The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Coping or Flourishing
March 12, 2019
By Dr Nicolas Matthee

On the 14th of January 2016 an important article was published by the World Economic Forum. In this article, Klaus Schwab discusses what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For many, this article and the resulting discussions introduced the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to the world stage. The term itself is now part of the general vocabulary used daily by many people, especially those engaging in policy considerations and in our case, education.


Doing a simple Google search and filtering the results based on articles published during the last year, we find hundreds of thousands of results. The key concepts found in these results – the future of work. The discourse surrounding the Fourth Industrial Revolution is fixated on the uncertain and unknown future of work. We see many headlines such as ‘Preparing students for jobs that don’t exist’ and ‘Five myths about the future of work’ doing their best to alleviate our fear of the unknown. Others such as Schwab speculate on the potential changes by saying:

“The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. 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. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”


It is clear that much thought has gone into the exploration of the unknown aspects of the future as dictated by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As with any situation, there are more ways than one in approaching a perceived challenge. Educators are required to teach students 21st-century skills which, in theory, should equip them to adapt to the future workforce. Apart from some consistent skills and methods (such as the Cs of 21st-century learning), there is a steady stream of new ideas being thrown into the great unknown of the future workforce. Instead of purely focussing on engaging the unknown, why do we not spend some time in implementing what we do know? In 2019 we know more about our brains and how students learn than ever before. What we have learnt during the last 25 years concerning learning and the brain is simply astounding.


Why is this point of view relevant? Should it be the case that the reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require the workforce to learn new skills on a regular basis? Surely it is just as important to be proficient in learning as having the initial skills. Researchers Peters, Jandric and Hayes ask the question, “What can places of learning really do about the future of work?”. We would venture to say places of learning (schools, universities, etc.) can teach students to learn.


Reflecting on the first term of 2019, would you say that your classroom represented a space where students were not only taught content but gained the crucial skills that make them agents of their own learning? The ultimate gift or skill we can leave our students with is the ability to become life-long learners. If we manage that, we have already laid the foundations for their future success because this will provide them with the opportunity to adapt to the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


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