Education In The 4th Industrial Revolution

"I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our concept of the richness in human capacity" ~ Sir Ken Robinson


In my very first article I made reference to the need for a renaissance (in education) in order to overcome our worldly aliments; a world that has entered the fourth industrial revolution, “characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”[i] It is undeniable that this fourth industrial revolution is disrupting almost every industry in every country as transformations of entire systems take hold. Education is of no exception but as I delve deeper into this article I will argue that perhaps, whilst it should be of no exception, it in fact is, and with negative consequences.

For those that know me well, the very notion of technological advancement tends to elicit varying degrees of anxiety and most certainly vivid apocalyptic thoughts. Yet, the more I open myself up to new perspectives and ideas to how certain strains of technology can support dispositions like creativity, curiosity and so on, the more I find myself inspired and intrigued to ways in which technology can assist in re-imagining the role of an educator and in education on the whole.

Futurist, Ray Kurzweil, points out that with the advances in technology “more people can do what they have a passion for”[ii], as opposed to being locked into jobs that do not interest them or fully employ all of their potential. For Schwab, talent more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. Why? Because the developments and innovations produced by passion, and aided by technology, will -and already have- stretched the imagination to what is possible.

With thanks to the third industrial revolution the Internet has already democratised information allowing many to become experts in fields in which they have no formal education or training. Indeed the future of technology may allow for each of us to become masters in many fields, expanding the abilities of our bodies and our minds. For Schwab, the largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital.

John Maynard Keynes predicted that automation, the outcome of the third industrial revolution, would create a 15-hour workweek. What would that world look like? Well for some, including anthropologist, David Graeber, the notion of a 15-hour workweek has yet to happen because of the fear of the social effects that would occur when large numbers of people had large amounts of unstructured time[iii].

Why does this concern me? What relevance does this have to education?

The current (education) system was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the enlightenment, and in the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution[iv]. Education needs to embrace the rise of the fourth industrial revolution, namely, its ability to free up our time. By doing so this will allow us, but more importantly our children, to embrace our biophilic dispositions for curiosity, creativity, connection and learning. These dispositions, broadly speaking, cannot be fostered under a 'time poor' system that is the current norm in mainstream education and certainly a facet commonly identified as an ailment by a large number of practitioners. 

In light of Graebaer’s assertion around the fear of the social effects amounting from large amounts of unstructured time, we as educators, have a significant task in challenging this claim by recognising the need for adaptation, a need for change. Keeping in line with Sir Ken Robinson’s observations, Graebaer’s fears may have more merit then one might believe. Is the education industry fearful of encouraging unstructured time? Is education a place of control, a place of rigidity, structure, and box-ticking exercises/experiences?

Generally speaking, YES.

The greatest impediment to critical experiential environmental education, according to Payne, is the lack of creativity and imagination we remain materially and symbolically trapped in, or conceptually governed by.[vi]

The plight of the ohi’a species of tree, on the Hawaii Island of Puna, is part of a quiet crisis playing out in forests across the world. According to scientists the only thing that’s really going to help our forests move into the future with climate change is adaptation; “Forests need to actually adapt with genetic change”.[v] In the true spirit of education, we should use this and others similar to this as teachable moments (in time). We must learn from our mistakes, find solutions to our perils and adapt!

This article has spoken primarily of the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century, known by some as the fourth industrial revolution. With all previous, present and future revolutions, challenges and opportunities were, are and will be inevitable and this revolution is to be no different and will only continue to grow exponentially. As already emphasised, education needs to accept this, in particular its opportunities, namely the capacity to innovate, to be creative, to foster all new aspiring inventors. All this requires the increasing allowance for freer, unstructured, time/play. 

But how? Oh the irony of it all!

Not by inundating our lives, our schools, our children with Apps but on the contrary, by increasing the amount of (unstructured) time spent outside, in spaces that are unpredictable, spaces that are both visually and intellectually challenging/stimulating, nature. By all means incorporate technology for those moments that will support/extend-on the experience(s), etc, but…

LEST NOT FORGET…

The great scientific discoveries of our time, the enlightenment that arose from the Renaissance period, spanning across 4 centuries, the vast majority of our architectural designs, the vast majority of content still being used today to drive learning in most school settings, was created through the experiences of awe that is found in nature!

The fourth industrial revolution provides us with an opportunity, an opportunity to apply our outward rather than inward focused thinking helping all of us to consider different perspectives and see beyond the present day. This is how we will overcome our worldly aliments. This is how the education industry can adapt. This is our roles as educators. 


REFERENCE LIST

[i] Klaus Schwab. 2016. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond.

[ii] SingularityHub. 2016. The End of Meaningless Jobs Will Unleash the World's Creativity. [ONLINE] Available at: http://singularityhub.com/2016/08/23/the-end-of-meaningless-jobs-will-unleash-the-worlds-creativity/

[iii] David Graeber. 2013. On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs. [ONLINE] Available at: http://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/.

[iv] Sir Ken Robinson. (2010). Changing education paradigms. [Online Video]. 4 October 2010. Available from:https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms. 

[v] Oliver Milman & Alan Yuhas. 2016. An American tragedy: why are millions of trees dying across the country?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/19/tree-death-california-hawaii-sudden-oak. 

[vi] Payne, PG, 2015. Critical Curriculum Theory and Slow Ecopedagogical Activism. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31(2), 165-193.