Industry 4.0: A way forward for Sri Lanka | Daily News

Industry 4.0: A way forward for Sri Lanka

Whether we like it or not the world around us is changing and the change is the only permanent as the Buddha himself said.

Future economic prosperity of Sri Lanka depends on our ability to adapt to those changes and finding out ways of benefiting from them. If we do not draw plans to adapt and benefit from these changes our country is going to lag behind in the economic prosperity and as a result quality of the life of populace. It will be survival of the fittest as great Charles Darwin once said.

That brings us to the Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial Revolution. Steam engine personified the 1st industrial revolution, mass production of automobiles personified the 2nd industrial revolution, and integrated electronics, computers, robotics, and internet personified 3rd industrial revolution. All of those revolutions transformed the way of life of humans to an unimaginable degree. Imagine a 1960s person time travelling to 2020 or a 2020s person time travelling 1960s and amount of change they experience. In a more fundamental level with each industrial revolution the quality of life of humans increased with better access to food, clean water, and healthcare. This lead to higher life expectancy.

So what is the Industry 4.0? Industry 4.0 represents not one technology or several technologies for that matter. It represents a whole set of interconnected technologies. Few examples are Internet of Things, genomics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, mobile internet, Blockchain, energy storage, renewable energy, data science, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and advanced materials. Some of the technological trends started some time ago and is seeing coming of the age such as genomics, energy storage, renewable energy, artificial intelligence and robotics. Some other technologies are novel such as Blockchain and 3-D printing. Certain technologies can challenge the concept of the nation state. If you consider Blockchain as an example, operation of the digital currency Bitcoin stands on the foundation of Blockchain.   No nation state has the control over Bitcoin. Certain other technologies will have a remarkable influence on privacy of an individual. Artificial intelligence, mobile internet, and data science are few such technologies. So the impact of the industry 4.0 run form global level to state level to societal level to the individual level. In short it will revolutionize the way we do things in the near future.

The skill set that a person needs to succeed in the industry 4.0 are ability to solve complex problems, critical thinking ability, creativity, ability to manage people, ability to coordinate with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, and cognitive flexibility. Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, management & economics, psychology, and creative art will play a vital role in shaping up of industry 4.0. Therefore, one need to be literate in more than one of the above areas to be succeed in a society driven by industry 4.0. This brings us to the question how Sri Lanka as a nation can respond to bring most benefit of the industry 4.0 to the populace. One obvious way is to train critical mass of the workforce to be employable in the thrust technological areas of the industry 4.0 and expect them to contribute to the further development of those thrust areas. At the beginning it would be prudent to select several technological trends where skills gap between what current workforce possesses and what the technology expects is moderate. Consideration should be given to the areas where an economic return is achievable through a moderate investment.

With regard to the education, it is necessary to improve the digital literacy among the student population hand in hand with the science and mathematics education. As a benchmark any high school graduate should be capable of writing a computer program to execute a selected non-trivial task. If we consider technology stream, for example,students who follow that stream should get their first exposure to the technologies such as 3-D printing and microprocessor technology in the school itself. As a country with relatively small internal market it is necessary to interact with other nations and cultures with large markets. It would be easier if our workforce is multi lingual not only with English but also with other languages such as Chinese, Hindi, or Arabic. Therefore, foreign language education should be improved while spreading an effective English language education program to remote parts of the country. An effective creative art education should be promoted in schools beyond the traditional subjects such as painting, music, and dancing. Examples would be graphics & animation, photography, and architecture. There is a small but influential minority of students who are gifted in different areas such as mathematics and arts. Current school curriculum does not challenge them enough.

Therefore, country needs a plan to identify and nurture gifted students and clear the path for them achieve their full potential as they are going to be leaders in their respective fields. School curriculum need to be revamped in order to foster critical thinking among students. For example, rather than learning a subject such as history as a mere collection of facts if it is learned through critical analysis of historical events with causes, actions, and consequences students critical thinking ability will be developed. One other area that needs critical attention is entrepreneurship. Whether we like or not private enterprises are the engine of growth in Sri Lanka which brings economic development. Therefore, it is necessary to encourage bright young minds to engage in entrepreneurial activities that creates novel products and services rather than them engaging in traditional industries.

In the longer term it is necessary to adjust the education system that transforms students to be citizens with emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility who can solve complex problems and think critically. Such citizenry can easily adjust to whatever technological advances appear in the future. Outlined above are a number of steps Sri Lanka can take in order for her to achieve economic and societal prosperity in the impending 4th industrial revolution.  This is by no means a comprehensive proposal but a set of recommendations.


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