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The 4th Industrial Revolution should not destabilise the poor

Author: Myolisi Gophe

UWC’s Community Engagement Colloquium concluded on Wednesday with vibrant discussions about putting the community in the forefront of adopting the “wonderful” 4th Industrial Revolution.

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(Published - 1 November 2019)

Disadvantaged communities are likely to miss out on the wonders of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) unless an integrated community engagement strategy is employed by all spheres of society, according to Dr Fanelwa Ngcayi-Ajayi.

Opening the second day of UWC’s third annual Community Engagement Colloquium on Wednesday, Dr Ajayi, a senior lecturer in chemistry at UWC, said poor communities in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa were left out of the Third Industrial Revolution. As a result, she said, they do not have the basic necessities to usher in 4IR. 

“The 4IR is here, but is it benefiting us? Is it really here for most people? I’m of the view that the answer is ‘no’. Growing up in the townships, my community is still the same, if not worse - many years after these technologies were introduced. It is worse with regard to crime, diseases, among other areas” she said.

“People may have smart phones and satellite television dishes, but it ends there with most people. How can we take this and ensure that education is strengthened? How can we incorporate it and make sure it is available on-line or in their smart phones cheaply so that they are able to experience the wonderful things that have to do with 4IR?”

Dr Ajayi, who recently received the 2019 National Research Foundation Emerging Researcher Award, highlighted a need to introduce 4IR to communicate with the community. She said it is important to research innovations that will benefit the community. Relevant content should be taught to students and an interdisciplinary approach is key when conducting research or outreach programmes. 

“Learning and teaching has to be borne from the research done based on the service we provide to the community. So if everyone is talking to one another, then incorporating 4IR in the solution will not be a problem. The more people you talk to, the more you learn and the more things get done and the more communities we get to touch.”

She also stressed that in one’s endeavour to introduce new technologies, communities’ environments and cultures should not be destabilised - especially in rural areas. “We must bring innovations that are accessible, easy to use, and have a larger benefit. We are a community-engaging university and our work should benefit the man on the street. They may not know the science behind it but they should be able to properly feel, see and experience the innovation that we are coming up with.” 

The event was attended by various stakeholders from neighbouring universities, the private sector and civic organisations, and Non-Governmental Organisations.

Professor Hester Julie, CHS Deputy Dean for Clinical and Community Engagement, and Dr Marlene le Roux, UWC alumna and Chief Executive Officer of Artscape Theatre, concluded the proceedings with a panel discussion on Institutionalising the Charter of Community Engagement Principles. 

Among other things, Dr Le Roux stressed that community empowerment should be part of the wider transformation agenda, and taking greater account of what the communities have to offer instead of just using them. ​

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