Category: Presentation/Proceeding

Skills that matter more in higher education enable industrial responsiveness

As students face paper-based examinations, in which questions are posed to them and they are responsible for developing a series of responses—there are dynamic changes in the manner in which learning is galvanised. Globally, the need for higher education qualifications, such as degrees, and PhD’s is coming under scrutiny and universities are becoming more and more challenged to remain not only relevant but in touch with reality. The paradox here is that it is the same universities who are confronted with layers of uncertainty that are propelling the wheels of uncertainty—ranging from Dr Mogadi Molope’s proposition that the confrontation ranges between (a) transformation, (b) decolonisation and (c) industrialisation (4IR). It is a battle ground upon which universities may need to reflect more deeply on the origins of technological advancements and the core functional roles (in addition to sensitivities) of universities as Dr Andre Goodrich argues. Taken further, Naomi du Plessis reveals that perhaps a layer of complementarity is plausible between context sensitivity for developing assessments; while on the other hand Dr Yolande Heymans argues that there is a deep need to confront the emerging push and navigating through it through practice and engagement. Sitting at the 2nd Teaching and Learning Conference yesterday, as part of a panel discussion on the issue, Prof Louis Fourie revealed the vast array of information technology and systems applications emerging on a global level changing the landscape; influencing the idea of curriculum; introducing a new world of work-teaching-learning. My concern is the extent to which the skills conversation toward the end of the panel discussion received as much attention as the problem framing in the majority of the session.

At the heart of the global reality is that Africa remains an extraction oriented continent, while gradually moving towards increasing manufacturing. However, global supply chains dictate that advanced materials, systems and product design will be more valuable than the regions which actually manufacture the products as automation propels itself further. Simultaneously, the advent of technology, artificial intelligence and advanced algorithmic applications against the backdrop of big-data place new pressures on higher-education’s offering and the true workplace demands that students need to be prepared for. Illustrating this I proposed that three core spheres need to be managed with some aggression. First it is the ability to interact with other people as a type of technology. Second it is the ability to translate an idea, or an existing practice into technological system, language or technique; and converting it into how an organisation could function, cope and innovate (if not absorb innovation). Lastly, the ability to actually deploy the systems that are designed in a manner that accounts for and reflects human technologies (or pedagogies)—this is the industrial side of what universities may need to be preoccupied with.

Human Technology Skills

Students need to have the techniques and skills to approach tangible, complex and deeply sensitive or simple issues, people, organisations and stakeholders in their immediate society. This should inform their ethical, moral and careful sensitivities to the use of technologies, deployment of information systems and resource management for the natural resources involved (i.e. the ethics of mining raw materials). One could call these emotional intelligence skills, deep work skills, and an emphasis on self-actualisation in the process of higher education. Here is the tensions between labour relations, talent, social culture and personality differences need to be managed to incentivise sustainble and positive behaviour over the worst.

System Design Skills

Students need to have the curiosity, concentration and skillsets to enable them to convert ideas into a language that can be either (a) incorporated into an existing system or (b) inform the development of a new system. Here the systems range from designing the process of converting legal, finance, healthcare, planning, transportation, and governance (etc) issues into arguments that can be coded into a system of decision thresholds. These systems design skills can be deployed for advanced computing, modelling and simulation as much as they can be deployed in organisational, institutional and business processes related to making better quality decisions under various constraints. This enables a stronger sense of collaboration, multidisciplinary skillsets, and the ability to range one’s cognitive domain between computing and human behaviour. One could call these critical thinking skills, teamwork skills, deep learning skills, listening skills and an emphasis on the ability to convert an idea into an actionable series of activities involving social, information and hardware infrastructure within statutory environments.

Systems Deployment Skills

Students need to have the ability to engage both the human fabric of their local and global environment to address complex or simple problems. At the same time, the ability to convert seemingly non-computational practices and processes into computable decision systems that support and improve the accuracy of actions will be key. However, this requires two types of hardware: industrial hardware and organisational hardware. Industrial hardware involves the development of machinery, manufacturing processes and supply chain systems that manage resources in a manner that enables the creation of valuable products, practices and services. Organisational hardware involves the manner in which spaces, places and people are developed to respond to, interact with, and be stimulated by their environment in order to harness the curious mind, encourage longevity, support happiness, while improving the depth and quality of creation.

All three and many others require deep reforms in how curriculums are developed, formulated and deployed. At the same time, not all students are ready for such a rapid and intense shift: perhaps it needs begin at basic, intermediate and higher education. Furthermore, skills such as welding and drafting may need to be treated as importantly as higher education degrees due to their complementary relationship in moving from a service economy to an industrially responsive socio-economy in this new era.

Thank you.