When we ushered in 2020, universities globally were taken aback by Covid-19 pandemic. Institutions of higher learning had to engage in learning and teaching activities remotely in response to the rapid spread of the corona virus. This period highlighted inequalities that continue to plague the higher education sector particularly in South Africa. Although many universities responded promptly to support online learning for students by providing devices and data, students in remote areas continue to struggle with connectivity and access to basic services such as electricity.

Within this context where development countrywide is considered slow, debates on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) were considered theoretical and viewed as “buzz words” within government and the higher education sector. Prior the covid19 pandemic, although there were institutions that were leading debates on 4IR and conducting research in this area, there were still academics that were still not ready to embrace the fourth industrial revolution. Teaching continued to be contact based with some lecturers not willing to engage in online learning. And although the higher education sector has legislative frameworks that encourage curriculum renewal and transformation, the higher education sector still carries qualifications that will not prepare students for future jobs that will be responsive to 4IR.

It is against this background that I introduce one of our 2020 keynote speakers Prof Tshilidzi Marwala. Prof is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, a mechanical engineer by profession with research interests that include applications of computational intelligence to engineering, computer science, finance and medicine.

He has been an advocate for 4IR within the higher education sector and plays a role in  the presidential task team on 4IR. Prof Marwala believes that what is taught (curricula) at universities should enable students to be effective participants in the fourth industrial revolution. Because the 4IR speaks to the convergence of humans and machines, curricula taught within the higher education sector should be multidisciplinary in nature. Prof Marwala advises universities to move away from curricula of the previous revolutions where memorisation was more important than creativity.

– Dr Ntsoaki Malebo

HELTASA 2020 Conference Convenor

 Senior Director of Teaching and Learning at CUT