4IR and its impact on academia and curricula development

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has ushered in rapid progress that is fundamentally reshaping various facets of human life, including career opportunities and educational methodologies. Kurt Naicker, senior lecturer and chartered accountant from the North-West University’s (NWU’s) School of Accounting Sciences, delves into the ongoing discourse surrounding advanced process automation and machine learning.

According to Kurt, academia, in particular, has experienced noticeable disruptions. “Today institutions of higher learning grapple with numerous challenges as they strive to adapt their curricula, teaching methods, and assessment practices to meet students' demands while ensuring the enduring relevance of their academic programmes.”

He says the urgency of reforming higher education curricula cannot be overstated. “Traditional educational curricula are often deemed insufficient in equipping students with the skills and knowledge required for future job opportunities.

The inclusion of extracurricular programmes in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and data science holds great significance for educational institutions. Moreover, continuous assessment and modification of existing courses are imperative to incorporate the latest technological advancements.

“Innovative instructional methods must also accompany curriculum revisions. Conventional lecture-based teaching is frequently criticised for not adequately preparing students for the demands of the 4IR. Incorporating a broader range of active learning methodologies, such as project-based and problem-based learning, is vital,” adds Kurt.

He says that to optimise the educational process, institutions must embrace contemporary technologies. He adds that AI-driven tutors, tailored to individual students, as well as virtual and augmented reality have the potential to provide highly immersive educational experiences.

A wealth of possibilities

Even though many fear that AI and other technological advancements will lead to significant unemployment, Kurt says there is no need for alarm. “The 4IR is also creating new employment opportunities, requiring a distinct skill set that diverges from traditional qualifications.”

To effectively address challenges and leverage opportunities brought by the 4IR, institutions must prioritise the development of essential skills among their academics and graduates, he adds.

“Educators with AI skills can provide personalised instruction, adapt their teaching methods to individual student needs, and deliver timely assessments. “Furthermore, AI can enrich the educational process. It can assist with grading essays and exams, freeing up teachers' time for other responsibilities like providing valuable feedback. It can also help to identify students facing academic difficulties and enable timely interventions,” explains Kurt.

The real challenges

Kurt says the real challenge with regard to AI’s rapid progression comes in with how higher education adapts to these changes to keep educational curricula relevant.

“Implementing curriculum changes come with significant costs, including new textbooks, software, and equipment. Furthermore, some educators are hesitant to embrace new pedagogical methods, preferring the more well-known traditional approaches, which in turn leads to a shortage of

academics with knowledge in this field. Engaging students in AI-related subjects can also be challenging, as some perceive them as difficult or uninteresting.”

However, despite these challenges, he is certain that IA and consequent curriculum modifications offer numerous benefits.

“Universities play a crucial role in ensuring the relevance and value of academic degrees. To thrive in the global economy amid the 4IR, institutions must prioritise cultivating fundamental skills in graduates, encompassing current technological proficiencies. As the 4IR blurs the lines between traditional fields, students must acquire knowledge and competencies that transcend disciplinary boundaries for academic excellence.”

The crux of the matter? Higher education faces challenges and opportunities stemming from the 4IR. “Universities can have a significant impact on developing crucial skills in students, enabling them to thrive in the global economy by embracing this revolution. Positioning oneself at the forefront of AI discoveries is key to sustained relevance and a successful career.”


Kurt Naicker.

Submitted on Wed, 09/27/2023 - 15:48