UNESCO’s Futures of Education global initiative aims to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet. The initiative is designed as a co-construction process that activates broad public engagement, expert inputs, as well as the work of the International Commission on the Futures of Education.
Pathways to 2050 and beyond: findings from a public consultation on the futures of higher education (November 2021)
This new report from the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) identifies four pathways to 2050 and beyond that form the roots from which higher education in the futures will grow. The report is also available in Spanish.
Thinking higher and beyond: Perspectives on the futures of higher education to 2050 (May 2021)
Published in English, French and Spanish, the report presents findings from consultations organized by UNESCO IESALC with 25 higher education experts based around the world who have extensive experience in teaching, researching, and/or enacting higher education. It also questions common assumptions about higher education and its contributions, creating a bold series of possibilities for different –and better– futures for higher education for all.
Literature review (October 2021)
In the course of supporting the International Commission on the Futures of Education (September 2019 - October 2020) the UNESCO Secretariat reviewed over 200 reports to understand what is being said about the future of education.
Futures of teaching (July 2021)
Inès Dussel, published within the framework of the contribution of the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 to the Futures of Education Initiative
This paper explores the value and role of teachers and discusses some of the paradoxes and challenges that they face. Conversations about the futures of teaching tend to focus on technological change. This paper argues that teaching is a heavily contextualized practice and that current educational contexts pose conflicting demands. The paper concludes by presenting reflections on the futures of teaching and recommendations on how to foster the role of teachers as central educational agents.
Expert Concept Notes on the Futures of Higher Education (March 2021)
Higher education experts from around the world were convened by UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) to offer innovative and visionary ideas about the purpose and functions of higher education as it might be thirty years from now. Papers are available in English, French and Spanish.
Position paper for the release of The International Science and Evidence-based Education Assessment (March 2021)
Anantha Duraiappah, Nienke van Atteveldt, et al.
Position paper on the International Science and Evidence Based Education (ISEE) Assessment being coordinated by the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), published in the journal Science of Learning.
Meaning(s) of Human Flourishing and Education (October 2020)
Doret de Ruyter, Lindsay Oades, Yusef Waghid
Research brief commissioned by the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) as part of the International Science and Evidence Based Education (ISEE) Assessment.
A global reset: COVID-19 and the future of education and learning (October 2020)
Issue from PROSPECTS (IBE's Comparative Journal of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment) providing a series of articles on the future of education and learning through the lens of the global health crisis
Embracing a Culture of Lifelong Learning (September 2020)
Report of a transdisciplinary expert consultation organized by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL)
The UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks cover all disciplines and scholarly fields and are comprised of 800+ institutions and affiliates in over 110 countries. This book (French and English) presents a collection of 48 think pieces by over 100 authors as a contribution to the global debate on the futures of education
The following background papers were commissioned (copy of RFP available here) to advance thinking on the key issues laid out by the International Commission.
These papers have not been edited by UNESCO. The views and opinions expressed in these papers are those of the author(s) and should not be attributed to UNESCO. All of these papers are available on UNESCO's Digital Library at this link. Please click on the paper titles below to view an abstract.
Human and Planetary Sustainability
In the face of the multiple existential threats we have brought upon ourselves, this background paper calls for education to be reimagined and reconfigured around the future survival of the planet. To this end, we offer seven visionary declarations of what education could look like in 2050 and beyond. These declarations proceed from three premises. Firstly, human and planetary sustainability is one and the same thing. Secondly, any attempts to achieve sustainable futures that continue to separate humans off from the rest of the world are delusional and futile. And thirdly, education needs to play a pivotal role in radically reconfiguring our place and agency within this interdependent world. This requires a complete paradigm shift: from learning about the world in order to act upon it, to learning to become with the world around us. Our future survival depends on our capacity to make this shift.
Indigenous peoples are Guardians of the Earth and their traditionally sustainable and biocentric approaches to being, living, learning, relating and engaging with others support communities to grow towards futures that are joyful, happy and inclusive. In this paper, we imagine futures that support Indigenous knowledge systems, ways of knowing, sharing, learning and growing. Indeed, this paper demonstrates how Indigenous knowledges and approaches can secure sustainable, inclusive and equitable futures. It features five case studies that model successful educational programmes where Indigenous knowledge systems and ways of knowing are enacted in policy and practise. It acknowledges the diversity of Indigenous knowledge systems but also explores commonalities amongst Indigenous thinking and custodial knowledges. It presents ways in which the world can reorient education, teaching and learning to become more holistic, relatable, resilient, and adaptive.
