Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande says a change of mindset across all sectors of society is required to achieve robust, resilient and sustainable growth in the era of COVID-19, and beyond.
Addressing the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) Virtual Conference organised by Fuze Business Initiative, Dr Nzimande says COVID-19 has forced the world to think and do things differently, apply different methodologies and technologies to be more effective and in the current economic state.
Dr Nzimande said the social effects of the 4IR will depend predominantly on how South Africans and in specific the Post School Education and Training (PSET) system and the National System of Innovation, choose to harness it.
He said it is important for the Education and Training Sector to build human capacity in the area of the 4IR. One way this is being done is through recommendations to the Presidential Commission on 4IR that focus on the establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institute; the creation of the Advanced Manufacturing Institute (AMI) and the establishment of a National Data Centre.
“For this all to happen, we must purposefully promote the adoption of 4IR technologies in our classrooms and the emergence of future industries and platforms, by also reviewing, amending and creating policy and legislation and an enabling environment for our country to advance in the 4IR,” Dr Nzimande said.
Another recommendation, he said, is to build 4IR infrastructure, which integrates with existing economic and social infrastructure.
It is given that for economies to tap into the economic potential of the 4IR, there needs to be strengthened collaboration between governments, businesses, academia and civil society.”
Dr Nzimande said he has received the first draft report of the Department’s Ministerial Task Team on 4IR that recommends that in order for the PSET, Science and Innovation system to embrace and take advantage of the 4IR, it has to do the following:
- support research and innovation (contribute to the 4IR);
- equip lecturers and students to prepare for a world of work that is fundamentally different to today’s (building capacity for functioning in the 4IR), and
- embrace the 4IR in the PSET system, how it is managed, administered, equipped, teaching and learning taking place and how assessment is being done (impact of the 4IR on PSET).
He said at the centre of the report is a PSET system that provides a strong core of education and training programmes, with up-to-date curricula that align with the changing needs of both South African society and the world of work in the context of the 4IR.
Dr Nzimande added that the report recommends access to high quality educational opportunities that meet a burgeoning and immediate demand for ‘digital skills’ in the labour market created by the 4IR; and a parallel need for a new wave of South African innovators and entrepreneurs who will help to drive and shape the 4IR to the social and economic benefit of all of its citizens.
At the heart of the report is a PSET system that facilitates massive increases in short, skilling opportunities for unemployed and underemployed South Africans in parallel with wider government and private sector efforts to rapidly grow new employment opportunities for all.
It also speaks to a growing emphasis on integrating into PSET programmes and courses learning opportunities that prepare people to be able to cope with accelerating change, both socially and economically, and thus that emphasise key generic skills.
“We are therefore looking at educational opportunities that prepare students who are capable of creative insights, collaborating in diverse social and economic sectors, and navigating through cultural differences, which will provide them an advantage in the workplace,” Dr Nzimande.
“For this to be realised, curricula and educational programmes must be responsive to the accelerating pace of technological and societal changes and approaches in and outside the classroom must be much more flexible in terms of how and where students access learning opportunities.”