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30 October 2019
Society needs to adjust and embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution

The impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution has created fear around the world - some would say “an apocalyptic scenario”. But renowned archivist and historian, Dr Cornelius Thomas, allayed fears yesterday at the University of the Western Cape’s third annual Community Engagement Colloquium. He said there is hope for the future if communities start thinking innovatively.

Dr Thomas admitted that hundreds of jobs will be lost, as has been the case in the banking sector in South Africa recently. Industries that work with numbers, systems and formula - such as accounting firms, the military and libraries - will be affected first. But hundreds of jobs in technological, biological and engineering industries will be created.

“The world is evolving and the introduction of new technology and new systems is not necessarily a bad idea, because capitalism does not like to leave anyone behind. And some of the existing jobs will be adjusted to fit in with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so there is no reason to panic,” said Dr Thomas.

An alumnus of the University, Dr Thomas noted that in his sector, for instance, only one in 30 librarians will be standing in 30 years. He suggested that librarians should reskill themselves and rethink their destiny.

“Maybe it’s time for reconceptualization of the library. We have to ask big questions and have big dreams. We have to hasten to the past to find the resource material that will help create identity and restore the community history. That will inform us about our past, and we will create another 100 years of employment for us.”

The two-day event is themed “Finding the synergy between community engagement, research, learning and teaching in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution”, and UWC scholars presented some of the related initiatives that they are involved with.

Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, noted that through nation-wide Courageous Conversations that her office has hosted since 2017, alumni have emphasised that community engagement has always been part of the University’s intellectual identity, and this should continue to be the case. She said UWC should embed community engagement and integrate it with research, learning and teaching. According to the University’s database, there are over 106 community engagement projects, excluding students’ initiatives, she added.

In his welcome address, UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, said a robot acted as a moderator during a recent panel discussion he was involved with on the 4th Industrial Revolution in Beijing. He also spoke of how the Common Good First, a digital platform for community workers to tell their stories and connect with similar organisations across the globe, is a great example of what UWC is doing to engage with communities.

“As a higher education institution, we should not only be on the receiving end of these technologies. We must ask how do we innovate, how do we stand at the forefront of innovation with respect to teaching, learning and research and with respect to community engagement,” Prof Pretorius said.

“We experience a digital divide even within our own institution. At the one end of the spectrum we have cutting-edge research being conducted in areas such as bioinformatics and in astrophysics, yet accessibility remains a hope for the majority of our students. This is what makes Common Good First such a great idea, because it speaks to enabling co-creating partnerships that can help with the digital divide.”

Main picture: Dr Anita Maurtin, Professor Priscilla Daniels, Dr Cornelius Thomas and Dr Tracey-Ann Adonis