Currently, education systems overwhelmingly convey the powerful message that learning is essentially an individual phenomenon. Teaching, assessment and certification practices almost invariably centre on learners as individuals. Compulsory formal education (that is, schooling up to mid-adolescence) promotes the near-universal ‘common sense’ but unquestioned assumption that learning resides in individuals. This assumption follows through into vocational and university education. Yet ‘learning to become’ an adult, a worker and a citizen typically involves a further assumption: that whenever a group of individuals learns,this group learning is nothing more than the sum of learning acquired by the particular individual members of the group. This latter assumption is not only false –it also directly hinders understanding of how group participation is a powerful means of generating, sharing and applying knowledge for the benefit of social groups and communities, indeed, for the “common good”.
Whilst there is no doubting the importance of learning by individuals, this paper demonstrates that over and beyond that, groups provide daily experiences that stimulate distinctive and valuable learning that is other than the learning by the individual group members. Firstly, we briefly introduce some basic principles of complexity theory, and show how, together with the concept of a ‘co-present group’ (between 2 and about 12 individuals), these ideas will enable us to identify novel understandings of the communal becoming and learning that occurs both within such groups and from the mutual interactions between such groups.
We argue that because of the widespread societal focus on learning as an essentially individual activity, the powerful learning that can arise both within co-present groups themselves and from their mutual interactions with one another has largely gone unnoticed. We demonstrate the explanatory value of these novel understandings of communal becoming and learning by providing two major case studies in which group learning was and continues to be absolutely crucial to the attainment of satisfactory outcomes. Both concern major recent international events: the 2018 Thai cave rescue of a trapped football team (a very localised experience, but one that has reconfigured future cave rescues world-wide), and the COVID-19 pandemic (an ongoing world-wide challenge to humanity).
This paper investigates the role of education in fostering the relationships between humans, nature, and cultures for the sustainability of human life and the planet earth. The dominance of systemic thinking about education has been perpetuating knowledge that degenerates the environment and ecology for the sake of economic prosperity. This kind of educational approach seems less sensitive to ecological crises and more attuned to economic prosperity. This paper argues that education emerged from traditional wisdom heritage in South Asian context, which is often ignored in the Modern Education System, but can offer better approaches to foster collective and collaborative efforts to serve ecological responsibilities. Such an education system could lead to overcoming environmental, social and economic hazards, thereby establishing sustainable life on the planet. Using the theoretical referents of traditional wisdom heritage prevailing in South Asian communities, the paper uses three key ideas: a) interdependence b) coexistence and c) eco-spiritual pedagogy to prepare the future citizen to live in the safe and secure planet for all species.
Sustained globalization, together with threats posed by climate change, armed conflict and pandemics, are exacerbating a sense of uncertainty in how children and young people live their lives and prepare for the future. This paper argues that textbooks and pedagogy represent potentially transformative strategies to restructure young people’s learning and expand their social and emotional capacities as they make the journey to adulthood.
The pedagogical strategies and instructional materials prevalent in many schools today rely too heavily on a kind of teaching and learning that implies and conveys a sense of certainty. As a result, the strategies and materials fail to help teachers integrate dispositions such as flexibility, resilience and self-direction alongside academic learning into their daily practice. This serves to undermine deeper student learning.
We argue that innovative curriculum, textbooks and pedagogy should promote students’ ability to flourish in rapidly changing times. They should facilitate approaches to teaching and learning that prepare both teachers and learners to respond to uncertainty. Such approaches recognize the abiding value of both cognitive and affective learning and acknowledge the need for both conceptual mastery and open-ended learning.
Drawing on universal principles while focusing mainly on low-and middle-income countries, the paper proposes embedding social and emotional learning as well as community and societal values into curriculum and learning materials. It also explores the essential role of teachers’ pedagogy in incorporating these dispositions and values. In order to achieve this, we propose the concept of ‘strong textbook content’, in which academic concepts are complemented by examples of their relevance to students’ lives, with particular emphasis on examples that support positive student agency. We also propose the idea of ‘strong pedagogy’, whereby pedagogical support is embedded into textbooks and other education materials.
The vision of teaching and learning described in this paper requires the development of new or reworked education materials and a reimagining of approaches to teacher preparation and ongoing professional support. Time and resources will be needed for curriculum and textbook writers to identify contextualized content and prepare ‘strong–strong’ materials. With these innovations in place, young people of today and tomorrow can be guided to develop a more positive and wider sense of identity and efficacy as they acquire lifelong learning skills to help them traverse their future lives.
This background paper will explore what it means to radically reconfigure education for 2050. In the call for radical reconfiguration, we propose another understanding of the word radical that includes an ecocentric, life-affirming understanding that roots education in a life code of value and in a living community of relations. We also invoke the label of conservatism to reclaim the word by looking forward to 2050 and asking the question, what do we want to conserve (Bowers, 2003)? In confronting the challenges we face as a species on this planet, thinking deeply about conservation and what we want to conserve takes on new meaning and may point a way forward.
