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future of education

How do we get learning on track for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

A call to action for Education 4.0

5-minute read

What a difference a year makes


It’s been clear for years that teaching models need to change. British journalist George Monbiot noted that today’s schools and universities were established for the needs of a factory workforce in the 19th and 20th century industrial eras. Many experts feel they’re not designed to generate the creativity and innovation required in a workforce for the 21st century and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Having students and teachers located in a physical classroom, with an instructor explaining topics, assigning and evaluating assignments, is an inflexible, one-size fits all approach. And while the system has worked for generations, the cracks are showing. It is increasingly difficult to engage the digital native Generation Z students with text-based learning. Government strategies were underway globally to bring digital skills into education, but implementation looked set to stretch over several years. Then 2020 arrived, and the pandemic changed everything.

As COVID-19 infections spread, governments locked down all but essential services. Although education is clearly essential, the physical proximity of students in classroom-based teaching meant that governments cancelled exams and ordered educational establishments to close. Lessons stopped for an estimated 1.6 billion learners worldwide.

Online alternatives amounted to little more than posting tasks in Google Classrooms. A few offered interactive or video-based lessons, but these options were only possible if students had access to broadband connectivity and a laptop, tablet or smartphone. In many developing markets, radio and TV broadcasts were used to broadcast to children at home. Millions of students could not access such facilities and missed months of education at all levels.

The challenge facing the education sector is that high speed broadband coverage needs to increase dramatically to ensure students can access engaging learning and development (L&D) resources remotely. In addition, teachers need to adapt and rethink their learning methods to ensure that they are more engaging, and both teachers and students need the devices and skills to use digital technologies. The situation applies equally to remote areas in the developing world and rural and low-income urban areas in the developed world.

Ensuring continuity of education, even in the most difficult circumstances, is important because it impacts the economic and social strength of national economies. The United Nations (UN) estimates that while school closures will not have immediate economic consequences, it will have long-lasting effects.

future of education

It is estimated that for the first time since its conception, the Human Development Index (HDI) will show a striking decline (see Figure 1) because the education dimension accounts for a third.
But, the even bigger question may be: What skills do students (and educators) need to develop, and what are the right skills for the workplace in 4IR?

human development

Source: HDRO

Figure 1. Human development is facing an unprecedented challenge since the concept was introduced in 1990 (annual change in human development index)

What are the right workplace skills for 4IR?

Nokia Bell Labs Consulting (BLC) predicts that existing digital transformation and automation trends, that have been accelerated by COVID-19, will create new kinds of jobs. In its paper titled, ’The rise of the new-collar worker, BLC says that mundane and repetitive roles will be replaced by machines, while a new class of jobs will emerge that will emphasize creativity, flexibility and adaptability. BLC estimates that 70 percent of jobs will be “new-collar jobs” by 2030 and these new-collar jobs will be of two types:

  • New blue-collar roles - Technology will expand the number and types of physical roles workers can safely perform in an array of industries. For example, a new-collar construction worker will be able to use robots and exoskeletons to accomplish demanding tasks while remaining protected from hazards or exposure to toxic substances. 
  • New white-collar roles – The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will make some role more efficient. In a future pandemic, a new-collar medic would be able to test and diagnose patients remotely, with continuous monitoring and tracking of contacts, leading to reduced disease spreading.

An example of how today’s jobs might be effected is shown in Figure 2. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes survey-based employment and wages data on more than 700 occupation types for all sectors. BLC has grouped these occupations into three categories:

  • Cognitive jobs that will have specialized skills and require cognitive and creative thinking. 
  • Clerical jobs that involve highly repetitive tasks and do not require high cognitive skills. 
  • Physical jobs that require use of machinery and equipment.

Figure 2: Job classes and 2018 job category mix

job classes

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics ; Bell Labs Consulting analysis

"The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that as many as 375 million workers will require upskilling by 2030."

According to the McKinsey Global Survey (February 2020), 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that as many as 375 million workers will require upskilling by 2030. Skills that are in short supply include data science and mobile web design. These skills are needed to work with technologies - such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) - that will create the new jobs over the coming decade.

Platforms for lifelong learning

The 4IR requires us to develop new and different skills if we are to enjoy its socio-economic benefits. The foundations need to be set in education and developed in the workplace. As 4IR is a digital economy that enables innovation and rapid change. This requires continuous L&D for students and teachers alike. Consequently, higher education and L&D in industry need to address two criteria:

  • Overcome the digital divide to ensure everyone has access to high-speed broadband connectivity 
  • Enhance learning with advanced digital technologies to develop rounded skills for 4IR future jobs

Overcoming the digital divide

Digital inclusion in education is universally important as it forms the bedrock of future societies and economies. By providing educational establishments with broadband connectivity, devices and digital skills, countries are literally investing in their own future.

Since 2018, Nokia has been working with UNICEF Finland and UNICEF Kenya to build a multi-partner collaboration to bring internet connectivity and inclusive digital learning to Kenyan schools in rural and disadvantaged urban areas. By October 2020, the first 10 schools were connected using Nokia Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) solution, which is a fast and efficient way to provide children with high-speed and high-capacity broadband needed for remote digital education.

overcoming the digital divide

To ensure digital inclusion globally, regulation and policy changes are required to provide incentives and funding for high speed broadband roll-out. Special attention is needed to ensure the children in remote and low-income areas in developing nations are included in the digital community. We explore digital inclusion further in our eBook, How do we create inclusivity in a digital future?

