those who do not harness its power will miss out on being included in the future global economy. The 4IR is not only the most advanced revolution, but I believe it will be the longest-lasting age we have seen to date. This is because intelligent technology does not stop evolving, and the possibilities are endless. We will one day step into an age that will carry a new name, underpinned by the advancement of current technologies.
Changing educational needs
The 4IR is not just an alternative educational stream. Instead, it needs to become the core around which all academic programmes are built to ensure that our learners are future-fit.
Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) are, of course, the cornerstone subjects to growing a student’s intellectual capabilities to operate and engage in a 4IR ecosystem. We need to prioritise training our youth for participation in the 4IR because change is here to stay, and current technological advancements will continue to roll out unabated across the globe.
The latest IMD World Digital Competitiveness report ranked South Africa ranked 60 out of 63 economies. They measured the capacity and readiness of an economy to adopt digital technologies as a key driver for economic growth in business, government and the broader society. Our biggest weaknesses were our digital and technological skills and higher education achievements.
The youth unemployment rate in South Africa is now at a staggering 75% (the worst out of 200 countries as surveyed from Global Economy data). With the marketplace demanding that technological skills and critical thinking be prerequisites when applying for a job, we find ourselves in a precarious situation.
We have a responsibility to our children to give them quality education, which is the challenge of our time. The generation of leaders before us had the challenge of our political liberation. I believe the biggest challenge for this generation of leaders is educating and equipping the youth to exercise our political freedoms fully. Education drives a nation forward. Education is how dreams are realised, identities are moulded, and visions are cast. If we pass this challenge onto the generation coming after us, we have failed.
It starts with internet access
The good news is that the Information Age has seen a boom in the accessibility to educational content. It has taken a while to filter throughout the global population, especially in countries that have been slow adopters and slow investors in internet access.
The opportunity of adopting technology means even the poorest among us can be included and participate in the 4IR. There is a school in central Malawi in a town called Salima where children attend a school built in 15 hours using 3D printing. That’s an insane accomplishment. How many schools can we ‘print’ in South Africa in one year at 15 hours a school – 584?
The poor quality of education systems and lack of direct access to critical tools, like the internet, has spurred many organisations to prepare their workforce themselves by creating and facilitating a learning culture. But it is needed in the schools and from the most basic level of education.
How a user chooses to search for and consume that content is paramount. Some learners can spend hours consuming reality TV shows or updating their statuses on social media. However, they should instead learn how to convert these leisure hours into building digital content, coding, product development and services. Internet is the first stepping stone to begin bridging the digital divide in South Africa.
At Forge Academy, we offer an array of classes accredited by MICTSETA, the Council of Higher Education and EduExcellence in Finland, that tackle the learning gaps in these critical subjects. One academy isn’t enough. The 4IR education movement needs to become a culture and the first choice for an investment opportunity. And the implementation needs to be facilitated by teachers.
According to an IFC report, in Africa alone, close to 230 million jobs will depend on digital skills by 2030. This stat equates to creating a $130 billion market. In response to this demand, higher education institutions will have to reposition their ICT and engineering courses to account for rapidly advancing technologies.
The possibilities in this next age are more than they have ever been. Schools with equipped digital labs will need to be built or printed rapidly, with all the amenities needed to prepare our children as future-fit candidates in the workplace. Suppose our upcoming generations of adults are educated for participation in the 4IR. Then youth will establish new online businesses, engineer solutions for health problems and use technology to improve the quality of life in Africa.
Let’s capitalise on the opportunity to begin to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and steer it toward a destiny that reflects our common goals and values.
*Arthur Wade Anderson is the CEO and founder of Forge Academy, SA’s first fully inclusive 4IR lab.