The (unknown) Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Education

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Today we are living in the cusp of a new industrial revolution that differs from all the previous ones. It´s been coined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (RI4) at the 2011 Hannover Fair.

It comes in the sequence, obviously, of the other industrial revolutions: the first industrial revolution powered mainly by the steam engine, the second one by the advent of electrification, mass production and division of labour and the third one by the upcoming of internet, computers, networks and digital machines.

What differs the RI4 from all the others is that this one is on the edge of artificial intelligence, digital ubiquity, cyber-physical systems and even on the way to “Singularity”: where for the first time machines acquired capabilities that we only consider possible in humans. This means that we are fencing tremendous changes in what concerns to all the aspects of life, i.e. social, economic, cultural and, collaterally, in labour market.

If you look at some of the biggest digital companies such as Airbnb and Uber we notice that the Airbnb owns no houses but the main business is house rental and that Uber owns no cars but its main business is selling car rides. Today with the advent of this wave of technology creating an object with 3D Printing, it is just as easy as creating a writing document.

That means that this time schools will not have any excuse not to reinvent themselves. It is an obligation [1]. Because if in other revolutions the change in working, collaborating and communicating, allowed workers to adapt and be absorbed and integrated in other working functions, this time the changes that are being predicted are “brutal”, almost shocking and with impacts that are very difficult to anticipate… the only thing that is guaranteed is that nothing is guaranteed and for sure tremendous changes will happen at an unforeseen speed. The problem in the future could not be the lack of employment, but the shortage of skills that the new jobs will demand. [2]

So… why are we making a connection between the Industry 4.0 and education? Because schools must reinvent themselves quickly. They need to adapt to the demands of the RI4 and have the obligation to come out of its shell, its hermetic spaces and try to give as many opportunities as possible by creating the adequate contexts for students to be prepared for the future jobs.

Outside schools new technologies are coming to life everyday… if we pay a little of attention we can see: Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Robotics, Big Data, Internet of Things (IOT), Virtual Reality, Genomics, Mobile Computing, Augmented Reality, Smart Cities and so on and is difficult to make in a prevision in a short period of time for the new ones…. And what is happening inside schools? Almost the same strategies, the same processes, the same contexts and the same learning spaces we had in the previous industrial revolutions.

The big question is: how can schools adapt to these demands?

Firstly, they need to open not only as an institution to the outside, but also inside. The the way subjects are “closed/restricted” inside a classroom must change. They need to open to the school itself: this means that maths cannot be taught as an isolated subject, physics cannot be restricted to a school lab, ICT cannot be confined inside to a tech lab, history and geography cannot keep on depending only on a “chalkboard” and even new subjects need to be added to the curriculum.

In the book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”[3] Klaus Schwab characterized this revolution as “… a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” The same need to happens in schools: everything needs to be questioned and connected.

Students need to understand how they can correlate and use and apply different knowledge in diversified contexts, what they really mean and how they can create synergies among different subjects to develop/create “something” that connects to the real world. This takes us to another very important point: students need to work in a framework of projects and from there they need to collaborate with their colleagues, with their teachers and with the outside world. They need to develop new ways of communicating, they need to be put in front of complex situations to develop critical thinking and complex problem solving and to learn how to be imaginative, creative, adaptable, flexible and to develop brain plasticity.

The world outside schools is changing at a tremendous pace…. Jobs for life are almost nonexistent become more like a utopia”. Most of our students will face a “mash-up” of micro jobs. They will face jobs that we can´t even imagine today. They will have contact with technologies that most of us have never even dream about… and schools are using the same methods, the same processes to educate our future generation. It keeps them seated in small chairs for long hours just listening, listening and at the end ask students are asked to prove their knowledge trough an exam that will be forgotten in minutes. Individuals need to be ready to have 10 or 12 different careers during their working lives and to have multiple jobs at the same time.[4]

Within a framework based on the development of “multi cross-subjects” projects, STE(A)M [5] can play a very important role by acting as an anchor to the development of projects that can embrace all types of subjects. Using this methodology schools are creating meaningful contexts for students to be prepared and aware of the “unknown impacts” of the RI4. But in the middle of this “unknown” one thing we know: that our students need to be very adaptable, flexible, creative, lifelong learners and tremendously curious. “Change won’t wait for us: business leaders, educators and governments all need to be proactive in up-skilling and retraining people so everyone can benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution”[6]. So, we have the obligation to create the models and contexts to allow it to happen, otherwise we will have a generation with skills shortage for the new demands of the labor market and that will become a big problem to society.

[1] “…what interventions we can make in our children´s live to best prepare them for success in a world of increasing change and competition.” Ross, A. (2016). The industries of the future.

[2] “77% of CEOs worry that skills shortages could impair their company’s growth. And they say it’s the soft skills they value most that are hardest to find.” Managing man and machine. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2017, from” https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-agenda/ceosurvey/2017/gx/talent.html

[3] Schwab, K., & World Economic Forum. (2016). The fourth industrial revolution.

[4] Horch, D. (2017.). Promise or Peril: Decoding the Future of Work. Retrieved June 4, 2017, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/promise-or-peril-decoding-the-future-of-work/

[5] STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics

[6] Gray, A. (n.d.). The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Retrieved June 8, 2017, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

Article written by: Marco Neves, Scientix Ambassador.

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