In the emerging world, being skilled will be as important as being educated

Written By: Wajahat Qazi WION
New Delhi, India Published: Nov 25, 2020, 12.03 PM(IST)

'Champion of globalisation' Photograph:( Reuters )

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Globalisation is not going to die. It will assume a new form and character if the lessons from the recent past have been learnt and absorbed

Globalisation is not going to die. It will assume a new form and character if the lessons from the recent past have been learnt and absorbed. With renewed focus on multilateralism after the election of Joseph Biden to the highest office in the United States, a fairer globalisation might emerge.  While a fairer globalisation is contingent on policy impetus, renewal and refocus of multilateral institutions which will axiomatically take some time, globalisation, as it exists in the now is undergoing sharp changes in form and even character.

Hastened and propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing movement to wider and broader digitisation of economies. Be it retailing and consumer demand, work from home, e-commerce and governance and so on a sharp and pronounced shift to digitisation can be discerned. To employ, re-use and  paraphrase the assertion of the NY Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, who in this enthusiasm got most things wrong but some things right (even defined by prescience and insight), ‘ if the defining economic parameters of the previous century were weight and mass, in this century it will be speed and velocity through bits and bytes’ , holds a searing resonance as the 21st century advances and evolves.

This digitisation aided and abetted by other significant technological advances like Artificial Intelligence(AI), Robotics, Virtual Reality , Algorithms , or in other words , the technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution will wrought far reaching , tremendous  changes in all domains of life- political, social, cultural , educational and practical. What the world is at the cusp of is its ‘Amazon(isation)  - a world where the real and the virtual will increasingly blur and meld into each other.

In this emerging world, what would it mean to be educated and skilled? Would the two be dichotomous and neatly compartmentalised? Or would there be a correlation- a neat one- between the two?

On the face of it , the world inaugurated by the 4th Industrial Revolution will put a premium on skill. This may be true as can be. It self- evidently takes skill to develop software, apps, make robots and run them, develop and construct algorithms of a sophisticated nature. But, yet again self-evidently, the world of Artificial intelligence(AI), Robotics, algorithms will require education and educated people who can not only manage technology but also empathise and relate to each other, lead, organise work albeit in different permutations and combinations and engage with each other in  different international social contract and so on.

Consider a typical Multi-National Firm (MNF) operating in the milieu of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Its work will be broken down and disaggregated into bits and bytes all over the world. The pattern of this work will not be merely a pale echo of outsourced back end operations to the developing world but might, in all likelihood, be of a more disparate and disaggregated nature, mediated by skill and the skill premium. In this milieu, mere skills will not be enough. A skilled technician would need to be educated to high standards to both work with, relate to, understand, manage, and even lead colleagues, and co-workers from different parts of the world.  This condition will also require empathy, cross cultural and intercultural understanding and accommodation – all themes and notions that can come together in an educated individual.

This example, given the extant and putative ubiquity of the nature of work, can be grafted and tacked onto any domain that will even only have a global ingress. Say, for example, examination and diagnosis of medical records of a patient in the West by doctors in India or Ghana. To be seamless and rather frictionless, the natural complement of skill will have to be education- two domains that are different despite being related.

Being skilled means proficiency and expertise in a technological area. It can range from skill in operating a lathe to developing a very sophisticated app or algorithm. But while skill requires some education, being skilled does not always add up to  being educated. Education and being educated amount to a sophisticated and nuanced view of the world and its inhabitants, development or refinement of empathy for fellow human beings (howsoever different culturally), analytical capability, ability to solve complex problems- both of a technical and human nature, excellent communication skills that can straddle cultures and societies , and above all the appreciation of fellow human beings as just that: human beings with feelings, aspirations and dignity who, in a globalised world, work together in a shared global endeavour.

Admittedly, this is a reductive portrait of what education and an educated person mean and imply, but these are the main features. As the 4th Industrial Revolution advances and gets ensconced in the sinews of society, economics, culture, politics and education, it may be time to review our assumptions about skill and education. While both bear some relation to each other, but it (relationship) needs to be made more robust and more intense. This calls for a special role for the university systems of the world which must, as a matter of policy integrate the technocratic aspects of education with philosophic , non -utilitarian aspects. Or, in other words, integrate the techne with logos to develop more ethical, virtuous , empathetic and even productive human beings. The time for this is now!

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer)

Wajahat Qazi

Wajahat Qazi is particularly interested in politics, global security and political economy. He is a wanderer and fancies himself to be a wannabe writer.
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