Setting the Stage
At the beginning of the 20th century, education, the search for knowledge was at its highest. The rise of the industrial revolution affected the acquisition of knowledge in dramatic ways. A phrase such as “education is the most powerful tool to change the world, knowledge is power, or that education is the passport to the future” were commonplace for humanity. Indeed, education is very essential – it is one of the most sought after achievements in life. In most of the world, human happiness, wealth, and success are measured largely by the kind of education one has acquired. This point does not need an emphasis; income which sustains human lifestyle is dependent on education. And happiness, though relative, is a factor of income, to say the least. A metaphor runs like this: “It is more comfortable for one to cry in their car than on their bicycle, (assuming) it was raining.” The purpose of this article is not to deny the intrinsic value of education. Rather, it is to challenge the kind of education and or learning a big part of humanity accesses today.
This writing is to acknowledge that just like the human population has changed over time, education too, has not remained what it was 40 years ago. Research over the past decades generally agrees that there is a need to re-invent the wheels of learning; whereas knowledge used to be seen as power, today that has dramatically changed. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has come with its tools, and indeed, fundamentals of measurement. Skill, which is the ability to use one’s knowledge to solve real-world problems, seems to be the new kid on the block. In this article, the author will put forward three new developments; (i) the Fourth Industrial Revolution, (ii) the Learning Crisis, and (iii) the Survival Pathways. The author will then provide concluding remarks based on his experience as an advocate for lifelong learning and education of purpose.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution vs the Education You Knew
The phrase Fourth Industrial Revolution was first introduced by Klaus Schwab, the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in a 2015 article with Foreign Affairs. This revolution is marked by cyber-related physical changes in the jobs we do, the education we receive and the goods and services we produce and consume. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by advances in robotics, Artificial Intelligence, the 5G wireless network, the internet of things, machine learning and so more. As you can imagine, nobody is safe here; it is a collective change that cuts across different discipline and sectors.
“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before,” Schwab wrote. Perhaps he could have added learning in his presentation. Maybe he thought that was a bit obvious for a mention. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, unlike its immediate and closely related predecessor, the Third Industrial Revolution known otherwise as the “Digital Revolution (1975-2020) is more complex, unpredictable and deeply worrying. This difference represents the velocity, scope and systems impact. “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent,” noted Schwab. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country.
Skills Gap Study (2015) reported that the global workforce by 2022 shall have been reduced by half as a result of automation and that at least 54% of today’s employees will need to re-skill or upskill to meet future demands. Particularly under threats are media, education, energy and health care. This is because of the growing technological disruptions in these fields. Thus, people in these fields will need to learn new skills to keep up with changes introduced by digital publishing, ed-tech, sustainable energy, and biotechnology. To put this in perspective, today’s publishing industry has dramatically shifted; the emergence of platforms such as Amazon Kindle has almost made writing dreams a reality for poor and rich alike. The emergence of online learning extensions as we shall discuss in a short while has revolutionized learning in ways that were not imaginable three decades ago. In the energy sector, the move towards a carbon dioxide-free world is real; there is an increase in the rise of the so-called “new renewables” replacing the old biofuels which have polluted our ecosystem for close to a century. These changes are real and they call for a complete re-thinking in the ways we learn and work.
The Study does recommend that for one to succeed in this revolution, they must possess five essential skills; a combination of hard and soft skills – these are: (i) technology and computer skills, (ii) digital literacy and competency, (iii) working knowledge of tech-based tools and techniques, (iv) robots and automation programming, and (v) critical thinking. One wonders why all these skills are tech-based, and whether this is a call for the entire humanity to take on computer science-based education. Nothing can be further from the truth but the good news is that the need for soft skills has risen drastically in recent decades; skills such as critical thinking, adaptability, collaboration and teamwork, innovative problems – solving, creativity, emotional and social intelligence remain highly recommended by industry experts and academic institutions alike. The question is: are you receiving these skills right now? The answer is probably negative. This takes us to our next topic; learning crisis.
The Learning Crisis: You are not Being Prepared for Tomorrow
The term learning crisis is more closely related to a series of articles authored by the World Bank’s education wing. It presents a worrying development among kids (10 –above of ages, plus many young adults) in the low, and emerging economies of the world who are in school but not learning. Related terms such as learning poverty can be read along that line. Learning poverty is the percentage of children who cannot read and understand a simple story by age 10, majorly in the global south, and Latin America. It is shocking to say that this definition would also fit a 23 –years old South Sudanese who is joining the university.
As the World Bank notes in 2019, a learning crisis differs from country to country. While in places like Vietnam, and Kenya kids are in the classroom but certainly not learning as much, most kids in South Sudan and Mali are not even inside the classroom. So there is no learning at all, leave alone how effective it is. And this presents a dire challenge for the global goals particularly, goal number 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Affordable, accessible quality education remains a mere dream in most parts of the global south – this adversely compromises the race to 2030. If we are not learning the way we should, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a fact of life, what then should we do? Where should we get the kind of education that is not only relevant in monetary terms but also sustainable for yourself and the environment? How do we access the knowledge and critical skills required today and in the foreseeable future? These questions lead us to our next important topic; the survival pathways.
