Advances in web technologies have made our lives much easier than those of people who lived in the pre-technological era. There are countless services that we can now access without leaving the comfort of our homes. For example, we no longer need to travel to the banks or municipal offices to manage our finances or to pay our bills. Almost all financial transactions can now be performed online. Even going to the mall to buy groceries and clothes is rapidly becoming an optional chore as technology continues to revolutionize the way we do shopping. Technology, particularly the internet, has resulted in many companies and education institutions changing the way they do business or teach students.
The increase in internet access worldwide and the accessibility of many services online have kick-started a gradual demise of the physical office. Large businesses are starting to reduce the number of offices or branches they have. For example, last month Standard Bank, one of South Africa’s big five banks, announced that they would be closing more than 100 branches. While this may reduce the cost of doing business for the bank, this is bad news for a country which is gripped by unemployment and poverty. It was reported that the closure of these branches would result in over 1000 job losses. More job losses across the country are likely to occur in the next few years as different companies tap into emerging technologies to do business efficiently.
Clearly, as we embrace the fourth industrial revolution, we need to be aware of the challenges it brings and start equipping ourselves, especially the youth, with skills that will help us survive the digital age e.g. IT, electronics, computer programming, robotics etc., coupled with leadership and entrepreneurship.
The internet has had a profound impact on the accessibility and quality of education. Unlike in the days of old, today there is a plethora of resources that students can access online to supplement their study materials e.g. Wikipedia, educational YouTube channels, etc.
Due to the ease of access to information, self-education is quickly becoming the new order. These days, with access to Google, Wikipedia and other information resources, one can become an expert in any subject and even obtain a college degree entirely online. The internet has enabled tertiary institutions to offer online programs which can be taken by students from any parts of the world. This has made education more accessible and affordable by eliminating relocation and accommodation costs. It has also made it easier for those in full-time employment to further their studies.
However, with all its benefits, the digital age comes with its challenges. In the formal education sector, widespread access to communication technologies predisposes students to prohibited practices like plagiarism and exposes them to ghostwriting services such as CustomWritings.com, who write assignments and theses on behalf of students for a fee. While these services are said to be common in countries like Turkey, most education institutions in South Africa e.g. UCT do not approve of them due to their unethicalness. Although it is clear that technology has had a positive impact on education, academic institutions may have to re-evaluate their approach to assessments in order to ensure that the unrestricted access to technology that their students enjoy does not make the quality of their graduates questionable.