– by Nkosingiphile Ntshangase
The imminence of technologies underlying the future has been something many businesses and educational institutions have avoided until now. This is as a result of believing that the traditional method of running operations works best, ignoring the power of its blueprint in a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) context. This ideology was brought to its knees in February and March 2020, as many countries went into a social and business lockdown. Many South African organisations went into crisis mode and emergency measures were put in place to keep citizens safe from COVID-19.
As events across the country were cancelled, organisations had to find alternative ways stay in touch with their respective markets. Educational institutions are now moving to online teaching and businesses are now holding meetings online as a way to adapt to the circumstance. These interventions within themselves pose unique challenges but it is learning process for many. Some may even say it’s temporary but there is a chance that things will not go back to normal. These interventions have presented endless opportunities for organisations which can enable faster and smarter learning as well as adopting fresh techniques.
A critical analysis of 4IR techniques in the South African context is necessary. Our education system for instance has been severely disrupted thus leaving our vulnerable groups exposed with the challenges that come with it. Our current school curriculum does not equip learners with the right skills, education and resources for the technological age. Access to fast and reliable internet is a national problem, only the resourced schools have the advantage of better equipping their learners for 4IR as the majority of the demographic in attendance have access while rural and township schools do not and are therefore at a disadvantage. On the bright side, accelerated transformation will require schools to properly prepare learners with the right tools to come up with new and innovative solutions for tomorrow’s problems, today. Thus, encouraging a generation of forward thinkers. As such, teacher competency and reskilling are necessary. Educators must possess skills and tools necessary to prepare learners for opportunities of the future.
In business, the concept of ‘remote working’ has previously been a privilege only a few have access to but now has become a means of survival. Many in positions of leadership are now familiarising themselves in overseeing remote workers and embracing digital tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Webex. This shift will offer opportunities for countries to advance their economic prospects through innovative technology that drives growth. However, this change will definitely have an effect on our labour market. We are about to see a rise in retrenchment statistics and companies down-scaling as the takeover of digitalisation will render some jobs obsolete, but there is a silver lining. With countries like South Africa being coerced into implementing 4IR strategies, this should offer more opportunities for employment within new sectors and entrepreneurship.
This industrial revolution that the world is currently in will require advancements made in our education system that encourages the strengthening of cognitive skills, inspiring more creators and problem solvers. It is said that the 4IR will bring on economic growth, investment, job creation and skills transfer. If that is the case, South Africa needs to be more proactive and less reactive if we want to fully embrace the revolution. But, this pertinent question remains, is South Africa ready? At UKZN Extended Learning we are embracing the changes and are working on a number of projects aimed at providing free access to learning materials. Firstly, we are taking all our workshops online and will be offering regular online webinars. Secondly, we are offering free online courses and are regularly partnering with organisations to increase the offerings available. For more information on the webinars and online courses on offer, please visit our website.