In this paper, we propose an educational transformation guided by widely shared societal values that provide the resolve to shift education in more expansive and life-affirming directions. The goals of education are aligned with an ethos of life and living; it is generative and generational, and dedicated to conserving how humans as a species can continue to live well and sustainably on this planet. We look at the deeply entrenched theoretical assumptions, foundational metaphors and discourses that shape our understanding of education today. We examine the transformative power of inclusion, diversity and culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) that supports the development of a positive sense of self, community, and belonging. Rapidly evolving global events provide space to question societal and economic structures that support unsustainable practices, inequity, disparity, and ecological destruction. Finally, we look to theories of change, and a vision of educational governance dedicated to reshaping education for a sustainable future, for de-centralization, enhancing local voice and agency, while enlarging democratic power.
In an essay in 1974, the economist E.F. Schumacher (1997) wrote, “The volume of education continues to increase, yet so do pollution, exhaustion of resources and the dangers of ecological catastrophe. If still more education is to save us, it will be education of a different kind: an education that takes us into the depths of things.” Education is often put forward as a panacea for the world’s problems. What is rarely asked is: “What kind of education?”
Knowledge Production, Access and Governance
Le paradigme éducatif monoculturel s’apparente à un rouleau compresseur qui broie sur son passage des savoirs locaux aux dimensions multiples (technique, magique, religieuse, relationnelle, rationnelle…) qui lui paraissent irrationnels ou résiduels, alors qu’une bonne partie de ces savoirs joue un rôle très important dans la durabilité humaine et planétaire. Si les écoles et les sociétés du futur veulent réduire les pratiques conscientes et inconscientes de destruction des connaissances locales et autochtones dans les pays du Sud et du Nord, elles doivent inviter les titulaires de ces savoirs à les enseigner et à les utiliser sans contrainte afin de renforcer leur résilience et d’optimiser leur transmission aux générations actuelles et futures. La valorisation de la diversité des savoirs, des parcours historiques, des temporalités, des cultures humaines, des langues, des visions du monde, des modes de pensée et d’action permettra à l’Éducation du futur de faire face à la violence monoculturelle. Les systèmes éducatifs du futur devraient être fondés sur une écologie des savoirs, en ce sens qu’ils sont appelés à articuler les savoirs du Sud et les savoirs du Nord dans la perspective de fabriquer des humains lococentrés, allocentrés et planétocentrés capables de saisir des unités dialectiques dans le flux kaléidoscopique des faits humains et naturels.
As a people, we know that no community is complete without the other. No society is complete in itself. The “Other” opens us, enlarges us. Without the otherness of the other, the self is incomplete and even vulnerable. What is true of society is true of knowledge. No knowledge is complete in itself. No knowledge is complete without the dreams of the other. Hospitality, reciprocity, generosity, plurality -- without these, no “commons” of knowledge is possible (Visvanathan 2016). Firstly, we need an “Education” that is enlarged beyond the western practice of schools and subjects, and that is deepened to fill the empty spaces in our inclusive imaginary, which should be occupied with diverse knowledges - traditional knowledge, indigenous knowledge, civilizational knowledges from all parts of the world (UNESCO Science Agenda, 2000). Secondly, a context must be created in which the democratic imagination and conversation is constructed between the knowledge systems for emerging leaders across the disciplines and sectors. A new approach to decision making in governance, in science and the educational field that seeks to integrate questions of global ethics, learning and plurality. A new governance model of local-global interface focusing on issues of sustainability, and fostering an increased consciousness of a human mission in a complex world is needed urgently. Such new governance should be underpinned by a lived ethics, not compliance driven ethics that is commonplace today. The framework of governance as we know it fetishizes information over knowledge as an ecology. This must change. The epistemics of governance must be worked out in terms of a new vocabulary to replace the present model of governance with is puritan and quite unnuanced about the suffering it creates (Odora Hoppers 2018). Thirdly, knowledge systems need to learn from and validate one another. Indigenous ways of living/knowing opens to us the crucial distinction between “frugal subsistence” and “poverty” (Gupta 1999). Education should produce leaders who must look beyond the “classroom” and its world of objects, categories and restrictive logic to foster a wider understanding of science, history, technologies, and cultural sciences as practiced by other knowledge systems. Innovations that come from this education goes beyond innovation from the laboratories to innovations from below (Mashelkar, 2002). A new sustainable platform for dialogue between knowledge systems should emerge in which the present subordinate cultures can find words to articulate its values and knowledge in public without duress (Odora Hoppers, 2018).
Access to schools and other institutions built on social progress offers a way to move toward a better future. Working toward this progress, educators at all levels seek out ways to provide access to marginalized groups. In doing so, however, this move opens the knowledges and ways of being of these groups to new forms of governance and control. A tension thus arises of how to welcome different ways of being and knowing as part of an emergent global commons that benefits all of humanity and the planet without submitting these knowledges to new forms of domination.This background paper outlines a conceptual methodology for local and indigenous knowledges to engage and influence education as a global common good while simultaneously resisting the conforming logics that aim to configure these knowledges into existing frameworks. Notions of incompleteness, refusal, and speculation act as strategies to make space for knowledge in its many forms to act as a common good for humanity and the planet. Building on these strategies, the paper posits that institutions as well as less structured sites may act as mechanisms to generate and exchange knowledge throughout the world.
