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Educating for the Fourth Industrial Revolution



This article examines the implications of the fourth industrial revolution for education, and proposes an approach to develop highly relevant and rigorous curriculum aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
omo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. To
be human is to live so that nothing human is
foreign to us. Such was the aspiration expressed
by Terence in his play Heauton Timorumenos several
centuries ago. Such aspiration was also shared by Erasmus
in the 16th century: “My own wish is to be a citizen of
the world, to be a fellow citizen to all men — better still
a pilgrim”, and by the other humanists who saw in
religious fanaticism and chauvinistic nationalism the
root of much violence. Building on these cosmopolitan
roots of humanism, the intellectual architects of the
Enlightenment — John Locke, Adam Smith, Emmanuel
38 | Global Citizenship Review
Educating for the Fourth
Industrial Revolution
Dr. Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of Practice in International Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA
Educational institutions must empower global citizens to address rapid global changes. Many
predict that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, resulting from increased and ubiquitous automation
and the development of AI, will eliminate many of the jobs currently available. Together with
neurotechnological and genetic developments, these changes will create new opportunities as well
as serious challenges that require a heightened commitment to placing humans at the center and
empowerment as a goal1
IMAGE: Shutterstock
1st Quarter 2019 | 39
Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau — proposed a
cosmopolitan project of societal improvement based on
collaboration of ordinary people across all boundaries.
It was in such a way that the three institutions created
by the Enlightenment to advance such a project —
democracy, public education, and the modern research
university — all benefited from transnational
collaborations and solidarity.
The public school was predicated in great part to
promote a cosmopolitan vision, and Jan Comenius was
the first to propose the idea of educating all. A few decades
afterward, Erasmus made his intellectual contributions,
largely to provide ordinary people the means to resolve
their differences in peaceful ways and thus to avert conflict.
Comenius should know about the bigoted roots of conflict
as he had to leave his native Moravia as a result of pervasive
religious intolerance at the time, prompting his neighbors
to set his house on fire. On the long journey to escape
religious intolerance, Comenius lost his wife and sons to
poor health resulting from the dire conditions of his
journey. He would end his life in Amsterdam, as a refugee,
declining the offer to become president of Harvard
University so he could write his thoughts of how education
for all was the only avenue to peace.
To others who understood the possibilities that global
citizenship offered us to advance humanity, the risks of
bigotry and chauvinism were equally clear. In 1925, Teachers
College Prof. Isaac Kandel gave a speech to the association
of secondary school principals in which he made a vigorous
case for global citizenship education in the US. Kandel
argued that, unless schools in America prepared students
for international understanding, the nation would become
not a force for peace but a force for instability in the world.2
Kandel gave his lecture a mere seven years after the end of
World War I and fourteen years before the next major global
conflict. Born in Romania and an immigrant to the US, he
knew the pain and suffering caused by the violence of war
and might have sensed, at the time he gave his speech, the
fragility of peace, how conflict is never too far away, and
how peace requires the cultivation of the dispositions to
make peace possible.
The awareness of the devastation and suffering caused
by World War II is reflected in the creation of the UN,
the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, and the inclusion of education as a human right
in the declaration. Undergirding the declaration were
the values of freedom, equality, and global solidarity.
This was the cornerstone of much of the work of
governments and of the global institutions created after
World War II. But these values are increasingly challenged
by populist and nationalist movements with strong
xenophobic and intolerant undertones.
An emerging populist ideology challenges the
cosmopolitan aspirations of public education, and of
global citizenship education in particular. Populists
challenge the very idea of universal human rights and
the very notions of globalism, global solidarity, and
collaboration. If nationalism is the new organizing force,
the notion of in-group and out-group is defined by
citizenship, not by membership in humanity, a challenge
to the very idea of global citizenship.
If populists succeed in dismantling the global order
built following World War II, this will reduce our ability
to address global challenges. As populists renege on their
commitment to collective action in addressing global
challenges, this will create a social context in which
teachers will find it increasingly difficult to teach about
such global challenges.
Concomitant with the rise of nationalism and populism
is a rise of hate groups and expressions of hatred in many
parts around the world. In the US, there is a documented
increase in intolerance expressed in and around schools
IMAGE: Shutterstock
and universities in the form of more explicit expressions
of anti-Semitism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, and
hatred towards people of color and immigrants.3 In this
context, it is urgent that educators redouble their efforts
to educate students for global citizenship. The inclusion
of this as one of the targets in the UN’s Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) provides a helpful window
of opportunity.
In an attempt to contribute to these efforts, I have
recently published three curriculum resources that have
been adopted by public and private schools in a number
of countries around the world to support global
citizenship education. The following five principles
underpin these resources.
Start with the End in Mind When Designing
A powerful approach to developing
curriculum is to start with an
ambitious end in mind — which is to
educate global citizens. While most
curriculum planning begins with
direction in terms of the knowledge
or competencies that it is aligned to,
it seldom extends that end into a
larger vision that informs the selection
of such competencies. As a result,
while there may well be an implicit
long-term vision that provides
direction to the competencies that
guide the development of curriculum,
such a vision is not public and
therefore the central hypothesis that guides such curriculum
(‘if students gain these competencies they will be able to
achieve the following’) are not public knowledge, and
therefore untestable. An alternative approach makes the
two key hypotheses that undergird any curriculum public
and therefore the subject of professional and public
accountability. Those key hypotheses are: first, that if we
engage students in particular learning experiences, they
will gain certain capabilities; and, second, that if they gain
such capabilities, they will be able to achieve particular
long-term results, with consequences to them and to the
communities of which they are members.These resources
align curriculum with a public, ambitious, and non-
partisan vision that has been endorsed by governments
globally. This is as close as we can get to a public compact
reflecting humanity’s shared aspiration of ‘the common
good’. The SDGs offer an aspirational vision of a world
that is inclusive, in peace, and sustainable. Each of the 17
goals included in the framework was adopted by more
than 150 world leaders at the UN General Assembly in
2015, and the goals drive a series of specific targets, each
spelt out in ways that are measurable, providing, in short,
a compact for global citizenship.
