Are South African schools ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution?

As a developing country still dependant on labour-intensive industries such as mining and agriculture, South Africa is at a risk of not optimally taking advantage of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the rapid advancement of new technologies that is building on the developments of the third industrial revolution (the advent of electronics and automated production). According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and executive chairman of the WEF, the fourth industrial revolution ‘is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.

The increasing intersection between physical and digital technologies is changing the world of work in several key ways. As Schwab says, ‘physical products and services … can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value’. Today’s worker needs to understand how digital and physical components can combine to create faster, more efficient and effective products and hybrid solutions.

In education, the challenge is to equip learners in South Africa to function effectively in the 21st Century, and use technology to innovate, collaborate and create.

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Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (2008) was developed by Andrew Churches as an extension of the original Bloom’s Taxonomy and creates a hierarchy of learning activities in a digital environment. In this post I will provide a background to Bloom’s Taxonomy and its subsequent revisions, list each of the categories in the hierarchy and suggest a technology that can be used at each level to support learning.

Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a taxonomy of learning objectives in 1956, as a structure to understand the learning process. Divided into three psychological domains – cognitive (processing information), affective (attitudes and feelings) and psychomotor (physical skills) – his taxonomy progressed from Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). The levels he identified were: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Bloom’s Taxonomy followed the thinking process with the logic that you “can not understand a concept if you do not first remember it, similarly you can not apply knowledge and concepts if you do not understand them” (Churches, 2008). Forty years later Lorin Anderson and David Karathwohl, former students of Bloom’s, revisited Bloom’s Taxonomy, publishing a revised version in 2001 which reordered the sequence of categories and used verbs rather than nouns to describe each category. It is this revised version that Andrew Churches used to develop his digital taxonomy, keeping Anderson and Karathwohl’s categories of remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, but extending them into the digital environment.

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TPACK model

For all teachers struggling to integrate ICT in education in South Africa, the TPACK model is a useful tool, providing a way to integrate pedagogy, content and technology in the ordinary course of teaching in the classroom. This model informs how pedagogy is impacted by the use of digital technology and while deceptively simple it is a powerful teaching approach.

See the diagram below for a visual representation of the model and then watch the excellent three-minute explainer video by Royce Kimmons.

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Digital education in South Africa

What’s going on in schools?

Despite much talk from government about the needs to ready learners for the the 21st Century workplace, when it comes to state-funded schools, the South African reality is one characterised by a lack of access to technical support, unreliable internet connectivity, security concerns and limited funding for teacher training which has been slowing down the broader uptake of digital education. Despite these infrastructural issues, there is a growing interest in digital education in South Africa, often spearheaded by politicians eager to make electoral gains. On the ground, these issues are being tackled by a combination of government initiatives supported by tech companies – such as Samsung, Intel and Microsoft –  and NGO-led interventions. This often results in a haphazard implementation of digital education and a proliferation of pilot projects. 

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How edtech can equip learners with the right skills for the 4th industrial revolution

In recent times there has been much talk of a ‘4th industrial revolution’, as the lines between physical and digital experiences blur more and more. What exactly is the 4th industrial revolution and what skills can edtech help learners develop?

What is the 4th industrial revolution?

It is the rapid advancement of new technologies that is building on the developments of the third industrial revolution (the advent of electronics and automated production). According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and executive chairman of the WEF, the fourth industrial revolution ‘is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.

How is it changing the world of work?

Read moreHow edtech can equip learners with the right skills for the 4th industrial revolution