Fourth Industrial Revolution

What kind of education do we need in the future?

"We must shift the focus from learning what we already know to exploring what hasn’t happened yet." Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Vishal Sikka
Advisory Professor, East China Normal University (ECNU)
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Emerging technologies in artificial intelligence, deep neural networking, and machine learning enable us to reimagine the possibilities of human creativity, innovation and productivity.

Research institutions, businesses and governments explore the great new frontiers of human possibility. So many of our systems have evolved beyond what we thought was possible, even 10 years ago. And yet we still hold on to an educational system built more than 300 years ago.

Today’s classrooms often operate in the same way they did when farmers composed the majority of our societies; when memorization was rewarded more than curiosity and experimentation; when getting something right outweighed learning through failure. We must transition away from our past; shift the focus from learning what we already know to an education focused on exploring what hasn’t happened yet. This system would resemble an ecology – constant, small adjustments made by independent actors inside of a cohesive whole.

We see some of this from research by education expert Sugata Mitra and others. We also see the notion of flow, articulated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, precisely applied here – as individuals, we all must find our own space to learn, our own unique experiences which completely absorb us by requiring a high level of skill and challenge at a very individual level. When we find this balance for each of us, our potential is truly limitless. The human mind is, in some sense, the primal technology —Mother Nature’s most disruptive innovation. It enables us to analyze, understand, and evaluate; communicate, empathize, and collaborate; imagine, dream, and create.

But none of these incredible capabilities would be possible without our fundamental ability to understand and to learn. It is this ability that transforms all of the waves of raw data and information that wash over our world into true knowledge. As technology continues its rise, absorbing our mundane and routine tasks, we must understand our calling to something greater – to be better, something more. This is the promise of our great human potential — that we are more than the sum of our knowledge of the past. It is precisely our ability to learn that will open a new future for all of us.

To start, public policy must transform at all levels - the local, the state, and the federal - to allow the education systems to keep pace with developments in technology. Governments themselves need to be renewed through modern, responsive IT infrastructure. Our policies must also provide an environment for our students to become fluent in technology.

Our educational systems must modernize to embrace this new reality. From a recent Infosys survey of 9,000 16-28 year olds worldwide, 40% replied that they believe a machine will be able to do their job in 10 years. Nearly half in Western countries said their education did not prepare them for what to expect from working life. And nearly 80% said they had to learn new skills that they didn’t learn at school — this is the new reality, one where technological change is so rapid that it requires constant learning. Our education systems must teach the ability to learn, not the ability to memorize.

One goal should be to make computers more widely available across all income levels and geographies. My friend Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab started the One Laptop per Child organization that aims to provide inexpensive laptops to children across the developing world. Mr. Mitra’s research tells us that the only missing component, then, is a word of encouragement from an instructor, a friend or a relative. From there, students will self-organize around the devices. Natural leaders will emerge, as will the children’s curiosity, their willingness to share new ideas, and the solutions.

By familiarizing students with technology at a young age, we take away their fear or timidity. And we encourage a more inclusive and open dialogue about how to think through our tools and technologies to solve the open questions around the great problems of our time.

But in order for these new educational systems to be successful, we must re-examine our own approaches. All of us can help to transform the context around us. The context which limits our potential. One example of this is that Infosys, along with many others, recently announced OpenAI. This initiative seeks to bring more digital intelligence and value to various aspects of our human existence — extending our will, amplifying our abilities, and improving the human condition – by opening up the research ecosystem in a radical, not-for-profit way. This open effort has an indefinite timeline. These are the types of projects we can think about: a greater good that changes the context.

These are times of great transformation; a period when I believe the technologies around us will alter all aspects of life. Education has the unique and unassailable opportunity in our society to prepare us for such a change. It is precisely our human ability to learn, to harness our minds and to apply creative thought to new problems that will allow us to adapt and overcome any future technology or transition, as it has so many times in the past. Undoubtedly, the next industrial revolution will amplify our humanity, but we must also bring a new context, to make it as adaptable, curious, collaborative, engaging and powerful as our own minds.

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Fourth Industrial RevolutionEducation and Skills
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