Derek Smith

7 min read


A review of the WEF report by Sean Fleming, February 2020
The Fourth Industrial Revolution – What is it?
In mid-February 2020, a Google search on the term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” brings up around two million hits, but what is it and what does it mean for schools in Nigeria? In 2016 Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) coined the term in his report for the Davos meeting of world leaders. He identified three industrial revolutions in history. The first was when steam and water were used to mechanise production, the second the use of electric power to mechanise production and the third the introduction of information technology to automate production. Schwab is clear that we are now in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, stating that it is not an extension of the third but rather a distinct revolution. He distinguishes it from the third both by the speed of change and also by the integration of cyber-physical systems into our daily lives, but what does this mean on the ground in Nigeria?
Schwab stated that “the possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge are unlimited.” The impact would be accelerated by artificial intelligence, robotics, and many other high-tech advances. Clearly, we read about these developments in places like China and the USA, but are they impacting life in Nigeria?
Nigeria has a population of over 180 million with estimated mobile phone penetration of 84% with 36 million unique smartphone users rising to 55% of the population by 2025 . This would give providers access to data on over 100 million Nigerians. Has this impacted life in Nigeria? If you use Google Maps, you are using the results of the data gathered and processed by artificial intelligence. If you search with Google your results are tailored to you by AI based on information about you and millions of other Nigerians. Not to mention your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed. Schools I work with use targeted marketing on Facebook and Instagram to reach potential parents. A Facebook employee based in Ireland gives advice on who to target based on the data Facebook has collected on young Nigerians. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here, and it is impacting Nigerians now. As educators our question shouldn’t be what is happening now, it should be what do we need to do to prepare our children for the future?
Education 4.0
The future of education, or education for the future, must be at the core of all school leaders and educators thinking and learning. Schwab identified the speed of change as one of the key factors in the fourth industrial revolution. We can see that in the social media our students use. From Facebook to Instagram to Snap Chat to TikTok it is virtually impossible to keep up. If rapid change is a key aspect of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, then adaptability and change must be at the core of our education systems. When I began my formal research and implementation in this area in 2012, we talked about the 4 Cs. These were;
Critical thinking
As we progressed, based on research by Dr Michael Fullan and UNESCO, we extended these 4 Cs to six core competencies;
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving,
Collaboration and Communication,
Creativity and Imagination,
Digital Literacy and,
Student Leadership and Personal Development.
These areas were supported by the
WEF Future of Jobs Report in 2016 which had Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Creativity as employers’ top skills for the future. The 2018 Future of Jobs Report had a regional focus providing a focus on emerging skills that would be in demand in Africa in 2018-22. These included:
Analytical thinking and innovation
Creativity, originality and initiative
Active learning and learning strategies
Technology design and programming
Complex problem-solving
Critical thinking and analysis
Leadership and social influence
Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
Emotional intelligence
Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
Education must focus on the core skills necessary for success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but as these requirements develop it is vital that we have an education system that keeps pace.
In January 2020 the WEF released a report titled, “Schools of the Future; Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” This report is directly targeted at educators and decision makers in the education sector, highlighting how education must change, identifying “eight critical characteristics in learning content and experiences” and showcasing schools from around the world who are demonstrating these characteristics.
The characteristics are:
1. Global Citizenship Skills
2. Innovation and creativity skills
3. Technology skills
4. Interpersonal skills
5. Personalized and self-paced learning
6. Accessible and inclusive learning
7. Problem-based and collaborative learning
8. Lifelong and student-driven learning
This report is the outcome of the World Education Forum’s “Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society” and signifies the launch of an initiative tagged the Education 4.0 initiative.
Impact in Nigeria
Launching initiatives and bold ideas are not new in the education sector and these grand beginnings often fade quite quickly when faced with the reality of schools. However, a fundamental difference in this report is that it is grounded in education in practice. The report contains details of sixteen schools which are demonstrating how to begin to put this change into action. Crucially, for educators working in Nigeria and across Africa, many of these initiatives are based in the developing world with the report showcasing two initiatives in Africa; Kakaboo Academies in Mali and the Kakuma Project in Kenya. There are already cases of schools pioneering these areas within Nigeria. The key question is how can we build on this to ensure that children across Nigeria and Africa are at the forefront of these changes and equipped with the skills necessary for the Fourth Industrial Fevolution?
Alvin Toffler is credited with saying: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This applies not to our students but to everyone involved in education. What we learnt at school is no longer important. How we learnt at school is no longer appropriate. Specialisation will no longer bring success.
The learning crisis in Africa will not be solved by recycling old solutions of more classrooms and books. It will not be solved trying to match the resources invested in education by governments in developed countries to borrow their outdated solutions. Educators in Africa need to be involved in the discussions and developing bespoke solutions. The “Schools of the Future” report ends with the following paragraph that I will quote in its entirety:
To that end, the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society invites Ministers of Education, Chief Executive Officers who are champions of education, and other stakeholders to join the Forum platform to define and implement a holistic action agenda to realize Education 4.0. The initiative aims to mobilize key stakeholders in transitioning to Education 4.0 by implementing new national education policies that mainstream these shifts in content and experiences across public education systems; supporting teachers in implementing this new vision through reskilling and upskilling; engaging in continuous global best practice exchange between schools and schooling systems; and building mechanisms for assessing progress against these goals. The Education 4.0 initiative will contribute to the Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society’s vision to impact 1 billion people with improved educational and job opportunities by 2030. We call on all stakeholders to join us in this important effort.
As educators, are we prepared to be involved? As decision makers, are we prepared to take risks? The truth is that the time for incremental change has passed; if we are to avoid a lost generation of children, we must be bold, work with those committed to transforming education across the continent and the world, and take action to solve the learning crisis in Africa.

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