Contemporary formal African education has been deficient since its inception as it was designed to negate, suppress, and eliminate African culture, promoting inadvertent and deliberate “epistemicide”. The system promoted an individualist ethos in conflict with the African collective ethos, which is grounded on an uBuntu paradigm and its varied forms. In its philosophy, this received system was also gendered and unequal, with limited access and a less valued curriculum designed for the female population.
African countries acquired their independence through the second half of the 20th century. Although significant progress for general enrollment and increased female participation have been made since then, the education system still carries the above attributes. Hence, African girls and women constitute the majority of the non-formally educated/functionally “illiterate” population and are underrepresented in higher education, particularly in the STEAM fields. Consequently, many of them, especially those in rural communities, only receive the devalued African indigenous education in order to acquire certain skills necessary to function in society.
The convergence of gender inequality in the formal system and the devaluation of indigenous knowledge systems has translated into African women’s marginalization, limited participation in the production of knowledge and policymaking. Interestingly, however, the search for medication and protection against COVID-19 has revived consciousness and appreciation of African indigenous knowledge systems in the search for preventative and curative means utilizing plant-based medicine, thus reconnecting with nature.
The main contribution in this paper is to critically examine entrenched policies and practices that reproduce gender gap and propose a mechanism that will disrupt the vicious cycle of marginality and harness a new system with a fusion of the system inherited from colonial experience and the indigenous African knowledge systems in order to foster equal participation of all, toward holistic social progress.
While the flourishing transdisciplinary field of futures studies has contributed to the production of educational imaginaries and policy mobilizations, for a number of reasons these formal efforts largely reside in the hands of those outside of the teaching profession. Through an analytical framework that maps the ways that teacher organizations currently ‘use the future’, the paper explores the question: How can teacher unions engage with the academic community to ensure that professional understanding shapes knowledge production and governance in education? Teacher organizations face diverse operational and strategic challenges amidst the growing precarity of public education globally. However, the core commitments of care and solidarity as counter narratives to intensive capitalism offer an invitation to consider new ways of working with academia to ensure that professional knowledge shapes knowledge production and governance in education. Such collaborations also offer educational researchers opportunities to pursue impactful critical research with the teaching profession and the communities it serves. Two case studies from the Union of Education Norway (UEN) illustrate possibilities for teacher organizations to democratize educational futures: the development of a strategic plan for research to redesign the profession’s relationship to research communities, and an international network of schools to rethink teaching and learning in mathematics. Both case studies, as well as other nascent possibilities on the horizon, illustrate how new approaches to futures thinking can help forge more sustained relationships between teacher organizations and academia.
The paper discusses uncertainties associated with knowledge production, sharing and distribution in societies, especially as managed through education systems- in terms of future roles of the state, supranational entities and private initiatives in the quest to achieve justice and equity in the access to vital knowledge.
Changes sparked by the increasing role of knowledge as an asset in terms of economic worth, invite us to review issues of circulation and distribution of knowledge through the education system as well as through digital networks. At the same time, actionable knowledge is gaining ground in the educative debates about what is to be considered an “education”, because purely academic knowledge seems not enough to keep with the 21st century challenges.
To imagine possible evolutions of these issues, a set of future scenarios is developed here to foster thoughts and reflections on how the relation between knowledge and education could evolve in changing societies, by identifying possible disruptions to be considered by decision makers in planning ahead, instead of waiting for them to happen (see e.g. Fullan et al. 2020).
The choices made by societies regarding the circulation, production and use of knowledge, no matter if they are a result from participative, democratic processes involving stakeholders from different sectors, or arise from planned top-down interventions, or even from not deciding to change, will shape the opportunities of the future generations to achieve a more just, equitable, and sustainable way of life.
Citizenship and Participation
Actualizing a preferred future relies on citizens who are prepared to effectively engage perhaps the most fundamental civic question: ‘What should we do?’ (Levine, 2016; Dishon & Ben-Porath, 2018). It is a question that arises when people face a problem, must reach a decision, or must figure out how to flourish together as a group. This question is closely tied to the key question posed by the International Commission on the Futures of Education: ‘What do we want to become?’ Engaging both questions is a useful way for us to envision education in the future. These questions push us to consider not only what we merely cando, but also what is right for us to do in light of our responsibilities to others. Civic reasoning is the sort of reasoning we do as we answer the question, ‘What should we do?’ Civic discourse is a means or method by which people engage in civic reasoning. Efforts to envision improved education and futures should foreground civic reasoning and discourse as both a means and ends of citizen participation. They are important for the ways in which they directly engage citizens and for their products, which lead to future civic action and better futures.
