Teachers of the Fourth: What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Klaus Schwab famously announced its advent: “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” In this revolution, humanity builds on the digital marvels of the third industrial revolution and has started to see the fusion of technologies in the digital, physical, and biological spheres. The video from the World Economic Forum spells out more about the second age of smarter machines.


Quick Glimpse into the Fourth

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is evolving exponentially, in a rapid state of growth. We see billions of people taking advantage of the ubiquity of mobile devices, working with artifical intelligence to pull out, analyze, and apply data to manipulate physical objects or create innovations. We see numerous emerging technologies such as VR/AR, 3D printing, smarter AIs, machine learning, advanced biotechnology, and self-driving cars among others. There is more to come!

All of these have started to disrupt various sectors of the world, businesses among others as AI, machine learning, and rapid computation have started to replace and put various kinds of jobs at risk. We continue to witness its impact on governments as the needed competencies and skills of the Fourth have changed affecting economies and pushing governments to check, revise and even create new policies side by side the needs and challenges of the Fourth. The people are also affected becuase in the end, it is us who consume the products and enjoy the services of the Fourth, as well as apply and learn the skills needed for the Fourth.

Will all these disruptions, how is education responding to the Fourth? More specifically, what kind of teachers do we need for the Fourth? What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth?

Education in the Fourth

Since time immemorial, education, or learning for this matter, has evolved as a means to transferring or acquiring skills that every learner can use in daily life, either in the professional sphere or in one’s personal enclave or maybe even in both dimensions. One has to learn or so to speak, go to school, to become someone or take a professional role in the future. Those careers have been the career path of a lot of people. Nothing is new. Just the same old jobs waiting for each graduate to fill in.

However, because of the rapid growth in technology, this notion of learning to become someone or to work as someone has been greatly disrupted. Those who have graduated in college for the past two decades have taken new jobs that were not even conceived of decades ago. Because of the Internet and the growing businesses and interactions connected to it, we have seen jobs that tap on data mining and analysis, social media interaction management, and even medical researchers fabricating human organs among others. A report from the World Economic Forum (2016 ) about the future of work informs us, “by one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” 

The dynamic changes in 21st century career now begs to ask education systems or anyone involve in the teaching and learning tango in schools: How do we prepare then our students for this future? Or equally important to ask, what kind of teachers will prepare our students for this future?

Teachers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

My personal experiences and reflections at this moment will be honestly limited in scope as I, as an educator, school leader, and learner, am stilling joyfully grappling with the marvels and challenges of the Fourth. However, let me share some of the things that I may want a teacher, like me, to have in the era of the second machine age.

1. A model of lifelong learning

Our students will not thrive if they only know and remain contented with what they have learned inside the four walls of the classroom. In the same way, a teacher who simply teaches based on and out of the learnings he or she had during her education studies will fail to imbibe the spirit of the Fourth, which is being able to learn with the changing times. Teachers who are lifelong learners do not settle on what they have known for ages. Instead, they continuously open themselves to learning more, not just for the sake of acquiring new skills, but also to become more adaptive and responsive to the call of the times. Knowledge is quickly being replaced by new knowledge itself. There are tons and tons of information being created and shared online. We already have the power to pull these information with a swipe of our fingers, but we need the mindset and the disposition to be constantly learning. The new skill perhaps is to be able to unlearn, learn, and relearn.

2. A model of empathy

In this world, much of the challenge and invitation right now is to value relationships that primarily foster our connections with one another. We are individuals but at this age, we can not but connect with others. Afterall, we are social beings. However, the rise of social media, its proliferation and intrusion, in one’s personal lives has cultivated a culture of “together but alone” – we bridge connections but shallow ones. We are progressing and yet we still find numerous conflicts and war that continue to divide the world into bits and pieces. Empathy challenges us to go beyond the wired networks that connect us to people from different places. Empathy asks us to be more human in our relationships, to see every person as a person and not as means to achieve a personal or self-serving goal. Empathy guides the innovations of the Fourth for the people, in the spirit of equity and not of inequality and injustice. Machines can’t learn empathy in its most sincere and genuine form, but humans can. As teachers, this is our advantage over smart machines.

3. A global citizen

A teacher must be a citizen of the world who appreciates and respects the differences among the different cultures and celebrate the oneness of all human being. In this digital age, connecting to persons of different culture has been very much easier. Through the power of Internet communication, one can learn and even witness the different cultures of the world. The future entails working with people from different cultural and social backgrounds. We teach our students about various cultures but we must also be a global citizen ourselves. One does need to travel, but I highly recommend traveling to personally witness the beauty in every culture. The power of Skype or video calls over the Internet has opened the windows of the four walls of the classroom and allowed students to peek into the different cultures of the world. Connect our students to real people in order for them to meaningfully practice the spirit of being a global citizen. As teachers, connect with teachers from different cultures, too. There’s just much insight to be learned from various perspectives.

