The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is transforming everything - from the way we teach and communicate, to the way our economies function and what it means to be human.
4IR is an era combining digital, physical and biological systems in a way never seen before and Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IOT) are changing the way that we live and work.
But are we ready?
According to the latest OECD report, education is already behind the digitalisation curve. Trends Shaping Education 2019 identifies key mega-trends affecting the future of education and says that education must do more to take advantage of the tools and strengths of new technologies.
Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD says, “We need to think much harder about how human skills complement the artificial intelligence of computers, so that we end up with first-class humans rather than second-class robots.”
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Big picture thinking is what we are missing.
The 2018 Automation Readiness Index report by The Economist: Intelligence Unit, notes that very few countries have begun to “take the bull by the horns” and address the impact of automation through educational policy. South Korea, Estonia, Germany and Singapore are the exceptions.
It’s true to say that FE and HE in the UK are not really geared up for the 4IR and the “increasing the skills gap across STEM occupations and key sectors of the economy” noted in ‘Developing a Four Nations College Blueprint for a Post-Brexit Economy’.
As Michael Hansen (2018) says most education systems were built for the needs of the 20th century so we are not in a position to deliver the skills needed. He says,
“Every classroom, every lecture, every college and every university needs to find solutions that fit their problems and – most importantly – meet the needs of their students.”
The need for education in to be ‘place-based’ is quickly diminishing and so FE and HE have to dust themselves down and innovate. You don’t need to be in a class or lecture hall anymore because technology has relaxed this requirement. Environments for learning now are characterised by virtual classrooms and laboratories, virtual libraries and virtual teachers.
One solution for FE and in 4IR age is to embrace an off campus and online model namely massive open online courses or MOOCs. Digitising some courses makes sense because it makes learning more accessible. A future mix of MOOCs and traditional face-to-face education can meet learner needs and is a far more flexible option. A generalised blended learning approach mixing e-learning and face-to-face learning offers greater educational value.
Alongside MOOCs, ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) policies are also increasingly being implemented by colleges and universities to accommodate student preferences for elastic, anywhere-on-campus learning.
Adapt, Adapt, Adapt
Although the focus of 4IR is on technology and digital skills, it is human skills that matter most and this is where every educational setting can help. The World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs says that the top ten skills trending are as follows:
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Active learning and learning strategies
- Creativity, originality and initiative
- Technology design and programming
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Complex problem-solving
- Leadership and social influence
- Emotional intelligence
- Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
- Systems analysis and evaluation
Bryan Penprase (2018) notes that 4IR puts a premium on adaptability and in self-directed learning and thinking.
He says that students who will be at an advantage in a workplace are those capable of creative insights, cooperating in diverse teams, and navigating through global cultural differences. Isn’t it time we had a concerted effort to rethink curricula at different levels with a new emphasis on creativity? Penprase says,
“Our colleges and universities owe it to these students and our future to develop more interactive forms of pedagogy at all levels and to embrace a curriculum that stresses perspectives from multiple disciplinary and cultural perspectives over static swathes of disciplinary content.“
Global thinking and international mindedness are therefore key and it is something now incorporated into the OECD’s 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
PISA highlight four key traits of globally competent students and says they:
- investigate the world beyond their immediate environment by examining issues of local, global and cultural significance
- recognise, understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others
- communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences by engaging in open, appropriate and effective interactions across cultures
- take action for collective well-being and sustainable development both locally and globally
Are our FE and HE students globally competent?
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Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
The shelf life of any skill today is increasingly short which puts the onus on FE and HE to update content and renew their curricula to match the rapid tempo of scientific and technological advances.
Penprase says that the hallmark of 4IR is exponential growth and fast change and any campus must therefore be a “constantly renewing collaborative hub of activity”.
A more responsive approach inevitably places a very high premium on faculty development to ‘keep up’ and maintain expertise. Students now have to constantly reinvent themselves so FE and HE must be more proactive and creative to renew and update their skills.
Many argue that educational territories need to stop being so territorial and it is high time to work together as part of a more joined-up interdisciplinary system. Although they have traditionally had separate and different purposes, altering education is more necessary than ever before so merging and sharing is a must.
With so much expertise sitting next to each other, it is time to bridge the unhealthy divide between FE and HE and dig up deep-rooted differences. Collaboration is king and both worlds find new ways of working together must engage constantly with their colleagues next door to frequently renew and update their skills.
When the sands are constantly shifting, it is always a challenge for FE and HE to prepare students but those that do adapt and collaborate and understand that to be a literate 21st Century learner and institution involves lifelong learning, unlearning and relearning.
A key part of this will be to engage in learning analytics so that institutions can provide individually tailored support and more personalised learning. Above all, colleges will need to work together as outlined in the paper ‘Developing a Four Nations College Blueprint for a Post-Brexit Economy’ which sets out the central role colleges must play in meeting the future economic and labour market challenges facing governments, employers and citizens across the UK in raising the skills of the whole working age population.
Penprase, B. (2018) The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Higher Education In: Gleason N. (eds) Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is eTeach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.