Nokia is committed to developing the right digital skills in its workforce and supports the EU’s ERT ‘Pact for Skills’ that was launched in November 2020. Simultaneously ERT has started the development of a ‘Digital Skills and Jobs Platform’, which will be a one-stop-shop for digital skills training and resources in Europe. Nokia and its partners are working hard to bring broadband coverage, skills and devices to areas of the greatest need. For example, Salesforce and the Salesforce Foundation run programs for education and have launched the ‘ for schools’ platform to help school as they reopen. Ron Smith, VP of Education at Salesforce says 2020 has been like no other. ‘When remote learning was the only option, we had educators reaching out to us. We helped these communities get online and ensured they had the devices they needed. These ‘hardware’ issues remain a pretty basic need.’

“From a social and economic perspective, we can’t afford to see this digital divide, or equity deficit, get bigger”

Ron Smith, VP of Education at Salesforce

For Smith, it’s not something we can ignore. COVID-19 has accelerated the move to online learning, and this is a permanent change. ‘From a social and economic perspective, we can’t afford to see this digital divide, or equity deficit, get bigger. We need to get people online and using digital tools, so we need to invest in training too. This means public services and private enterprise need to work together’.

Enhanced learning with advanced digital technologies

Digital technologies will ensure that learning in higher education and the workplace L&D attains a new level of authentic human connection.

Technology consultant Daniel Arya, who shared his views on ‘Rethinking higher education in the age of automation’ in Futurithmic, noted that adapting the current workforce to the 4IR era will require humans and machines to work together. Educational programs will need to focus on engineering, data science, software development, and real-time augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) to work with automated, AI-driven 5G-based technologies.

Salesforce’s Smith notes that higher education needs to improve the engagement levels. ‘Digital tools can deliver up to a 40 percent increase in learner engagement.’ He continues, ‘If you look at the most successful online games, they are immersive and stimulate all the senses. Using gamification, VR glasses and robotics will augment learning and make it fun.’ The place to start is with the educators, for example by helping them learn how to use digital tools and different formats. This will ensure that learning becomes more engaging, immersive and relevant. They’ll also need to understand how techniques such as gamification can help develop critical thinking and engagement.

To ensure the much-needed critical thinking and creativity, Arya notes that higher education must also embrace creative skills, arts and humanities. And it’ll need to reinforce leadership skills and support personalized training programs to accommodate different learning styles and those with disabilities. At MIT, for example, the Mellon-funded programs in Digital Humanities focus on creating computer tools for enhancing humanities education. At Bates College, a liberal arts college in Maine, a program has been developed to deliberately combine liberal arts education with digital and computational studies.

Some successful implementations of L&D techniques in the workplace are explored in The Global Lighthouse Network: Insights from the Forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a paper from the World Economic Forum and McKinsey. The Lighthouses are manufacturing sites that use new operating systems to optimize businesses and processes and transform the way people work and use technology to adapt their skills for the 4IR. These sites run Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) academies, digital weeks, hackathons, and virtual augmented labs as part of the L&D programs. Mobile apps, animation, graphics and gamification engage workers in all aspects of the business and help to define personalized training needs, boost productivity and increase job satisfaction. The following are three examples from the Lighthouse network:

  • AGCO in Marktoberdorf, Germany, has deployed a smart and reconfigurable assembly line by combining digital solutions with intelligent line design. It’s now able to manufacture nine series of tractors on a single assembly line, resulting in a productivity increase of 24 percent and a cycle-time reduction of 60 percent. 
  • MODEC in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has used advanced analytics for preventive maintenance, utilizing a digital twin of its offshore processing. This has reduced downtime by 65 percent in its first year of operation.
  • Nokia Conscious Factory in Oulu uses robots to build automated scripts. These replace manual data uploads and extraction between systems and teams. Robots are controlled remotely by workers and assist in moving heavy physical raw materials and finished goods in the factory, helping to avoid workplace injuries.


In the 4IR, digital technologies, 5G connectivity and immersive learning tools such as AR and VR will be foundational to the future of education and L&D. Success will see everyone included. Learning will be personalized and more engaging so students and workers will feel invested in their work and gain greater satisfaction from positive outcomes.

In the developing world, the digital divide still needs to be addressed to ensure that online and interactive tools can be accessed. In developed markets too, remote and rural communities and low-income urban areas require connectivity and access to augmented tools.

Students can expect streamed real-time instructor-led learning and the ability to use AR and VR to handle virtual objects in real-time across data-rich platforms. The advent of 5G extends access and will also make it easier to connect learners to ‘virtual villages’ of subject matter experts, specialist teachers, content, communities, and experiences across the globe.


“In business, lifelong learning and upskilling will be required to remain productive in the 4IR”

In business, lifelong learning and upskilling will be required to remain productive in the 4IR and harnessing 5G to drive AR and VR technologies will support both the scope and scale of that need. Educators, policy makers, and technology companies must work together. CSPs themselves will need staff with the correct skills too as they advance their business and have a direct opportunity to enable the future of learning.

Digital technologies have the potential to connect and enrich so many areas of our world, and what we have seen to date is the tip of the iceberg. We need to look forward and get our schools and universities ready for 21st century digital era. A dawn of inclusion, creativity and innovation beckons for all of us.

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5G Use Cases

Connecting the unconnected to inclusive digital learning in Kenya