Testing and inclusion are two global education policy agendas with seemingly divergent aims. While inclusion suggests that every student can make a valuable contribution to their learning environment, testing has the capacity to exclude those who do not attain the ‘right’ knowledge in the ‘right’ way. National policies of testing and inclusion therefore have implications for students’ participation in education and, implicitly, their future citizenship. Drawing on data from national-, regional-and school-level policy document analysis and qualitative interviews with policymakers, school leaders, teachers and students, this background paper explores the testing and inclusion agendas in five national contexts: Argentina, China, Denmark, England (UK) and Israel. It is argued that testing and inclusion, in the context of wider political, socio-economic, geographical and cultural forces, have combined to marginalise particular groups of students in each national jurisdiction. Moreover, the inclusion agenda is challenged by: i) the more dominant testing agenda; ii) limited engagement with broader conceptual understandings of inclusion; and iii) insufficient financial investment. Although the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated social and educational inequalities, students in certain contexts benefited from new approaches to learning. In light of the challenges and opportunities presented by the current health crisis, we conclude our paper with proposals for future policies of assessment and inclusion.
This paper discusses the importance of historical thinking for futures-oriented policy in education. It proposes that a concept of ‘reparative futures’ can be a generative basis for knowledge and learning not only in formal educational institutions, but in community organisations, workplaces and in all sites of cultural exchange. The idea of reparative futures signals a commitment to identify and recognise the injustices visited on, and experienced by, individuals and communities in the past. It understands that these past injustices, even when they appear to be distant in time or ‘over’, will continue to endure in people’s lives in material and affective ways unless, and until, they are consciously and carefully addressed. Although there are certainly different languages and forms of reparative address, we suggest that critical practices of historical thinking can offer a vital starting point for critiquing and reformulating the interrelations of past, present and future.
Our discussions focus specifically on the importance of acknowledging and seeking justice for enduring histories of racial and colonial domination. We argue that UNESCO’s present programme on the Futures of Education needs to be underpinned by a concept of the future that is reparative if it is to challenge rather than reproduce such systems of domination. The historical thinking we propose for this work involves the creation of educational relationships that are centred on processes of dialogue and exchange and which proceed explicitly from an anti-racist position of fundamental human equality. Such modes of education, and the radical humanism they embrace, are foundational to, and are indeed a necessary precondition for, imagining and realising futures that are just.
Most attempts to build better futures have proceeded along different lines. In the first part of this paper we examine UNESCO’s efforts at the end of the Second World War to identify and install through education a new ‘universal’ humanism, one which might dispense with hierarchies of ‘race thinking’. However, we show how UNESCO’s search for a new humanism in this period rested on norms of social evolution that denied the ‘coevalness’ of others and assumed a kind of tutelary power over peoples and territories that needed to ‘catch up’ with the West. Busy identifying deficits and filling gaps, experts associated with UNESCO’s activities rarely interrogated their operating assumptions or addressed the racialised violence which structured the global economy and rendered their curative interventions ‘necessary’.Couched in benevolent, colour-blind rhetoric and favouring planning instruments that promoted abstraction and simplification, they set about working on a future premised on the need to govern and ‘develop’ the lives of ‘backward’ populations. We discuss this as the ‘chronopolitics’ of development, and show through a case study of UNESCO-led activity in this period how such technocratic projects tended to negate, or at least radically simplify, the past. In doing so, these futures-oriented policies in education, under the guise of universal humanism, enabled colonial and racialized modes of domination to endure.
How might UNESCO’s present effort to formulate futures-oriented policy in education address this history? In the second part of the paper the practices associated with reparative futures are set out in greater detail. Our focus here is on the epistemic and dialogic conditions of reparation –that is,its educational premise. This does not displace or diminish juridical or material forms of reparation, but rather, we take collective learning –particularly through historical thinking and practice –as a necessary basis for any form of reparative redress. An education for reparative futures would be alive to the structures of power that animate social life, and which have produced deeply uneven opportunities for individuals and communities to flourish. It would involve attending to the epistemic erasures and active silences, political interests and interpretive closures, of the production and legitimisation of knowledge through educational and historical practice itself. After all, these are the knowledge-politics that have shaped past and present racialised hierarchies, including judgments of whose histories are considered important to know and to learn.
We propose that an education for reparative futures would embed the practice of asking ongoing and difficult questions with the past: cultivating spaces to remember, create, explore and discuss injustices; fostering an ethics of listening and dialogue capable of generating new perspectives; seeking to understand the histories, voices, and experiences that have been silenced or erased through assimilative forms of education; and grappling with the irresolvable difficulties of redemptive thought. It is an education that, like the abolitionist thinking of Black feminism, is defined by its imaginative potential rather than by the constraints of predetermined or delegated outcomes: it is dedicated to building new relationships of reciprocity, modes of collaborative interpretation and collective organisation to imagine life beyond all forms of injustice. Learning with the past –particularly past struggles over the future –is crucial, we argue, for holding open education as a mode of critique, rather than allowing it to sustain systems of domination.