The Survival Pathways
Recent research data confirms that education policymakers around the world recognize that students and learners need a broad range of skills if they were to thrive today and in the next five years. Learning today has to align with the changes of the day; it has to be relevant, effective and less costly so that it does not discriminate against social strata on age, location, past education experience, income etc. Skills of the time such as communication skills, critical thinking, collaboration, team management, emotional intelligence, creativity and innovativeness, problem –solving skills should be at your fingertips.
The need to acquire hard skills in the tech world cannot be overemphasized. One thing that comes out of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is that lifelong learning and continuous professional development is not an option but a choice one has to make to survive, or to put it sustainably, thrive. The ever-changing global landscape of work and education demand that we re-skill and up-skill for impact. This is very important. How then do we do this? In the last decade, the revolution in the education sector has seen great, amazing shifts in the following ways;
- The advent of online and distance education has ensured that access becomes a reality. The cost to acquire knowledge and skill has been reduced so that every student, learner everywhere can be able to access resources that would not be shared several decades ago. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have emerged, offering short courses on virtually any area of interest. These courses are offered online by some of the best institutions on earth at a minimal or no cost at all. If you are preparing for the future, get sign up today at Coursera here https://www.coursera.org/learn, Udemy here https://www.udemy.com/, EdX here https://www.edx.org/, FutureLearn here https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/, University of the People here: https://www.uopeople.edu/ among others.
- Investment in Higher Education although costly in terms of time and money still very important today. The thing is that one has to ensure that they enrol in the right program and choose the right place for learning. Higher education provides certifications that are highly regarded, and thus, enable one to kick start their chosen career.
- Professional Courses and Fellowships provide an unrivalled experience. Programs such as the Young African Leaders’ Initiative, the Africa Academy, Acumen, and the Tony Elumelu Forum among others walk you into the future through their innovative course works, leadership training and professional engagement.
- Learning Beyond Discipline is required in the 21st century more than ever. Learners have to be comfortable outside their zones of influence to thrive and also to contribute positively in shaping our world. This is the concept of transdisciplinarity – the idea that learners should have to be literate in and be able to understand concepts across multiple disciplines. For example, a political science student who takes pleasure learning the latest cloud computing or computer science student who engages in soft skills-based training in areas of emotional and social intelligence, communication skills, and negotiation skills etc.
Today’s global problems are just too complex to be solved by one specialized discipline, say global warming, overpopulation, rising global terrorism among others. The next century is going to see more of this and the ideal worker in 2025 is that who is T-shaped; they bring a deep understanding of at least one field but can converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines. This concept is dependent on one’s curiosity, passion for self-learning and a knack for continuous research. The good news is that this can be acquired. Curiosity is not necessarily an innate trait. You can learn to be curious. It is a trait that can be cultivated and developed using the right channels.
“We are facing unprecedented challenges – social, economic and environmental – driven by accelerating globalization and a faster rate of technological developments. At the same time, those forces are providing us with myriad new opportunities for human advancement. The future is uncertain and we cannot predict it, but we need to be open and ready for it.” Education, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD 2018), has a vital role to play in developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that enable people to contribute to and benefit from an inclusive and sustainable future.
Learning to form clear and purposeful goals, work with others with different perspectives, find untapped opportunities and identify multiple solutions to big problems will be essential in the coming years. Education needs to aim to do more than prepare young people for the world of work; it needs to equip students with the skills they need to become active, responsible and engaged citizens. Future-ready students need to exercise agency, in their education and throughout life. Agency implies a sense of responsibility to participate in the world and, in so doing, to influence people, events and circumstances for the better. Agency requires the ability to frame a guiding purpose and identify actions to achieve a goal.
For this to be realized in our time and the time to come, two factors are critical. The first is a personalized learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions, make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities, and design their learning projects and processes in collaboration with others. This is an essential factor particularly today.
The advent of online learning programs such as those offered by Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Peking, and other top universities globally has meant that students who are self-driven, curious and passionate about learning find ways to stay the course. Self-learning and independent research are integral in going forward. At the onset of Covid-19, students and education policymakers alike were a bit hesitant to go online because it is the new tradition. However, as time passes, they are now coming to term with the realities of our time; online learning has come to stay and it was time we accept this as an evolving learning community.
The second is building a solid foundation: literacy and numeracy remain crucial. In the era of digital transformation and with the advent of big data, digital literacy and data literacy are becoming increasingly essential, as are physical health and mental well-being. As discussed briefly under the learning crisis, literacy is a very essential element when envisioning an education of purpose. The advances in science and technology in the education sector expect us to ride along or we risk being left in the wind. Our kids today need the skills of the future to not only survive but also thrive.
A sustainable future is only possible with an ecologically literate population, and this begins with the kids. Building a formidable literacy and numeracy system is crucial in this regard. The kids of today have to be armed with the requirements of the future if we are to harvest the gains and flavors of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As Gandhi once believed, the future depends on what we do in the present.