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The Fourth Industrial Revolution needs strong foundations in the education system. The comment from Jonathan Pincus on our new discussion paper

I am getting more feedback about the discussion paper published by Southern Voice that I have co-produced with Maria Malho, Vanesa Weyrauch and Fred Carden with support from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, State Capability, Policymaking and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Do Knowledge Systems Matter?.

The aim of the discussion paper is to identify the key questions we need to ask about the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for policy processes, governance systems and the ways knowledge will inform policy decisions.

The comment I post today is from Jonathan Pincus, an economist specializing in public policy and Southeast Asia, who is currently President with the Rajawali Foundation in Jakarta.

Jonathan raises two important points about the 4IR in the context of emerging economies such as Indonesia. The first is about the extent to which the 4IR can be a factor of economic change. The second is about the foundations of any technology change and whether the technology changes that are associated with the 4IR can actually take place in countries such as Indonesia that are trying to address problems of quality of teaching in school and low quality of research.

‘I don’t really buy into this Fourth Industrial Revolution idea. Technology and production systems (and knowledge systems) are always changing but within frameworks shaped by economic and social power structures. I don’t think that big data has made the old Marxist debate irrelevant about the forces and relations of production. Remember we used to argue about what was the driving factor in economic change: relations of production (feudalism, capitalism) or forces or production (the handloom or the mill)? Or was there an indeterminate dialectical relationship between the two? Much of this 4IR literatures implicitly assumes that it’s the forces of production that are dominant: AI, robotics, nanotechnology give us a different kind of economy, society, politics. Well, yes. But mediated by relations of production, which are themselves a product of power relationships.’

Photo: Sentarum elementary school (CIFOR, CC)

‘I work in Indonesia which still struggles in terms of education indicators among middle-income countries. The law that mandates the government has to spend 20% of its budget on education [Law on National Education No.20/2003] has contributed to a rapid increase in enrolment, including at the tertiary level. But the quality of teaching and learning has not improved. According to the OECD, the education system does less to promote social mobility in Indonesia than in other middle-income countries. In other words, if you are rich you will attend a good school, and if you are poor you will not. The curriculum needs to focus more on math, reading, writing and science and encourage students to analyze and solve problems.’

‘Does technology have a role in changing this? I’d like to believe that digital technologies can reduce barriers to entry to education an improve quality. Not much evidence for that yet in Indonesia, but I think it is still possible. And there are schools where teachers and headmasters are committed to improving the way the students learn.’

‘At the same time, there is a political problem. The governance and accountability systems in the education and higher education sectors do not yet prioritize merit-based recruitment and career progression. Teachers do not have the proper math and science skills required to teach students and prepare them for a technology-driven future. And so Indonesia’s math and reading scores continue to be among the worst in the world, at least among countries that routinely measure them using international metrics.’

‘We can have an interesting discussion about technology and governance but if people cannot do basic math or read and understand a short paragraph in their own language it isn’t going to matter all that much.’

‘Universities face challenges as well. The research sector is generally weak in Indonesia. Moreover, the incentives and drivers of career progression are not yet geared toward doing good quality research published in good national and international peer-reviewed journals. In other words, you cannot have high-quality think tanks and research institutes if you don’t also have good public universities.’

‘I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but I don’t feel we are on the cusp of anything. Indonesia needs an education revolution. I don’t know how to get one. In the context of the current presidential election, campaign education has hardly been mentioned. Perhaps the movement for gender equality can inspire women to fight for better schools to educate girls and young women and overcome the barriers that women face in the labour force. Concern for the quality of education does not seem to be very important to nationalist or Islamicist parties.’

Will knowledge systems matter in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? The comment from Beatriz Kira from the Pathways for Prosperity Commission in the UK on our new discussion paper.

Klaus Schwab defines the Fourth Industrial Revolution as ‘the confluence of technological breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, internet of things, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage, and quantum computing.’ It will change economies and societies. Some write that Everyone Must Get Ready For… Read More