Millions of Africans, including peasants and pastoralists, minority ethnic and religious groups, and women, are unable to access their citizenship rights fully as their participation in the political, economic, social and cultural affairs of their countries are severely impaired. The factors that impede the participation of such social groups are many. This paper examines the most important of these factors and explores how a new educational system may enable African countries to overcome the factors that hinder participation of large segments of their populations.
The Anthropocene Epoch has witnessed the rise of right wing populist leaders and movements that have reinforced the borders of the nation state, promoting an insular worldview driven by an ideology of capitalist expansion at the expense of civic, human, non-human, environmental and ecological rights. At the same time, social movements and campaigns in countries across the Global North and South are challenging the status quo, holding local and global leaders accountable. These social movements, particularly those led by students are central to any discussion on the Futures of Education. This paper focuses on student-led movements, in particular the School Strikes for Climate (SS4C), Fridays For Future (FFF), Decolonizing the Curriculum, and Rhodes Must Fall that have gained transnational appeal. These movements have been selected as they take on the dual challenge of a climate and environmental crisis that is intrinsically linked to a local and global hierarchical structure informed by the historical experience of colonialism and Imperialism. These movements provide insights into the importance of reimagining education as decentering the human in relation to the land and the community, dismantling the rigid borders between formal, community and inter-generational learning thereby redefining what is considered legitimate knowledge, and engaging in a pedagogy of land through an intersectional feminist praxis that blurs the disciplinary distinctions between the Humanities, the Natural Sciences, and the Social Sciences. The paper therefore reimagines the Futures of Education through a Critical Pedagogy and Feminist Praxis (CPFP) where citizenship moves beyond the social contract with a nation state, inculcating civic values towards the land, and its human and non-human inhabitants.
In envisaging education for participation leading up to 2050, and beyond, we have focused on the nature of change and the need for civic education to help learners manage the ambiguity and uncertainty that will accompany the many changes yet to come. We argue that developing the capacities to manage ambiguity and change are critical to enabling membership and participation within societies in the future.
In this paper, drawing on historical and contemporary issues, we present a framework to understand processes of change. To avoid the dangers of predicting ‘more of the same,’ or prescribing solutions based on our vantage from 2020, we deliberately refrain from projecting or predicting the issues that will manifest in 2050. This is simply because the 2020 perspective will be out of date by 2050.
We consider that an ‘effective citizen’ will not just develop the abilities and dispositions to engage actively in civic participation for the purpose of enhancing justice and rights, locally and more widely, but will be forced to managing the uncertainties and ambiguities accompanying change. There is therefore, a dire need to prepare young people manage and productively utilise change more effectively, recognising that society is rarely continuous or ‘progressive,’ but often subject to rupture, upheaval, and requires new narratives that create new possibilities for membership and participation. We equally suggest the need to actively consider and engage with signposts to negative and pessimistic projections, not just idealistic optimism, progressivism and liberalism, and the resolution of 2020’s concerns.
We draw on three examples: migration, communication and technology, and the ruptures brought about by climate change to illustrate key ideas about the management of change through education. We recommend that civic education can be constructively adapted to engage with these ideas by recognizing the power inherent in narratives, counter-narratives, utopias, and dystopias as pedagogic and relational tools in education. We present six modes or states of change and the implications for teaching and learning within each of these modes.
We propose that together Social Contract Pedagogy (SCP) and Global Citizenship Education (GCE) offer a comprehensive vision including key principles and core elements that are important for rethinking education and shaping the future of the world. We introduce the novel concept of Social Contract Pedagogy (SCP) as a means to adapt the social contract in liberal democracies which has been (conceptually) located at the level of the state, to the level of the classroom and other pedagogically relevant contexts. A key feature of this pedagogy is the negotiation of values and norms in ways that maintain cohesion and inclusion and avoids too much power in the hands of sectarian extremes (of any kind) which tend to impose their views on others, oppress and exclude. This includes using fake news, denying scientific debates and/or any extremely politicized interpretations of evidence and facts to obfuscate or deny consequences of individual and group choices and behavior, but also ‘othering’ of any kind whether from the political right or the political left. In our view, this is an essential premise for the education of democratic citizens. Citizenship education of this kind is seen as essential for the survival and growth of liberal democracies in the future.
