College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Transforming the School of Engineering’s Curriculum for 4th Industrial Revolution

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UKZN’s School of Engineering (SOE) is transforming its undergraduate curriculum in a world already significantly impacted by the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The SOE aims to empower its graduates to influence the economic advancement of South Africa and help shape society for the new norms.

We are currently at the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), a new era of innovation in technology that will enhance human-machine relationships, unlock new market opportunities and fuel growth across the global economy.1

Professor Annegret Stark, SMRI/NRF SARChI Research Chair for Sugarcane Biorefining, says: ‘The most prominent risk for South African society (or any society of less industrialised countries) is that we will simply be left out in the definition process, not only technologically, but more importantly, regarding our ideas of what it means to be human beings in the 21st century.’

Stark said the SOE development focusses on two important areas: ‘First, it seeks to identify 4IR-relevant knowledge and skill areas and transform the curriculum to not only equip graduates to find employment but also capacitate them to shape both industry and our society. Tremendous opportunities exist not only for established industries, but also for entrepreneurial activities. Graduates need to acquire skills whereby they can start businesses which in turn will create jobs, supporting the growth in the South African economy. This is in line with UKZN’s vision of being the Premier University of African Scholarship.

‘Secondly,’ said Stark, ‘it seeks to exploit the potential of digitalisation and other aspects of 4IR in the delivery of teaching and learning content (remote experimentation, automation). This second aspect relates in particular to the important experimental parts of the curriculum of the various programmes at the SOE, and the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science: While a lot of progress has been made in the past months to transform the conventional lecture hall teaching content, this was not the case for experimental work. SOE envisages that the experimental work offers unique opportunities to fulfil the mandate and vision of comprehensive, inclusive and equal engineering education. This, in turn, will contribute to the economic viability of the University, highlighting both the economic and societal impact of the project.

‘The SOE acquired a budget of R500 000 from the JW Nelson fund for 2021 for an initial project duration of a year. Several entities in South Africa and abroad have recognised the need for curriculum content and delivery transformation to the requirements of 4IR. Hence, this funding will lay the foundation for the fundamental curriculum transformation in Engineering at UKZN. Additionally, it will allow SOE to apply to other funding sources, such as the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Department of Science and Technology (DST) and international sources, to address sustainable development challenges, with a focus on education, gender and inequality,’ said Stark.

Academic Leader Teaching and Learning at the SOE Professor Jules-Raymond Tapamo said: ‘The SOE sees this funding as a strategic investment in the transformation of the curriculum which will in turn benefit the long-term sustainability of the School of Engineering at UKZN.’

The research is initially focussing on the development of a comprehensive strategy for the 4IR transformation in the Discipline of Chemical Engineering, thereby producing a roadmap to be used as a blueprint for other Disciplines within the SOE. The project is being conducted in collaboration with Professor Anja Philipp of the School of Education.

‘We as educators have a responsibility to swiftly transform the curriculum to gear the first generation of 4IR graduates such that they can fully exploit their intellectual and innovative capacity, technical skills and contextual understanding in times of tremendous change,’ said Philipp.

According to the Dean of the SOE, Professor Glen Bright, transforming the Engineering curriculum and its delivery in preparation for the 4th Industrial Revolution is essential if the School of Engineering at UKZN is to provide quality education that is relevant to local and international required Engineering practices. ‘It is important that we equip today’s students with knowledge and skills for tomorrow’s engineering workplace. As all Engineering Disciplines at UKZN are accredited with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), it is our duty to strive for teaching and learning excellence for all our undergraduate students. We look forward to a curriculum that prepares our graduates for the 4th Industrial Revolution and beyond,’ said Bright.

•    1 Sep, 2019). ‘What does “fourth industrial revolution” even mean?’ Retrieved from the Mail & Guardian.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photographs: Supplied