When a person talks about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) they usually describe advance robotics, super computers and automaton mechanisms. But it could go further than that. President Cyril Ramaphosa established a commission on the economic revolutionary phase known as 4IR in 2019, which was tasked to identify relevant policies, strategies and action plans to position the Country as a competitive global player.1 However with the advent of the global pandemic Covid 19 in March 2020 the process towards 4IR accelerated.2 The spread of the Pandemic which was relentless in taking lives reshaped the economy, the workforce and life in general globally.3 The future of the success of 4IR will depend on whether or not these policies will become a great success and are effective.4
Education is to play a key role in this process with a special focus on the younger generation.
This mean that South African schools have no choice but to move beyond traditional learning. It is no secret that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us, and we are already living in a world of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, genetic engineering, etc. Contrary to the old-school traditions housed in English, Mathematics, Science, etc., the new curriculum will have to be redesigned and include courses that reflect the skills mandated by emerging economies and technologies. Skills such as coding, robotics, design thinking, sustainability, and financial literacy will have to be integrated and taught in the classroom. Although the current school curriculum does not equip learners with the right skills or education for the 4IR, Robotics and Coding are being introduced into the school curriculum for Grades R to 7 in 2023, with full-scale implementation for Grades 4 to 6 and Grade 8 planned for 2024, and the Grade 9s will follow suit in 2025. But the big question is if South African schools are ready to take that leap into preparing learners for the future world of working. “There is still a lot of training that needs to be done to upskill teachers and prepare them for the future of learning, especially when it comes to Coding and Robotics,” said Aunyana Moloisane, Managing Director of Optimi Classroom and education expert. (Disruption in education – is the South African curriculum ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution?)
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Most of this discussion about the fourth Industrial Revolution has gone into frightening territory. This is especially true of genetic engineering. What is that? Is it safe? Is it about modifying DNA? To what extent will this modification be? These are some of the questions we should be asking concerning the 4IR. Through educating the country, both young and old about the harmful effects of 4IR on plants, people and animals as well as the benefits will go a long way in improving people’s awareness about it. Whereas most of this will create a profound impression on the younger generations particularly in terms of those interested in art, graphic designing and engineering, creating a generation concerned about the effects Artificial Intelligence (AI) and genetic engineering will have on the environment should be of paramount importance. Robotics and Coding which are the basics of AI will attract less concern. The introduction of the new curriculum to basic education will cost money and hopefully this will be spent appropriately concerning the subject rather than squandered. Young children are easily attracted to learning about new innovations, but have attention spans that are limited in the younger stages. The skills being taught under the new curriculum should be implemented in accordance with what is relevant to reality. Although expanding the use of imagination should take place gradually in accordance with the grades being taught. It sounds like they have already thought this out and are implementing it in the right form. Only time will tell how this plays out.