South Africa’s Educational Reform in Preparation for the Coming Industrial Revolution.

Dr. Celestine Iwendi, ACM Distinguished Speaker and Senior Member IEEE, defines Education 4.0 as a “desired approach to learning that aligns itself with the emerging fourth industrial revolution (industrial revolution powered by artificial intelligence). This industrial revolution focuses on smart technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics, all of which now impact our everyday lives”. He believes that Education 4.0 is about evolving with the times, and for higher education institutions. This means understanding what is required of their future graduates.

South Africa is on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution. Professor Tshildzi Marwala, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg said that improving the teaching of mathematics at the primary education level should be a priority in the preparation of this industrial revolution and others to come.

Underpinning 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a smart technology just like automated machines and artificial intelligence. It could alter the way humans work, reside and generally communicate with the world. This revolution, which is somehow connected to the 3IR which brought about electronics, telecommunications and computers, has had a great impact on all spheres of disciplines and industries.

Professor Marwala is a firm believer that teaching pupils the act of coding in the world of computing should have a simplistic approach. In his words, “I am a critic of our educational system. I hear that people talk about introducing coding at schools. I think it is a wrong model”. He said this in a webinar hosted by the Associate Editor of Business Maverick, Sasha Planting about his new book “Closing The Gap: The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa.” He gave three ways South Africa’s educational system could be reformed to the 4IR closer to the country.

Marwala said South Africa should first teach pupils to speak English. A lot of coding systems and apps, like Java for example, are written or programmed in English. Without an adequate comprehension of the English language, teaching how to code will be an almost impossible task.

His second proposal for educational reform is that mathematics should be taught to pupils at a basic educational level. An impressive grasp of mathematics is necessary for careers linked to 4IR such as programming computing, machine learning and finance.

Thirdly, he said that the cornerstone of South Africa’s educational system should be teaching pupils how to think logically and critically. He said “I battle to see where this fits in our education system. Structured and critical thinking about the flow of information from one point to another is important.”

With these three reforms in place, Marwala said that coding will be done by students with ease. “Those are the things we need to impart in our education system.”

Although the government of South Africa has discussed plans and arrangements to embrace 4IR, there hasn’t been any visible progress. “If we compare South Africa to the rest of the world, then we are behind (in terms of embracing 4IR). In South Africa, we have a crisis in the education system. Unless we unlock this bottleneck, we will always fall behind… But if we compare ourselves with the rest of Africa, we are doing well,” Marwala said.

According to him. Cape Town is a center of innovation as a result of many start-ups and successful technology firms residing in that area. That particular area is known informally as “Silicon Cape”, referencing Silicon Valley in San Francisco, US which is a hub of advanced technology and entrepreneurship.

In Africa, Marwala praised Rwanda as the frontrunners of technology and 4IR, adding that sometimes, the country makes use of drones to deliver medicine to people who reside in remote rural areas. Ghana is also another country at the forefront of 4IR. Recently, Google invested $1 billion in the country for the building of an artificial intelligence research laboratory for the development of technological solutions in healthcare, education and agriculture.

In South Africa, the fear of job losses and replacement of humans with machines has closely trailed the embracing of technology. Marwala said that the focus shouldn’t be on that. Rather, it should be equipping the labour force with the skills for the new technological world.

He said “In matters of demand and supply, competitiveness is the key variable. For example, the local textile sector has been decimated due to us no longer being competitive. You could now get textile products from Asia. In 4IR, production will be automated and countries that adopt automation will be more competitive. If we don’t, we will be thrown in the dustbin of history. We need to urge people to adopt technology and get technological skills.”

By Marvellous Iwendi.

Source: Business Maverick