Sekolah Tun Fatimah, Johor students at Vex Robotics 2016.

THE Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0) has given a new impetus to educational transformation. In recent years, education experts recognise the profound impact that a myriad of technological innovations in ICT is having on education. They agree that Education 4.0 will be shaped by innovations and will indeed have to train students to produce innovations.

EFFECTS OF IR 4.0 ON EDUCATION

The picture of IR 4.0 is still quite fuzzy and it is difficult to accurately predict what lies ahead. Like the industrial revolutions in the past, IR 4.0 will create new jobs, and will also eliminate some of the existing jobs.

It is predicted that routine activities including monitoring will be entirely or partly taken over by machines. For example, IBM Watson has developed AI-based expert system that can replace junior lawyers. AI system has also been developed, having potential to replace basic-level medical practitioners. This may mean fewer jobs for entry-level professionals in these areas, specialist jobs may remain though.

In this context, it is vitally important to impart appropriate education to the future workforce. Based on the trends so far, researchers predict that IR 4.0 will necessitate profound changes in major aspects of education: content, delivery/pedagogy, and structure/management of education.

IR 4.0 demands changes in the contents of not only technical education, but also education in general. Across disciplines, new emphasis will have to be given on certain skills and new contents have to be added. So, new educational programmes will have to be developed to meet changing demands.

In the era of IR 4.0, jobs that require creativity are likely to stay. Irrespective of discipline, Education 4.0 must be able to produce highly creative graduates with the ability to think critically.

Graduates must be innovative and entrepreneurial, and have cognitive flexibility to deal with complexity. Many of them will be co-working not only with Man, but also robots.

The need for better communication and collaborative skills will be far more important than ever. Graduates must acquire self-learning skills to remain relevant in the era of rapid changes.

Education 4.0 is suggested to affect all the domains (Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor) in the Bloom’s model. In the cognitive domain, Application, Analysis, Evaluating and Creating will become way more important relative to the lower level cognitive skills.

IR 4.0 will require human resources with adequate digital and data literacy. Students across disciplines will, therefore, need to gain digital and data literacy during their studies.

The convergence of Man and machine in IR 4.0 will mean that the disciplinary distance between science and technology, and humanities and social sciences will be reduced.

An important segment of IR 4.0 will perhaps be situated at the intersection of disciplines such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, business administration and computer science. Universities in collaboration with industry will therefore need to come up new interdisciplinary programmes.

PEDAGOGY

Innovations such as mobile computing, cloud, social network and big data have created an opportunity to build a learning ecosystem that allows personalised learning which is independent of time and place.

Learners will be able to design their own educational pathways based on their personal goals. Meeting increasing demand for ubiquitous mobile learning will require the use of Massive Open Online Courses, virtual classroom, remote labs, virtual labs and game-based learning as important tools.

With a rising level of complexity, it will be highly important to impart deeper learning. This can be achieved with the increased use of blended, project- and scenario-based, and practice-oriented learning. Innovation being key to success, experts suggest that maker space, which is characterised by open source innovation and learning-by-doing, should be utilised as a tool to train graduates.

Another creative way that is being experimented in countries including the United States, Germany, Austria and Brazil to train graduates (and also employees) is learning factory (LF). LF replicates section(s) of the value chain of the industry where workplace-based scenario can be created. In a LF, learning takes place formally and informally, and has been found to be more effective in gaining complex skills and knowledge.

EDUCATION STRUCTURE AND MANAGEMENT

IR 4.0 will see profound changes in business models across the sectors. To cope with the quicker cycles of disruptive changes, one has to make lifelong learning a permanent part of professional life. This may, in turn, need new ways of recognising and certifying work-place based learning. This will require new partnership between educational institution and industry.

Some experts suggest that there will be a need for compressed undergraduate study programmes, supplemented by practice and subsequent in-depth studies. Some even tend to suggest that fixed degree programmes, as we know today, may not be effective.

Universities, therefore, will need to re-think the way academic programmes will be structured in the future. To recognise more flexible, practice-oriented, competency based learning, new systems of accreditation/certification will be necessary.

Application of big data analytics in teaching and learning will shape future adoptive learning environment. Research in Austria (TU Graz) has shown that learning analytics can help teachers to see the success and failure of each student on each topic, provide them with early warning of knowledge gaps, and help them to take appropriate measures.

These measures include use of automatic exercise generators that can give appropriate exercise to each student depending on his progress. Use of data analytics for monitoring progress and effectiveness in education will become commonplace.

To respond to the needs of IR 4.0, universities must continue to play their role as test beds for educating the future generation and innovation. But close collaboration with industry and stakeholders will be ever more important to implement Education 4.0.

To be effective and efficient in such efforts, it will be important to have technology roadmaps for the main economic /industrial sectors of the country. Such technology roadmaps will provide the direction for the educational transformation which may have two main components: transform education across disciplines in terms of content, delivery, management, and devise special education/degree programmes to develop technical manpower to support IR 4.0.

Many of the components of Education 4.0 already exist in the Malaysian higher education system, but perhaps in isolation. For example, soft skills that IR 4.0 demands have already been introduced to higher education in the country.

Many of the core technical subjects are also taught in various universities under different programmes. In the context of demanding requirements of IR 4.0, it will be important to re-visit these to find how the delivery of soft skills can be made more effective. In addition to soft skills, efforts should be made on how to make digital/data literacy more accessible to the general student mass irrespective of discipline. The need for human resources in the key technical areas like IoT, big data and analytics, cloud computing, virtual/augmented reality, robotics, etc. should be assessed and acted upon accordingly.

New interdisciplinary programmes need to be developed to cater to the future need. As a first step, pilot programmes can be developed to cater to a certain sector that will be most influenced by IR 4.0. For example, the manufacturing sector can be targeted to begin with.

Since professional undergraduate programmes are subjected to control/regulation by accreditation bodies, out-of-the-box ideas cannot be introduced here immediately. Therefore a master programme in manufacturing that responds to the need of IR 4.0 can be developed as a first step. It has to be made interdisciplinary combining engineering, ICT and business studies.

It can even be a multi-university project to bring the best of the nation on a single platform. Effective use of digital tools, maker space, LF, etc. should be made. Experts predict that IR 4.0 will be a long journey reaching maturity in 2025-2030.

The writer is the Dean for the Innovative Technology Research Cluster as well as a Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya. His areas of expertise are materials degradation (corrosion and wear), alloy materials (nanostructure) and electronic packaging materials

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