Leverage Improvement Networks to Design
The second principle underlying the design of these resources
is that the task of curriculum design, particularly when it
involves domains that are novel or complex, is one that
requires collaboration with colleagues. While we may
cherish the ideal that each teacher should be able to develop
their own curriculum, in practice the work of teaching is
structured in such a way that it
seriously limits how much time can
be devoted to curriculum design.
Professional networks have a
distinct advantage as a way to
leverage collective intelligence. They
can adapt dynamically to feedback
resulting from rapid cycles of
experimentation, and they can
augment the learning resulting from
similar cycles taking place
concurrently in multiple settings. In
this sense, professional networks
have an inherent potential for
learning and adaptation that eludes
more conventional forms of
producing curriculum and textbooks.
Learn by Doing
The third principle is that professionals must necessarily
experiment as a way of creating new knowledge. An
improvement network is simply a large laboratory that
allows continuous experimentation in the search for
solutions to complex challenges. The epistemology
that undergirds this principle is that professional
knowledge must draw on practice; it cannot be
generated in the absence or be devoid thereof. Teaching
is a profession not only in that those who practice it
must master expert knowledge to guide their work but
also in the sense that they must contribute to the
development of such expert knowledge. For such
practice-based knowledge to become professional
40 | Global Citizenship Review
If nationalism is the
new organizing force,
the notion of in-group
and out-group is defined
by citizenship, not by
membership in humanity,
a challenge to the very
idea of global citizenship
1st Quarter 2019 | 41
knowledge, that is, knowledge available to others in
the profession, it must be public — not private —
knowledge. A professional network is one way to make
the knowledge that emerges from practice subject to
the essential scrutiny for it to become publicly accepted.
Furthermore, reliance on the principles of design-based
thinking and of improvement networks provides a
context for systematic experimentation and testing of
those hypotheses that are implicit in any curriculum.
The Power of a Problem-based Education
A fourth principle is that some of the capacities necessary
to thrive in the 21st century are best gained by engaging
students with real problems and by inviting students to
try out solutions to those problems. Increasing evidence
suggests that problem-based education — that is, education
that gives students opportunities to develop their agency
and breadth of skills — is essential to preparing them for
the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Power of Collaboration in Diverse Teams
Finally, preparing students to successfully seize the
opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and
achieve the SDGs will require unprecedented collaboration
at all levels. If there is one skill all learners will need to
develop, it is the skill to collaborate.
Global citizenship is essential for seizing the enormous
possibilities and addressing the great challenges of our
times. While cultivating it is the task of educators, the
global community is equally responsible for supporting
and encouraging, in a collaborative manner, the
education of global citizens to whom nothing human
is foreign.
1Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial R evolution (New York:
Crown Business, 2017)
2 Isaac Kandel “International Understanding and the
Schools” (address delivered before the National Association
of Secondary School Principals), in Isaac Kandel, Essays in
Comparative Education (New York: Teachers College, 1930),
3 Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Trump Effect: The
Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election on Our Nation’s
Schools,” 28 November 2016,
schools. See also Southern Poverty Law Center, “Hate Map,”
accessed 5 May 2017, 2016/3
Above: Illustrated above are the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, of which goal four is quality education and seeks to “ensure
inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030
1. No Poverty
17 Goals to Transform Our World
2. Zero Hunger 3. Good Health
and Well-being
4. Quality Education 5. Gender Equality 6. Clean Water
and Sanitation
7. Affordable and
Clean Energy
8. Decent Work and
Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation
and Infrastructure
10. Reduced
11. Sustainable Cities
and Communities 12. Climate Action
13. Life Below Water 14. Life on Land 15. Peace, Justice and
Strong Institutions
16. Partnerships
for the Goals
17. Responsible
Consumption and Production
This chapter portrays an educational enrichment program called “One World” operating in the state of the Guerrero, Mexico, with the purpose of promoting Education for Sustainable Development at the pre-school level with an emphasis on Global Citizenship Education and the SDGs. Described as a successful partnership between innovative Mexican educators, who are from an education system with a commitment to civics education and educational reforms, and a global nonprofit organization, which is committed to using emerging communication technologies to build a global platform, One World is a program which seeks to develop global citizens who possess the knowledge, skills, and values of globally competent individuals and leaders. The authors first present the historical emergence of the program along with its core components and values, then provide sample stories of implementation, and finally evaluate the effectiveness of the program from the perspectives of the parents, teachers, and administrators from 13 different pre-school settings in Guerrero. In addition, they provide a case for national education systems for the freedom and bandwidth to experiment and innovate in a society where citizens are struggling to make sense of an increasingly complex world.
International Understanding and the Schools" (address delivered before the National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Isaac Kandel
Isaac Kandel "International Understanding and the Schools" (address delivered before the National Association of Secondary School Principals), in Isaac Kandel, Essays in Comparative Education (New York: Teachers College, 1930), 228-235