Pillar 3: Contextual awareness

By Professor Alwyn Louw; President: Monash South Africa

Given the levels of super-complexity that will be ushered in by The Fourth Industrial Revolution, a fundamental change in the way humans think and work is non-negotiable – and universities need to lead the charge. For Monash South Africa, delivering on this responsibility begins with a fundamental shift in macro curriculum to ensure that the learning delivered to students aligns with the key drivers of this fourth revolution, namely technology, innovation-based problem solving, manufacturing-driven thinking, resource management, and the ability to establish and manage new systems and processes.

At Monash South Africa, we believe that effectively preparing the employee of tomorrow to thrive and, more importantly, lead in this challenging and fast-changing world of work requires learning interventions built on the following four pillars:

  1. Appropriate skills to leverage dynamic knowledge
  2. The right attitude towards constant change
  3. Awareness of, and sensitivity to, the greater social context
  4. Orientation towards systems and networks thinking

In the previous articles we looked at the skills and attitude pillars. In this article, we explore the value that can and should be added to learning outcomes by ensuring graduates have an awareness of, and sensitivity to the social context in which they will apply their skills and knowledge.

When South Africa’s tertiary institutions reach a point where they are producing graduates with the skills to process and leverage knowledge, underpinned by an appropriate attitude towards change and a willingness to take risks, our higher education system will be well on its way to fulfilling its responsibility to drive sustainable social and economic development.

However, possessing the ability and power to drive change in the world can be as much a curse as it is a blessing if it isn’t tempered by a clear understanding of the importance of doing so responsibly and with due consideration of the impact that one’s actions will have on others in both the short and long term.

That’s why the third vital pillar on which good education outcomes must be built is a sensitivity to the greater context in which we, as humans, live, work and interact. Whether they operate in the business or political environment, the leaders of tomorrow must be able to anticipate the consequences of their decisions or actions and be cognisant of the implications those actions or decisions will have on themselves and on others.

This heightened sensitivity to the potential ripple effects that can be created by one’s actions should be an essential component of every person’s thinking and planning as the world progresses through the fourth industrial revolution. Without an awareness of our broader social context, we risk ultimately losing our ‘human-ness’, and the net result of that could be many future generations of highly intelligent and influential leaders who have the technical skills to drive industrial evolution, but who are so far removed from their social context that their actions offer little or no benefit for the world or its people.

Ultimately then, for education to fuel progress in a way that is constructive and truly benefits mankind in the long term, it has to be accompanied by a heightened sense of social and environmental responsibility. Graduates of the future must be equipped with this new ethical foundation to ensure that rather than merely leading for the sake of progress, profit or personal gain, they enter the world of work as responsible citizens who have the ability and desire to harness a highly connected, rapidly evolving and data-centric global environment to deliver outcomes that enhance the greater good.

The final instalment of this four-part series investigates the importance of prioritising the right orientation towards systems and networks thinking as part of the higher education process.