Letters to the editor: August 4 to 10 2017

Preschool for Industry 4

In the Mail & Guardian‘s Tech in the Classroom supplement, Tefo Mohapi wrote about preparing Africa’s youth for Industry 4.0 (How do we get Africa’s youth ready for the fourth industrial revolution?). Unfortunately, most people who write about the subject are misinformed. The fourth industrial revolution is a combination of automation, data utilisation and artificial intelligence.

First we have to understand automation. And automation cannot be understood without an understanding of processes and basic physics (in the case of automation of physical processes – unlike say, Uber).

The picture accompanying the article in question shows children asked to answer basic questions about an electrical circuit involving Ohm’s Law. Our company, turboTRAIN, takes people with a post-matric qualification (typically between N4 and S4) and teaches them what they should already know. These are people already (supposedly) in the arena of Industry 4.0. Most of them have forgotten Ohm’s Law, along with many other laws that are the backbone of understanding automation. Adding computers, as Mohapi suggests, will not solve the problem.

For a start, mental arithmetic seems to have been lost. When people cannot migrate between milli- and the main unit without a calculator (and even then, the knowledge of whether to multiply or divide by 1 000 is suspect), there is a question mark over how much understanding there is. Whether implementing a new system, or fault-finding on an existing one, it is essential to know what one is expecting to create or measure before making a judgment.

The article’s picture of children making a voltage calculation shows the basis on which understanding of a system depends. But it is only the basis: there must be an understanding of what the system comprises.

System composition now goes far beyond what pupils are taught in grade 10, but requires them to remember that grade 10 stuff. Which they don’t. In addition, they need to understand the complexities of a control system and how changing one variable affects others.

Now we are faced with a generation of young people who cannot do arithmetic, cannot remember what they have been taught from one week to another and whose ability to think systemically is severely challenged. Now add data utilisation, and possibly artificial intelligence, and the solution becomes even more remote.

As the education section of the M&G has often pointed out, the problem starts before school. When this is compounded by inadequate schooling and less adequate tertiary education, simply adding computers to the classroom mix is not going to cut it.

Although the situation is more encouraging for those who manage to make it through an engineering degree, even here there are problems. Part of this is the fact that Industry 4.0 is multidisciplinary. Although there will inevitably be multidisciplinary teams, they cannot work in silos. Everyone in the team needs to know something about everyone else’s job.

If the problem starts preschool, there are obviously also social elements. But, first, let’s fix what we can. This means starting education when children are three. If not, Industry 4.0 in Africa can kiss itself goodbye. – Eric Carter, turboTRAIN, Johannesburg

McKaiser’s mission is short-sighted

I wonder what makes Eusebius McKaiser the Mail & Guardian‘s centre-page resident columnist. Is it his grasp of South Africa today? Is it his unilateral assessment of the forces at play (and interplay) in our land? Is it his impartialty? Is it his unhinged pursuit of white racists?

In his latest M&G article (Bigotry will cost you, Ronnie), as with his recent short-tempered Radio 702 programmes, McKaiser is back in his selective, well-worn groove. His modus operandi is a one-by-one identifying, ridiculing and warning of white racists – racist according to Justice McKaiser.

He is a man on a mission, a crusading vigilante, pronouncing judgment and inciting sentence. Look out, evildoers! Like the self-appointed superheroes of American mythology, McKaiser is all pomp and smugness, himself above reproach, a champion of the true and good.

“Bigotry will cost you, Ronnie,” says McKaiser ominously. He is addressing another white racist. Eusebius rallies the populace: “Call Ronnie out. Ostracise him. Don’t do business with him.” The dramatic technique of repeating Ronnie’s name shows McKaiser’s deep contempt for the man. (To be safe, perhaps Ronnie should give up his right to free speech, just for now.)

Jeff Rudin’s response (Letters, July 21) to McKaiser’s July 14 article Honest confrontation is needed, among others, helps to unravel McKaiser’s view as trapped in “race”. His petrified, facile distinctions of black/poor versus white/rich cannot do the job. He “anachronistically still sees only colour”, says Rudin.

Having recently dismissed two radio callers, McKaiser pronounces each one a “bloody agent”. But McKaiser’s fixation, selective blindness and leapfrogging in the past 23 years has served the Jacob Zuma camp – and Guptas – well. One is no less “a bloody agent” through selectivity and diversion. McKaiser may keep “Ronnie” out of a job, but he has helped to keep Zuma in his. – Trevor Ruthenberg, Cape Town

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