Work and Economic Security
It is commonly assumed today that education is crucial for meeting the challenges concerning the futures of work. But education cannot make up for inadequacies in other policy domains that have caused and continue to cause declining job quality as well as mass unemployment and under-employment. We suggest that preoccupation with aspirational curriculum reforms like ‘21st century skills’ and ‘micro-credentials’ promoted to achieve employment growth can be a distraction from what successful education systems can achieve. At their worst, they compromise the capacity for education to play what constructive role it can play in meeting the challenges surrounding the futures of work. We present the argument in four parts:
- Section One considers the context in which education will be operating for the foreseeable future. Climate change will be fundamental. The other key issues will be changing life courses (especially changing gender relations); technological change (especially automation and data-ification) and inequality.
- Section Two highlights the significance of two currently neglected but crucial guiding concepts: labour demand and education as a distinctive domain. These concepts enable us to understand what education can and cannot do concerning the futures of work.
- Section Three argues that at its best, education helps people master bodies of conceptual knowledge as well as relationships between bodies of knowledge, nurtures learning dispositions, and equips people with skills and capacities that support the common good. These qualities enable people to handle changing life courses and challenges arising from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a world drowning in information. Education can also support new configurations of expertise made possible by new technologies and new configurations of power.
- Section Four considers policy implications. It highlights the importance of building effective institutions: agile stability in education systems and new organisational forms for occupational citizenship in labour markets.
Finally, in the conclusion we argue that while education cannot solve most problems concerning the futures of work, there can be no solution to these problems without quality, enduring institutions supporting education and occupational coherence in the labour market.
This background paper explores different possible futures of work and the prospects of economic security in Latin America with a horizon of 2050. It does this by considering and analysing the impact in the region of three major tendencies that drive the transformations of global work and economic security: automation, digitalisation and transformations of social security systems. These global trends are considered in the light of structural peculiarities of the region. The background paper concludes by turning to alternative possibilities stemming from the specificities of the region. It discusses the implications of Latin America’s volatility, expected transformations of the international division of labour and the dynamics of social conflict.
We examine the trajectory of skills in the process of the structural transformation of economies such as India and from that basis conjecture about how the spread of automation will influence the acquisition of skills. Globalization via trade and financial liberalization reduced the incentive to subsidize education and gave an impetus to further informalization of the economy instead of providing regular formal jobs.
The historical experience of economies is of technological progress that had no impact on unemployment as it complemented workers at other tasks that had not been automated. We contend that advancements in computing power and Artificial Intelligence (AI) calls into question whether future technologies will continue to complement humans in non-routine tasks whilst substituting them in routine tasks.
Future education then will be about preparing individuals for those tasks at which machines will not complement them. This requires communication skills and the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams, coding literacy, and the ability to view failure as an experience for the next employment opportunity. Correlative policies to improve female labour force participation such as the provision of childcare and safe work environments and public investment in training as well as tax credits will also be required.
This paper develops a constructively critical perspective on the application of digital technologies in education – what is sometimes referred to as ‘educational technology’ and ‘edtech’, which encompasses the use of digital technologies to support teaching, learning and educational work. In particular, we reflect on what can be taken from the past 40 years of initiatives, interventions and policies that have aimed to mobilise digital technologies to change the day-to-day practices of education for students and teachers. This history (alongside recent experiences of pandemic remote schooling) points to the limitations of technology to transform long-standing patterns of educational opportunities and outcomes. Yet, as enthusiasms for the digitisation of education continue in light of emerging AI and virtual education technologies, the paper lays out some foundations for the development of ‘non-stupid’ optimism about educational technologies. We argue that this requires policy, tech industry and education actors to look beyond the charismatic allure of the ‘techno-fix’, and instead work toward forms of technology use that can support and sustain the longstanding and hard work of addressing the social and material obstacles to educational and social equalities. If we are concerned to create educational practices that work towards the common good and towards sustainable futures, then our first concern must be to attend to the causes of existing injustices, individualisation and unsustainability and to proceed from there. While digital technology can be an adjunct to this wider work, digital technology alone is not capable of creating sustainable educational futures.
This paper argues that ideas of the future play a central role in educational thinking, policy and practice and that there is an urgent need to reflect upon how these ideas are produced and the sorts of work that they are doing in education. It outlines 5 broad orientations or traditions for thinking about and working with ideas of the future in education:
Orientation I: ‘Educational Futures’ is concerned with the question ‘what might education be like in the future’, it takes the form of scenarios, projections and visions of the future of education and is familiar in consultancy, policy, social movement and financial investment fields. Orientation II: ‘Education as preparation for the future’ is familiar in development arena and government policy, as well as characterising mainstream educational discourse, and is concerned with adapting young people to fit envisaged futures, or equipping them to create desired futures. Orientation III: ‘Education about futures’ engages with pedagogic questions about how students might be supported to think reflexively about futures and is concerned both with Futures Literacy and developing students ‘capacity to aspire’. Orientation IV: ‘Liberating education from the future’ derives from new developments in educational philosophy, posthumanism, complexity theory and quantum physics and questions the association of education with futures, making the case for education as a time of suspension from futures. Orientation V: ‘Reparative Futures’ is concerned with education as a space for addressing the injustices of the past and for radically pluralising and provincialising western temporalities.
