Future Class Norm #1: All Hands on Tech!
The conversations discussing digitization (part of the third industrial revolution), Artificial Intelligence (herein also referred to as AI), and other technologies referred to as part of the fourth industrial revolution are often held in different spaces and symposiums across the world. In the 2019 version of the Compendium “United Nations Activities on Artificial Intelligence”, the International Telecommunication Union discusses the experiments that the UN carries out using AI to respond to the global challenges (United Nations Activities on Artificial Intelligence (AI), 2019). The World Economic Forum also argues that there is a need for digitization in the creation of radical solutions that can boost the economic participation of women across the world (Goodwin-Groen and Klapper, 2016). Many more dialogs are happening across the world discussing the use of digitized solutions and AI in the endeavor to solve different challenges. This article deliberates on the relevance of the third and fourth industrial revolutions in the development of education across the continent of Africa. It also discusses the impact of modified or new technologies on African economies.
To discuss the relevance and importance of the third and fourth industrial revolutions on a whole continent (in this case, Africa), it is imperative to establish a clear understanding of what an industrial revolution is. To quote the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab;
“An industrial revolution is the appearance of new technologies and novel ways of perceiving the world [that] trigger a profound change in economic and social structures.” (Schwab, 2012)
Technology In Reducing Educational Inequalities
Although Africa was still under the influence of the western powers as the third industrial revolution emerged in the 1950s, the technologies that arrived with the revolution played a part in the process of further emancipation of Africans/black people around the world and the development of the continent post-colonialism (Mendes et al., 2014). The third industrial revolution saw an era of digital technologies that disrupted the way people communicate, travel, work, and generally the way they live. The shift from analog to digital also changed the way products are made and distributed. The most notable invention that emerged in this revolution is the internet. The internet is a global network that connects all computers (with permission) across the world to share information (Dennis and Kahn, 2019). This tool completely revolutionized communication and commerce in every part of the world (Dentzel, 2013). Because communication has become easier, people from other-wise underprivileged backgrounds are able to access knowledge easier than before.
Across Africa, educational inequality is still a great challenge across the continent. According to an article (Musau, 2018), there is still a large knowledge disparity between privileged and unprivileged individuals across Africa, even though rates vary in different regions. The same article points out that even students who are enrolled in schools are still lacking basic skills that would help them live a productive life. This also comes as a result of educational inequalities as privileged students get proper instruction and skills. However, the internet has made it possible to provide information in an easier manner than traditional education. A YouTube channel named “English For You” provides English lessons; from a beginner’s level to mastery (English For You, 2014). The channel provides information for free and allows the viewer to improve their English skills.
One would argue, with good reason, that most underprivileged individuals who need these kinds of inventions reside in rural areas, where internet access and electricity are rarely available. However, the internet mostly presents the possibility that education can be provided in radical ways when partnered with other smart ideas. In 2019, the government of Rwanda in collaboration with OneWeb, launched a satellite that will help students in rural areas access the internet (Ibeh, 2020). Access to the internet in rural areas across Africa might take a while but we now know that it is possible to provide quality education. We can now hope that students in rural areas will one day be able to access quality education like the 21st-century skills that ALU’s Leadership Core provides currently but at a much cheaper price or even for free.
AI & IoT in Classrooms
In the last few decades, the world has increasingly been connected to technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things (Makridakis et al., 2018). Artificial Intelligence literally means intelligence that is artificial because it is implanted in a computer by a human, which then makes “intelligent” choices based on the information received (Frankenfield, 2020). One of the ways in which AI can contribute to the education system is being a teacher’s assistant in global learning. Since the AI is connected to the internet, students would be able to acquire information wherever they are. The Internet of Things refers to the system of interconnected computing devices (IoT Agenda, 2019). This is arguably the most interesting technology that has been classified as part of the fourth industrial revolution. In a classroom, the IoT technology can be used to personalize topics to help the student “…attend classes at any time and anywhere”(Qozani & Aleryani, 2018). This technology has the potential to change and adapt in a way that traditional teachers, especially in Africa, have not been able to in the past.
Education is a key element in the pursuit of economic development. The quality of education provided in a nation most likely reflects the economy of the country OECD (2012). This means that understanding and using these technologies not only improves the quality of education provided but eventually also affects the economy. As African countries produce more professionals, it is important to have the students partake in the technologies that influence the direction of the economies around the world. Whether Africa participates in the development of these technologies or not, the rest of the world is going to be moving ahead. In fact, it would be in African nations’ best interest to not only use this technology but also invent or create technologies that are future-oriented.
In conclusion, education is imperative for the development of Africa as a continent and digital solutions like, but not limited to, the internet, AI, and IoT can help reduce inequality of educational opportunities in Africa and also revolutionize the way students and educators interact with knowledge. Current students who are privileged enough to access some of these technologies should use them to do hard things like creating solutions that extend that knowledge to those that are underprivileged. When that happens, then students across the continent will create a brighter future for Africa and usher their countries into becoming independent and stable economies.
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Dentzel, Z. (2013). How the Internet Has Changed Everyday Life | OpenMind. OpenMind. Retrieved 4 May 2020, from https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/internet-changed-everyday-life/.
English For You (2014). Beginner Levels: lesson 1. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeaadwctbD4 [Accessed 18 Dec. 2019].
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