The 4th industrial revolution has profound implications for the future direction of education and society: whose responsibility is it?
The debate about the roles of government and business, the leadership expected from business, and the impact and role of educators in preparing all students for their future is crucial. Clear vision and strong leadership are necessary to identify the skills needed and the ways in which to develop strong academic, vocational and socio-political skills to help our societies thrive on the opportunities, rather than survive the disruptions and transformations of the 4th industrial revolution. There is a crucial need for intervention to blunt the raw impact of disruptive forces and creative destruction, and also the need for a new capitalism to bring the entrepreneurship and agility required to innovate and create strong and sustainable economies.
Freud on uncertainty
Freud tells us that we are experiencing a sense of loss and bereavement: what was certain for us before is no longer certain. In a little-known essay called “Transience” Freud (1915) “recognised a mourning that was neither the persistence of memory nor the shock of recent bereavement.” In two recent essays Greensburg (2018a, 2018b) highlighted aspects of Freud’s work that is repeated in much of the rhetoric that has become prevalent today.
The outbreak of war, he wrote in 1915, shattered our pride at the accomplishments of our civilisation, our respect for so many thinkers and artists, our hopes of finally overcoming the differences among peoples and races. It unleashed within us the evil spirits that we thought had been tamed by centuries of education on the part of our most noble men.(Greenburg, 2018b)
Fear of change is fuelling a desire to ‘go back’.
Like all nostalgia, the yearning to make America great again is a yearning for the never-was. There is a myth that we can go back to a simpler time. A time before we feared climate change and the environmental and economic implications, when we could drive fast cars guilt free. A time before the pressure of mass migrations makes us fear change while our world is becoming more complex around us. How do we develop the attitudes and behaviours to deal constructively with change rather than fear all it stands for and yearn for both a real and imaginary past?
We are in turbulent time and young people need to develop the essential skills of critical thinking problem solving, communication and understanding the need for perspective now more than ever, and to understand that it is not always those we fear most are the one to fear.
And for all his [Trump’s] talk of keeping America safe by closing the country to Muslims and building a wall along the Mexican border, the fact remains that the greatest terrorist threat America faces is from far-right extremists, including white nationalists, whose involvement in deadly acts of terror outnumbers those committed by Muslim extremists by two to one. These are the very people Trump encourages with his rhetoric.(Younge, 2018)
How do we build a resilient civil society for this changing future?
What education, attributes, attitudes and skills are needed so that society is more resilient, and people are better prepared for the continuing (and accelerating) social, political, environmental and technological changes of the rest of the 21st Century?
A recent report from Deloitte and the Global Business Coalition for Education (2018) highlights opportunities for the business community to contribute to addressing the demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution, focusing on “how to” best practices to reach and support youth globally in. It recommends that the business community address these four key challenges:
- Align stakeholders’ objectives and approaches: Work with the broader ecosystem to align goals and outcomes for impact.
- Engage in public policy: Strategically engage in public policy through dialogue, advocacy, collaboration, and influence.
- Develop promising talent strategies: Analyze current talent strategies–particularly those focused on youth or under-represented populations–and implement best practices to promote inclusivity and innovation, and drive economic return through differentiation.
- Invest strategically in workforce training approaches: Evaluate, invest, and promote workforce training programs that align with corporate social responsibility goals, talent practices, skill needs, and corporate culture (Deloitte, 2018)
The report does not address the challenges of the 4th industrial revolution in the formal education sector, nor the reforms needed to better prepare our young people, societies and workplaces for the shifting environment already being experienced now and set to continue and, potentially, to accelerate in the future.
A more holistic set of skills are necessary for an uncertain future. The focus on the holy triumvirate of STEM, business and marketing and the MBA needs to be balanced against another set of skills. We suggest we need a renewed focus on the arts to humanise us. The 4 C’s – Collaboration, Communications, Creativity, Courage and Leadership, as well as compassion and understanding. We need new approaches to History, Social Studies and Geography to learn from past mistakes, and new economic models for post growth sustainability.
There is as strong need for an education system that provides young people with these critical thinking skills that build resilience, empathy and perspective. Learners need to understand how to weigh up arguments, to question the media they access from multiple sources, to compare today’s events with history and to ensure that through social media and, more importantly, their everyday interactions, so that the past does not repeat itself. We need to prepare courageous leaders for the future and prepare young people to be active and critical participants in a democratic civil society and a new forward-looking economic system.
Written by: Peter Hamilton, EdTech Ventures, Ireland; Michelle Selinger, EdTech Ventures, UK. Published in the Book of Abstracts for OEB Global 2018, ISBN 978-3-941055-49-0. Order the print version here.
Greenburg, G .( 2018a) America and Its Discontents. The Baffler, 41. Online at https://thebaffler.com/outbursts/america-and-its-discontents-greenberg
Greenburg, G .( 2018b) Analyse this: what Freud can teach us about Trumpism The Guardian Long Read, 12,10/2018. Online at
Younge, G. (2018) Trump’s words have consequences, and he can no longer deny it. The Guardian, 25/10//18. Online at
Deloitte and the Global Business Coalition for Education (2018) Preparing tomorrow’s workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For business: A framework for action. Johannesburg. Deloitte. Executive Summary online at