THROUGHOUT history, humanity has been on a fascinating, exploratory journey. Since the first Industrial Revolution (1IR, circa 1784), humanity has undergone fundamental and massive changes in all aspects – in the way we live, work and relate to one another – in scope, scale and complexity.
It has been a fusion of science fiction (imagination) with political and economic history.
As an exemplar, the third Industrial Revolution (3IR), or Digital Revolution, of the last seven decades brought about a period of automation and digitisation through the use of electronics and computers, the invention of the internet, and the discovery of nuclear energy.
We are now in the midst of the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – defined by networking and exchange of information between humans and machines, although every country is not yet fully engaged. Simultaneously, we are on the cusp of the fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR) – driven more by new trends in artificial intelligence (AI), coding, quantum computing (Big Data) and robotics.
Nevertheless, the new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the global health catastrophe of our time, has exposed the surprising weaknesses of the existing global health security system or infrastructure, or the lack thereof, in spite of tremendous advances in medical sciences over time.
At the same time, the global economic coordination, as seen in the 2008 economic crisis, is failing to sponge up the enormous shock. The lack of global leadership is simply startling!
This pandemic has also blatantly exposed the surprising weaknesses of existing education systems globally, in spite of huge advances made in educational innovations and technologies (hardware, software and educational theories).
As schools and universities are closing globally in the face of drastic measures to prevent the virus from spreading, with or without alternative means of delivery and learning, the digital divide is exposing the stark inadequacies and inequalities, even in some developed nations.
In short, it is said the virus is deepening inequality, and inequality is widening its spread. What is clear is that the pandemic is redefining not only how we should behave for the moment to avert disaster – hygienically, culturally, economically or otherwise –– but why and how we should view it as a basis for future thinking.
But the focus on the economy or health is a topic for another day. How we should redefine the delivery of education across the various countries and levels, however, is not only important but an immediate imperative for a networked world.
Taken in this context, Namibia is at a crossroads in various spheres – in politics, economy, health and education, to name the critical ones. And the harmonious convergence of these four spheres will set the path for Namibia’s emergence in the new economy, or as some would say, its path to prosperity.
For a fecund imagination and engagement, we must address the dual challenge of the digital divide in our schools and universities that continue to marginalise many in society.
Firstly, we must dramatically narrow or eliminate the technology gaps in the system by setting minimal quality benchmarks on par with the state-of-the-art, thereby broadening means to deliver education. Secondly, we must offer relevant quality curricula that prepare graduates for the 4IR and 5IR.
The extent of global engagement in the new economy is exampled by some countries that are currently providing education and training more aligned to the 4IR and 5IR (even in K-12). Courses in artificial intelligence, coding, big data, quantum computing and robotics are offered alongside the top 10 essential skills for 4IR and 5IR, even on a trial basis.
A Namibian economy without readiness for 4IR and 5IR has dire consequences to its productivity and competitiveness, and political stability.
Considering that the last national comprehensive consultations took place in 2011 (national education conference) and 2012 (comprehensive higher education landscape study), without further compendious reviews, it is reasonable to assume that we are perpetuating an expired framework, one misaligned to the new future.
The new changes will take time to take effect and a ponderous change is highly undesirable since the global education landscape is extremely competitive and fast-evolving.
An educational revolution is an imperative under these circumstances, and reaching a consensus position is the beginning of a definition for a new Namibia. Any transformation is a complex process that requires long lead times, huge investments and focus on the goal.
The bigger challenge lies ahead of us. Our response will determine our success and our future position in the new economy. Invention and innovation must define our course of action and tradition.
• Tjama Tjivikua holds a PhD in organic chemistry and has 30 years of academic experience. He is the founding rector of the Polytechnic of Namibia (1994) and founding vice chancellor of the Namibia University of Science and Technology (2015).
This content was originally published here.