The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, and there has been a dismal effort at best to prepare both students and the current workforce for upcoming jobs. Building upon the Third Industrial Revolution that among other things, first introduced us to digital technology, the Fourth will issue in an era of robots and automation, self-driving cars, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, quantum computing, and for the sake of time, let’s just call the rest ‘smart-everything’. The speed of this innovational change is unprecedented, and will impact virtually every industry on a global scale. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will fundamentally change almost every aspect of our lives, making the need for basic digital literacy an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.
“The world’s education systems are failing our children by not preparing them for the workplace of the future.”
“Some studies suggest that 65% of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will fail to prepare them, exacerbating skills gaps and unemployment in the future workforce”
Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – World Economic Forum
Education as it stands is out of touch with the labor market, and the gap will only widen as technology continues to evolve. In today’s world, it is no longer sufficient for children to have a solitary, often optional, computer class per grade – we are so far behind, it may take introducing a digital component in every subject in order for them to catch up. The speed of change in the technology skills needed to compete in the job market, leads to a problem that lands squarely on the teaching profession – how can you teach what you don’t know? Will the current grade school teachers who have limited digital skills with no desire to upgrade, be replaced by younger tech savvy ‘models’ that can meet the needs of today’s children?
The U.K. was the first G20 country to address the looming shortage of digitally-skilled workers, by making computer programming compulsory in schools starting at age 5 (using age appropriate techniques to begin introducing the concepts). Unlike careers of the past where you may have been educated and an expert in one field only, we have entered the age where multi-disciplinary, lifelong learning will become a necessity if people want to remain relevant in the workforce or get a job at all for that matter.
Compounding the problems faced by a critical lack of digital literacy, high school students in America have a financial literacy rate of less than 20%. To add insult to injury, we are witnessing a financial technology (fintech) upheaval, which means the majority of students are lacking all the basics needed for digital financial literacy. This leaves them woefully unprepared for managing in a cashless (or near cashless) world, maintaining online security, navigating digital currencies such as bitcoin, utilizing alternative online banking/lending platforms, or understanding digital wallets, asset and securities tokenization, and a multitude of other new digital technologies. Without digital literacy, they will be unqualified to work in the financial industry. It is already painful to watch so many young people struggle with student debt after graduating with a ‘Bachelor of Nothing Useful’ degree, and without significant change in education policy, things will only get worse.