My Say: Knowledge is the sustainable security of a future

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 29, 2019 - May 05, 2019.
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What is the most important commodity in a person’s life? Predictable answers to this question from children, or even adults, almost invariably revolve around material things, from money and gold to platinum and, nowadays, even vibranium.

However, I have been taught since young that the answer to that question is, in fact, knowledge. It is the only commodity that compounds and multiplies, even after sharing or giving it away. I have passed on this insight to my children since they were young and always reminded them that the smartest person in the room will always have the choice to be the person who can benefit the most from the rest. Whether they choose to benefit is a different matter but it is a privilege accorded to the informed and select few.

Our Creator’s first word to Prophet Muhammad was iqra’, which means “read”. Why did the Creator choose iqra’ over many other words? I believe that God’s first instruction to us as humans was “to seek knowledge” and it is the inevitable consequence of reading. This is how I came to the realisation that knowledge is the most important commodity for me, and for the rest of humanity to acquire.

Knowledge is also limitless. To illustrate this point, if I have 10 pieces of gold and decided to distribute them, I could give away three pieces to one person and two to another. Because material things are finite, I would be left with only five pieces. However, this is not the case with knowledge.

If I have 10 pieces of knowledge and share them with anyone in whatever proportions, my 10 would still be intact. In fact, when I share knowledge with others, I may even gain more as sharing my understanding of the subject matter may, in fact, deepen and multiply my own realisation and understanding of it. After all, knowledge of men is but a drop of water in the ocean, compared with the knowledge of our Creator. There is just so much to learn.

That is why I encourage the young, including my children, to acquire as much knowledge as they possibly can, especially at a young age. The ability to absorb is higher and the absence of ego quickens the learning and understanding process. The young can develop and advance their mind early and use it to build products and services, businesses, industries, economies and a nation as well.

After spending about 16 years studying from school to college or university, our children may find that their qualifications do not necessarily meet the demands of the industry when they graduate. The academic syllabus that they had studied and memorised may have been irrelevant or obsolete by then. Education, I believe, should try to match the speed of technology. After all, technology has matched the speed of changing human behaviour.

We have seen that academic syllabus can remain static for a long time. What we learn in school may be limited to the books that our teachers ask us to read and what they impart to us, which is guided by the educational process and policies that they must adhere to. This in itself is limiting. This practice sometimes goes beyond schools, extended to colleges and universities.

Take the training of one who aspires to become a pilot, for example. He goes through years of training and studying the programme for conventional aircraft piloting, but one day, the aviation industry will evolve and progress. As we have self-driven cars today, I believe autonomous aeroplanes will also arrive soon enough. That trainee pilot may find himself replaced by computers and robots, becoming irrelevant. Thus, I believe academic excellence cannot be confused with knowledge or smartness.

Education should not be run by just academicians and theorists. It should be jointly managed by an ecosystem of practitioners and incentivised people.

People are discovering more ways to automate jobs that are repetitive in nature. Some identify these jobs as the 3D — difficult, dirty and dangerous. Today, there are already robots that can receive guests at the office lobby, vacuum the house while the owner sleeps and roam the floor of the deepest ocean bed for new discoveries. After all, human intelligence can never be replaced by machines and robots.

I always find it amazing that our young are still studying in school the exact same subjects that I had studied back in the day. In fact, most were the same subjects that my father had learnt in his day. While the world and knowledge have rapidly progressed, our choice of subjects in school has not. Our sustainability and future are being gravely tested now with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0).

In the first three industrial revolutions, we were usually playing catch-up, which did not allow us to lead in terms of technologies and economies. This resulted in us being more of a technology consumer than creator. We lost the first three rounds. It is now round four.

IR 4.0, to my understanding, connects everything, regardless of if it is an animate or inanimate object. Once connected, the objects can communicate with each other. This results in a massive amount of data, which then presents an opportunity to convert the data into business intelligence and, more importantly, into actionable items for product, service and business owners. These can be achieved via disruptive technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things, big data analytics and artificial intelligence.

Robotic technologies are applied in inspection, monitoring and equipment sorting. The Internet of Things covers a broad range of areas, from safety management to satellite communication. There are also cloud computing (transmission of digital information); virtual and augmented reality; 3D design; and printing methods and applications. Sometimes, only a single key operator is needed to carry out, control and monitor the automation. Drone operators for multiple drones, for instance, are increasingly in demand for remote monitoring, logistics, aerial photography and farm automation.

Coming back to the learning in school, I find that the country’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) scheme, which combines formal and informal learning, is a step in the right direction to prepare our young by providing them with today’s knowledge and skills.

What we now need is for TVET to extend its arm and include other learning institutions, including mainstream universities, to build an ecosystem together in order to advance and include technologies, sciences and skills, as well as the development of innovative aptitudes and comprehension to meet future demands. For example, the syllabus for accountancy students should not be limited to the basics of accountancy that prepares them only for the conventional job of an accountant or investment banker; it should also expose them to the knowledge and skill sets of future jobs, such as digital currency manager and crypto asset banker.

The lessons from IR 1.0 to 3.0 should teach us to stop playing catch-up. We must strive to stay ahead of IR 4.0 and be an innovator instead. We have to take the steps now to instil in our young the knowledge, including the thinking process, to create, innovate and provide solutions to problems to turn the tide and be ahead in IR 4.0.

The development of the thinking process, from asking the right questions to providing solutions, is crucial in being inventive. We must not only understand what IR 4.0 is all about but also go further by asking, “What is next?”

We should take a firm and decisive stance to ensure that our children who are born in the 21st century will not be stuck with knowledge and skills from the 20th century.

Let us make a conscious decision to build tomorrow’s legacy today.

Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor is the founder of Sedania Group as well as an innovator, author and IP expert. Reach him at [email protected].

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