What is the role for educators in the fourth industrial revolution?


In recent years new technologies and online connectivity have introduced considerable changes to our daily lives, including how we work and study. And it’s likely that new technologies will continue to transform how we live for years to come.

But many are suggesting that we have now entered a new chapter in the history of technological development, potentially more disruptive than everything that we’ve experienced before. Recent breakthroughs, particularly in the field of Artificial Intelligence, are starting to blur the lines between science fact and science fiction, providing indications that our relationship with technology could be set to change more dramatically than most of us may have expected. This transformation is being labelled as the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

“Over the coming years artificial intelligence will continue to penetrate every major industry. From finance to healthcare, advertising, transportation, legal and education, almost every workplace and every job will be affected in some way. There’s no doubt that transformational change is on its way”, said Avi Ganon, World ORT CEO and Director General.

The pace of development and the huge range of technologies available means that this is not part of the gradual technological trends that we’ve experienced in the past. Artificial intelligence, Big Data, mobile internet, cloud technology, robots in industry and the home, the internet of things, driverless cars, lorries and taxis, drones, 3D printers, nanotechnology, virtual reality, machine learning – all of these have started to impact on society on a scale that is not reflected in the school curriculum.

Our educators have a responsibility to prepare our students, providing them not only with the knowledge and understanding of the technologies, but also the skills to make the right career decisions and thrive at work.

“In the current environment, the educational tools, techniques and curriculum that we have been using for decades may no longer be fit for purpose. Students need to understand the technologies and their potential disruptions to future job markets, recruitment and work.” Avi Ganon added.

The fourth industrial revolution presents a set of challenges that educators need to address in order to continue delivering a relevant education to the today’s students. Two concerns that are being widely discussed internationally are the threats to our jobs from automation and the increasingly rapid rates that knowledge becomes obsolete.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (1970)

World ORT educators at the Hatter Technology Seminar

These challenges inspired the theme for this year’s World ORT Hatter Technology Seminar, entitled ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Future of Work’ which took place in London at the end of March.

Throughout the week, twenty ORT educators from nine countries attended thought-provoking lectures, workshops and participated in discussions to explore how to adapt their work to fit with these new realities.

Guest presenters included Amy Solder from Nesta who provided insight into some of the additional challenges and opportunities that our students will experience in the near future. These are likely to include a continuing increase in globalisation, urbanisation, political uncertainty and inequality; complex global environmental challenges and opportunities; and demographic change related to people living longer lives and new patterns of consumption and work.

Charles Wood from CENTURY Intelligent Learning spoke about their use of AI as a tool to personalise teaching and learning, whilst Miles Berry of the University of Roehampton shared some practical ways for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to be integrated into the school curriculum from elementary school upwards. Dina Baysanova from PitchMe and Dr Gregory Asmolov from King’s College London, discussed how technology may change the process of recruitment by using algorithms that closely match candidates’ skills to employer’s needs.

There was also a spotlight on how schools and colleges guide their students towards further study and work that matches their skills and abilities. Through visits to JfS, a local high school and Westminster Kingsway, a further education college, delegates were able to see how this is approached in the UK. Additional sessions from ORT UK’s mentoring programme ‘JUMP’ and a session with Jonathan Hardwick from Inspiring Futures stimulated many new ideas.Jorge Grunberg, Rector of the University of ORT Uruguay spoke to the participants of the Hatter Seminar via a live link-up online. “Progress is now so quick that we can’t keep the paradigm of ‘I learn and then I apply’. The obsolescence of knowledge is shorter and shorter which means that by the time our students apply what they know, it is already outdated.”

The delegates also discussed and presented a series of ethical challenges relating to the ways that technologies, particularly Artificial Intelligence, are developing and the impact on society that we may need to consider in preparing our students to become informed and responsible citizens.

David Or-lev, World ORT YOUniversity teacher in Israel

David Or-lev, a Hatter seminar delegate representing World ORT YOUniversities in Israel explained: “Currently the future is unknown. A lot of technology is developing right now, so we cannot predict the future and see beyond five years. What we are trying to do is build a base and stable foundation for our children and students to grow on. We focus mainly on providing them with the ability to self-learn. The YOUniversities are providing academic level courses which allow the students to advance and continue learning outside the classroom as they are exposed to new tools that allow them to develop themselves.”

“Teachers won’t be the only ones who know anymore but will be the ones who guide and coach students to deepen their ideas and to take actions.” said Agnes Malnuit, an educator from ORT Lyon in France.

Vladimir Dribinskiy, World ORT Chief Programme Officer added:

“As educators, we have a huge responsibility to society. Our students will become the developers and engineers, the employers and the policymakers who will shape how this transformation unfolds. They need to be well-informed and prepared to face some huge challenges and to take advantage of opportunities that may be unique in our history. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Maurice and Lady Irene Hatter, World ORT has been able to pool our expertise from around the world to make sure that these issues are high on the agenda for all of our schools and colleges.”