Upskilling for Innovation: A Necessity in 21st Century
Education is important, and essential for long-term sustainability, but incomplete without digital skills. This is what makes the 21st century different from the previous centuries. Although significant progress has been made in terms of educational access, particularly in literacy, this is not enough.
Since the dawn of the 21st century, the digital age is upending social systems and accelerating transformations on a scale and pace that has never been seen before.
In a paper presented at the Petroleum Training Institute in June on a webinar themed, “New Normal Post COVID-19: Upskilling for Innovation and Sustainable Teaching and Learning”, the Technical Adviser (TA) on Gas Business & Policy Implementation to the Honourable Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources (MPR), Engr. Justice Opelamina Derefaka, noted, “Indeed, digital technologies are influencing what we read and consume, as well as how we interact with one another and the rest of the world. Many risks and uncertainties are emerging, including threats to individual rights, social equity, and democracy, all of which are exacerbated by the so-called “digital divide,” which refers to the global rate of internet penetration and access to digital technologies.”
Citing the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2018 Graduate Skills Ranking, which ranked Nigeria 135th out of 140 countries, highlighting the lack of requisite skills, experience, and knowledge required by the employing industries, Derefaka advocated for a new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 18) that would focus on the digital age and how the world and Nigeria in particular, may use technology to achieve its goals in the post-Covid 19 future.
According to Derefaka, the world is currently in the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is a significant shift in the way we study, work, and live in general, adding that this revolution will be marked by increasing productivity but not driven by productivity, which is a significant distinction from previous revolutions.
He noted that automation, customization, user experience, and convenience will drive the 4IR saying, “So digital integration, along with cloud computing and the internet of things, will be essential dogmas in this all-new revolution.”
Derefaka further emphasized the importance of digital upskilling in order to succeed in this transition, noting that 50 percent of jobs will be eliminated since they no longer suit the current reality, while new employment categories will be developed as the world enter a new era.
He stressed that the only way to move into these new work duties is to learn, unlearn, and relearn, so one will not be labeled an illiterate.
Workplace skill requirements are changing. Citing several in-demand professional skills (emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, virtual cooperation), Derefaka stated that employees are expected to have a complimentary set of analytical, social, and creative talents in addition to digital technology competency. He emphasized the importance of establishing future schools that will educate future employees, adding that future schools will establish new methods of upskilling for innovation as well as long-term knowledge impact and transmission.
“… the 4IR is a reality, not a hypothesis. It is not a brilliant World Economic Forum article, or a book written by a bored professor. Everything in the environment will be connected in some form and will have both a physical and a digital presence. We will need to adjust as a country and as a workforce to this quickly changing environment. Nigeria, in reality, has a lot of catching up to do. Education as we know it will have to change; individuals will be able to choose their own learning experiences and job learning, and life-long learning will be required to keep up. Nigeria, as a country, must establish an inclusive and enabling environment for the 4IR to benefit and grow”, Derefaka said.
He further stated, “…the 4IR is — Entrepreneurial; Innovative; Disruptive; and Evolving at an exponential rather than linear speed. Upskilling for Innovation and Sustainable Teaching and Learning at Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) and other institutions of learning must begin today in order to prepare for what the 4IR will bring tomorrow. The question is, how should we teach tomorrow’s people and leaders how to innovate and seize unexpected opportunities?”
Individualized and self-paced learning are new realities that everybody must embrace. This is because Covid-19 posed challenges in four dimensions to the educational system: policy, structural, social, and financial. And in order to recover, Derefaka said Nigeria must put in place response strategies in these areas to effectively address the issues.
As part of proactive and holistic approaches to assist bridge the digital divide and familiarize the citizens of the country with this “new normal” in order to assure rapid crisis resolution, he recommended commitment to strengthening education as a common good; expanding the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information; defining what is currently obtainable in the country’s educational system, to identify existing gaps, and draft a gap closure plan; and the need for education models to reflect the demand for lifelong learning to cope with the technological and social changes brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Other recommendations include ensuring the training of teachers, especially on improved classroom experience; strengthening the research capabilities of higher institutions; strengthening the undergraduate computer and engineering programs; working with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals; and the need to design future-ready curricula that encourage critical thinking, emotional intelligence, STEM skills, etc.