Time to look at digital learning as the digital age is not temporary


  • Fintech
  • Monday, 13 Jan 2020

The fourth industrial revolution stands out from its predecessors in a critical way. Through automation and technology, companies can increase their profit margins and provide cheaper, convenient and reliable options.

However, it comes with a high cost for humans who previously filled those roles. Instead of making it easier for humans to benefit effectively, it seems to displace humans in the workplace. What went wrong?

It is the education system. It is still performing the same way as it always has. Although the education curriculum has evolved, the way it is taught remains largely unchanged. Companies are looking for employees who can work with both digital and human colleagues. Currently, there is a yawning gap between companies’ need for certain skills and their availability in the marketplace.

Hence, educators need to redefine their line of thoughts critically especially when almost all knowledge is available online and machines are outperforming humans.

With the fast pace of modernisation, the ratio between cost and effectiveness of education is worsening at all levels i.e. primary, secondary and tertiary. Faced with the challenge of increasing skills and controlling costs, the education system has no alternative but to focus on digital education.

It does not merely involve installing a PC in the back of a classroom or issuing iPads. It means totally renewing the teaching toolbox and the role of the teachers.

Literacy can no longer be defined to “reading, writing and arithmetic”. It needs to take into account of science, economics, technology, visual, information, cultural, lifestyle, to the point of global awareness.

Literacy needs to be widespread at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary) of education. Digital literacy needs to be more intense in primary schools as they will be the future generation who will build the nation. Weak and poor students, irrespective of race, religion and colour cannot be ignored.

Hence, schools must transform, just like the banks. The emergence of financial technology (fintech) saw customers who were once held captive by the banking institution by the bundled services can now freely pick and choose from a range of products offered by the fintechs. Although fintech came unnoticed with only a small number of early adopters and seen as outliers, things have change fast and it is easy to be left behind.

This would mean that the school and tertiary monopoly system needs to be questioned. Current lecture format will face stiff competition from the market which is rapidly expanding.

Already there are early signs of the erosion of the school monopoly system with the growing number of home and private schooled children. In higher education learning, online lecturing and videos are being carried out by prestigious university.

The future of schooling and higher learning will be digital learning, just like business and financial industry.

In the past, digital technology is seen as a privilege reserved for the elite, but not today. It is increasingly being made available to everyone and will become the norm in the school and higher learning systems. Thanks to the economies of scale.

For schools, group learning is critical. Children, irrespective of their race, religion, colour and income bracket are capable of self-organising to reach a teaching objective with a computerised tool. Group and collective learning plus self-management will do a better job of strengthening students’ soft skills than theoretical instruction on listening and showing empathy. All these are mentioned in the 21st century learning.

Educators role will become “high-value-added” as a tutor and facilitator, supported by algorithms, automated data and tools that use artificial intelligence and big data. These tools can help educators answer routine questions from students.

It will free educators to work with students on areas that only a human can address besides providing targeted and tailored advice to the students. Students will be able to adapt their courses to their profile and find like-minded peers with whom to collaborate with.

Thus, schools have everything to gain by quickly recognising this new landscape and take immediate action.

One-size-fits-all teaching will not train children to think intensively or critically in this digital world. Instead, it produces students and graduates with increasingly obsolete skills. That probably explains why the youth unemployment is high and there is a huge gap between the senior and mid-management. It also explains why many countries are extending the retirement age or placing key staff into contract after retiring.

Will the education system become a burden for innovations? Will it be too rigid to adapt to overwhelmingly rapid changes? Will it be deserted by families who have the means to do so? Will the education system experience unbundling? Can the education system remain relevant in the race between technological advances and educational innovation? More importantly, what is the economic model for the education of the future? What must be taught at schools and higher learning to prepare them to become citizens of active and fully-developed members and be able to contribute to the economy?

In summary, the digital age is not a temporary phenomenon. It is the platform that brings the role players of the economic system together, creating what is known as the digital economy.

It has changed the nature of work as companies are struggling to find suitable local workers. Current teaching methods used to prepare students will not meet the companies’ demand.

Hence, the education system must evolve fast in the same way companies all around the world need to evolve. That would mean, the vision and drive from the top is essential.

Still it is insufficient to bring about transformation. The battle is only won in the field. Educators must be motivated and support changes. They need to be providing them a mix of teaching methodology, incentives and training.

They must be given the freedom to test and assess and abandon those which fail or are too costly. There is a need to replicate the successful ones on a larger scale. For success, there need to be “experimentation, independence, and sharing”. Anthony Dass is chief economist and head, AmBank Group Research, and adj. professor, faculty of economics, UNE, Australia. The views expressed are the writer’s own.


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