4. A digital literate

Yes, a primary requirement perhaps. Digital literacy is not just about learning how to use a computer or applications, but is really cultivating a good and productive identity in the digital world. One must learn the core or essential ideas of digital citizenships to become a better person in the Fourth, where everything will be managed by more intelligent machines. Teachers must show students that basically if you want to thrive in the digital world, one must know how to work with digital tools for a digital economy where new opportunities may arise. Digital literacy covers various aspects of digital security, digital commerce, and digital citizenship among others. One red flag here is that we must also highlight that digital literacy is also about protecting one’s rights and identity online. Our learners must know this also since the digital world has its own threats also.

5. A lover of the integration of STEAM and Humanities

There has been a surging call and demand for STEM or STEAM, if including the Arts, graduates to become the core of the 21st century workforce. Afterall, STEAM graduates should basically know how to tinker, work, and even collaborate with intelligent machines. A degree on STEAM courses may provide better jobs for graduates in the future. These agenda have resulted to humanities courses being replaced, removed, or lessen in order for higher education institutions to become more future-ready. However, humanities have found their own agenda in the 21st century. While we treasure courses that would lead to technological innovations, the humanities still teaches us how to appreciate the world, think critically, argue, and even question the ethical in every venture we make in the realm of the Fourth. We are on the road of innovations but the humanities is that one which constantly calls us to pause and reflect whether one’s enterprise is for the betterment of the world. The challenge right now, however, is for the humanities to find its place and make itself more relevant to the fast changing world. At some point, the humanities are still essential. Maybe, we just need to learn how to further connect the STEAM with Humanities so that we can go beyond each other’s limitations and hopefully fill the each other’s gaps – a resounding challenge for more interdisciplinary opportunities in school.

6. A model of the 21st century skills

Yes, quite simply, if a teacher teaches, cultivates, and expects students to practice and learn the 21st century skills, then the teacher should model it also. That means being a critical-thinker, creative educator, eloquent communicator, and collaborator. 

7. A teacher of the person and NOT of the school

Last, and maybe one of the most essential qualities of a teacher in the Fourth is to better understand that as teachers, while we are tied to the requirements of the school where there is a timeline that pressures much of us to cover the curriculum and let our students do the standardized assessments, we are teaching human beings – persons who are different from each other, persons who have different stories and challenges. Let us not forget that each of our students are unique, having different sets of strengths, weaknesses, and needs. This is the beauty of being a teacher – to encounter the real person sitting on the desk. Schools right now continue to operate in the traditional factory model where all students are taught in the same manner and are expected to come out looking the same as one another. Some still care more about passing the knowledge or giving “instruction” than cultivating soft skills of the future. The teacher of the Fourth should know how to make learning more meaningful and relevant to each student, contextualizing and personalizing learning to respond to the needs of the students. Again, we became teachers or educators of learners – of every learner – not because we want to become instructors that are bound by the traditional ideas of the school. We belong to the learners and not to the school.

Further Challenge of the Fourth

The list of ideals that I have for a teacher thriving in the Fourth is simply not exhaustive and is very much open to changes. I am living in a developing country where the Fourth is slowly but surely being felt in the epicenters of big cities. On many sides of my country, some are still stuck in the second. This is a clear indicator of one of the challenges of the rapid takeover of the smarter machines – wider gap between members of the society where the affluent moves forward and the marginalized are left catching up.

This would probably be reflected in the world of education where there are schools and teachers who have the chance to first step into the Fourth while the rest are left reading about it. Ironically, I see some rays of hope here. Teahcer education institutions where future and current teachers hone their teaching skills must step up and take the challenge of preparing the teachers for the Fourth. Consequently, these institutions must also change for the Fourth. We are now seeing the need for a more systematic approach to responding to the effects of the Fourth in education. Some ideals of a teacher of the Fourth involve shifting from old paradigms and cultivating new mindsets or acquiring skills that can be done right now. I believe that these provide new opportunities to develop teachers of the Fourth. Let us not wait for the Fourth to completely leave us behind. Let us step up and take the challenge. To prepare students for the Fourth, let us prepare our teachers first.

More insight on this have been shared by my fellow Global Teacher Prize finalist and authors of the Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the Precipice. Know more about this via this link.


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