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4IR will falter without building high digital EQs

4IR will falter without building high digital EQs

President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasized a dual point when he recently addressed South Africa’s first Digital Economy Summit (DES) via hologram recently: one President can speak ‘live’ to multiple audiences simultaneously thanks to technology – but also, that there’s absolutely still a need for a President!

This duality emphasizes that, while 4IR may well change the working world in unexpected ways, likely eliminating many jobs – it has the potential to create a vast range of new jobs, for which new skills are required.

Think of it this way: has South Africa ever needed a presidential hologram production team before? Who designed and procured the right equipment, and managed it at multiple venues?  The various venues may no longer have needed someone to usher the President in, set up his mic and do sound checks – but new and differently skilled teams were required in each location to make sure the hologram presentation proceeded smoothly.

The DES was hosted as part of Government’s Fourth Industrial Revolution South Africa partnership, a collaboration between the Department Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), Telkom, Deloitte, and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Fort Hare and Johannesburg, along with Huawei and Vodacom.

It set out to ‘kick-start a wide-ranging societal dialogue on the challenges and opportunities of 4IR, and to stimulate and curate a coherent national action plan that galvanises industry, labour, academia, public sector and society at large to address the challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution.

The goals of the DES and 4IRSA initiative are admirable, with the fate and future of South African workers at their core. However, if any evolution of 4IR is to success in South Africa, it’s essential that these initiatives focus on education as much as they focus on industry – if not more so.

What use is an industry built for graduates that don’t exist? What use are yesterday’s degrees in tomorrow’s workplace? And what use are the devices – such as iPads – if the people using them don’t have the technical skills and, very importantly, the digital citizenship skills, to use them effectively and ethically?

It’s clear that we need to change our attitude, commitment and investment in education if South Africa is to ride the 4IR wave, and make sure that it’s not just another opportunity that we play second fiddle to, after the likes of Kenya and Nigeria.

It goes beyond making promises and offering iPads and free connectivity, and must start with the fundamentals of digital education, including ‘Digital Citizenship; offered as part of My Social Life’s schools programmes, for example.

This understanding of digital citizenship is a vital first step in nurturing a digital EQ that cannot simply be handed over with the Wi-Fi password. Digital citizens must be made aware of the implications of digital identity and footprint, reputation management, privacy, security, digital wellness, balance, and empathy, if they are to create meaningful and effective 4IR solutions that will boost the South African economy, and solve old problems in new, unexpected ways. 

The next decade is likely to be the most disruptive decade in history, given the exponential momentum of developments in technology, and how machine learning and artificial intelligence are changing how businesses operate and industries manufacture.

Government should shift its focus onto 2030’s graduates now by adapting curricula to teach them the ‘hard’ tech skills they will need for 4IR, but also making sure that they have the ‘soft’ skills, so that they can navigate this vastly different world of work, mindful of the vast implications of their every digital footstep.

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