COVID-19, Automation and next-generation Education

Gail Bray, Director of Wyndham School, Innovation and Technology at Victoria University (VU) Polytechnic

Gail Bray, Director of Wyndham School, Innovation and Technology at Victoria University (VU) Polytechnic

In our rapidly changing world, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are transforming every facet of life, work, and learning. We have entered an age referred to as ‘Industry 4.0’, and the pressing need for educators to be prepared is paramount. COVID-19 has greatly accelerated the use of technology in the classroom, and teachers have experienced arguably the fastest professional learning curve in history to accommodate new digital pedagogies. With nearly every job of the future, certain to involve technology, the speed, scale, and impact of this double-disruption is unparalleled.

At Wyndham Tech School and VU Polytechnic, we are responding to this disruption through the creation of a digital division focussed on the development of a broad range of STEM and emerging technology programs.

Part of our award-winning work includes the creation of modern digital learning programs that have been benchmarked against the best in the world. These programs are focused on developing relevant technology skills informed by industry needs. Our sector needs to be seen as leading and not lagging by creating opportunities to work with corporate partners to deliver cutting edge training in the latest technology trends. To champion this model, VU Polytechnic partnered with global networking giant Cisco to recently open a cybersecurity training center to address the shortage of cybersecurity professionals in Australia.

WHAT IS VU POLYTECHNIC’S STRATEGY? 

VU Polytechnic is striving to be front and center in preparing the workforce for a digital future. As the host of Wyndham Tech School, students from years 7 – 12 are introduced to emerging skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths through project-based learning in partnership with industry. 

“Partnerships between industry, academia, and the government will be essential to succeed in Industry 4.0 to create skilled workers, we need the right funding and educational know-how.”

Students can then take pathways into qualifications such as the Certificate IV in Cybersecurity offered through the Polytechnic and then into the Bachelor of Cybersecurity in the University. In addition to our digital learning programs and a new cybersecurity center, the Polytechnic has launched an ‘Innovation Hub’ that will address the emerging skills gap for existing workers. Skills that include coding, cloud computing, data analytics, cyber awareness, design, and others yet to be identified.

Our current, future-ready strategy includes project-based learning comprising of design thinking, skill development, and prototype testing, all in partnership with industry clients. Post-secondary students will work with businesses to problem-solve and get hands-on experience, developing solutions that include CAD design to 3D printing, machine learning, and robotics.

Issues Wyndham Tech School and VU Polytechnic are working to address the underrepresentation of women in STEM. As technical skills become increasingly essential, it is crucial to bring more women into STEM-related vocations.

MERGING SKILLSETS WITH TECH OPPORTUNITIES 

The good news for educators is that everyone requires skills and training for an ever-evolving workforce, and COVID-19 has accelerated this need. Recruiters and employers are no longer happy with just a degree; they want to see examples of work, such as digital portfolios, industry connections, and practical, hands-on experiences.

There is a huge amount of training needed to prepare Australia for such rapid change. In contrast to popular belief, robots and other technological advancements don’t steal jobs; they create them. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms (WEF Future of Jobs, 2020). 

ADDRESSING EVOLVING WORKPLACE NEEDS

Training in technology easily complements existing qualifications and presents a unique opportunity to continue learning throughout one’s career. But there’s a gap between the skills needed in AI and the current education system. 

The World Economic Forum predicts 54 percent of employees will need re-skilling by 2022. The report says that striking a balance between hard and soft skills, such as communication, active learning, and analytical thinking, will be critical. 

EDUCATORS RISK MISSING OUT 

As educators lag in the uptake of digital technology and AI, corporations are overtaking us. More contemporary providers such as Amazon, Coursera, General Assembly, Netflix Education, and even Australia Post’s Tech Academy all pose a genuine risk to educators.

Australia has a lot of work to do in preparing education providers to tackle these opportunities face-on, so ongoing government support, funding, and awareness will be critical. Partnerships between industry, academia, and the government will be essential to succeed in Industry 4.0 to create skilled workers, we need the right funding and educational know-how.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

The collision of COVID-19 and automation is here, and it’s real. With the knowledge available everywhere, as educators, we must ask ourselves what our point of difference or ‘X-Factor’ is. What is our value to the consumer when content is ubiquitous?

Robots may not take our jobs, but we will be working together. Through all of the technological advancements and change, humans will remain at the center of everything we do. The roles of teachers will look different to today but will always be essential.

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