The paper outlines the distinctive contribution and core questions and practices in each of these orientations as well as the intergenerational tensions and ethical questions that they raise. It also draws attention to the emerging field of financial futures speculation in education and the risks that this poses to education.
From these five orientations, the paper proposes nine areas of ethical examination for ethical futures work in education: reflexivity and multiplicity; transparency; curating decay; repair and healing; intergenerational responsibility; emergence and observation; organising hope; limiting pathological speculation; and care for the distinctive temporality of education. It concludes by offering nine questions for policy makers, consultants, researchers, educators or students seeking to work with the idea of the future in education. These are:
What and whose knowledges are being used to create these ideas of the future and where are the absences? What processes were used to make these ideas of the future, and why? How does this work address the necessity of decline as well as the possibilities of the new? What are the injustices upon which futures are being envisaged and how are these being addressed? How do principles of intergenerational justice inform the practice? Who will attend to the consequence of these ideas of the future being put into the world and how? What is the role of these futures in creating hopeful politics and practices in the present? Might these futures be used for pathological and extractive speculation, if so, how might this be prevented? How can the distinctive temporality of education be preserved not subordinated to the futures proposed?
These questions form the basis for self-reflection and dialogue amongst educators, futures professionals, governments and and others seeking to work ethically with futures in education.
Rapid societal changes and unexpected crises call for other conceptualizations of education. On the one hand, education in the post-truth era has been called to strengthen the focus on information literacy and critical thinking, specifically within the context of digital information and fake news. On the other hand, societal disruptions such as COVID-19 show the importance of dealing with unexpected and complex adversity, and education is called to focus on pedagogies of preparedness and frustration tolerance. The golden thread between these events is the importance of resilience and empowerment as key features of future education, both in enabling the learner to become a critical thinker, and to become a resilient citizen. Combining both perspectives, as well as framing competences within the capabilities approach, provides necessary boundary conditions to lead flourishing lives in the future.
This background paper explores some of the tensions inherent in the visions of knowledge, participation and learner autonomy and freedom embedded in the Futures of Education documents. The normative positions about what education should be are in some ways at odds with the cultural pluralism and relativism also promoted by the Futures of Education. The paper situates this vision of education within the wider literature on learner-centred pedagogy (LCP) as a travelling policy, including some of the challenges faced in implementing it. The ‘pedagogical nexus’ of LCP embraces knowledge as fluid, and expects learner participation and learner autonomy; however, it is helpful to see these as questions of degree rather than absolutes. The background paper attempts to navigate these tensions in a way that allows ideals to be articulated while acknowledging that when they are contextualised in different settings their observable forms and philosophical underpinnings are likely to lead to variations in interpretation and practice. However, a rights-based perspective helps to establish some boundaries.
At a time of the multiple failures of hegemonic economic and administrative systems and the destruction of ecologies, there is an urgent need to recognise that common global problems require diverse local solutions. Similarly, questioning the limitations of mass higher education, especially intermediate education (post-school), that has rendered vast masses of youth into conditions of unemployability and precarity, must compel us to possibilities of instituting alternative, decentralised learning spaces. Engaging and integrating UNESCO’s call for new imaginaries for ecological sustainability, knowledge production, citizenship participation, and work security, this paper will highlight the possibilities of democratic, decentralised, and diverse learning spaces that bridge the divides between industry versus agriculture, urban versus rural, and which can be foundations on which new economies and societies can be built. Such learning centres/institutes can be located in specific ecological/regional zones and can be tailored to meet local ecological, agricultural and artisanal, manufacturing, and processing needs and cater to the linguistic and cultural abilities of the region. Crafting new pedagogies for such courses will provide youth complementary skills for self-realisation, new livelihoods, collective citizenship responsibility and social capital building.
While major gains in access to education have grown in recent years, the quality of learning—especially among marginalized populations—will likely fall short of UN 2030 targets. Many factors interact with learning and an education system’s ability to adequately provide positive human development and wellbeing. Confronted with major social, economic, health and planetary changes in the coming decades, we expect to see significant transformations in educational systems worldwide to attempt to meet the enormous challenges of pervasive global disparities. In the present paper, such issues are considered in three historical timeframes: progress over the past half-century; the near-term future of learning systems; and an analysis of long-term projections of both obstacles and opportunities in the coming decades. What is both novel and essential in this time of major challenges, including with the COVID-19 pandemic, will be a renewed focus on the inequities in learning that are engendered at a greater pace than before, and that will likely be exacerbated in the future. Science and innovation in education will be the way forward, along with an enhanced search for improved learning and social good.