With accelerated climate change the fragility of our planet is becoming more and more apparent. Persistent inequalities, social fragmentation, and political extremism are bringing many societies to a point of crisis. Advances in digital communication, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology have great potential but also raise serious ethical and governance concerns, especially as promises of innovation and technological change have an uneven record of contributing to human flourishing.
Knowledge and learning are humanity’s greatest renewable resources for responding to challenges and inventing alternatives. Yet, education does more than respond to a changing world. Education transforms the world.
This initiative will mobilize the many rich ways of being and knowing in order to leverage humanity’s collective intelligence. It relies on a broad, open consultative process that involves youth, educators, civil society, governments, business and other stakeholders. The work will be guided by a high-level International Commission of thought-leaders from diverse fields and different regions of the world. In November 2021 the commission will publish a report designed to share a forward-looking vision of what education and learning might yet become and offer a policy agenda. The Futures of Education: Learning to Become initiative will catalyze a global debate on how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet.
This project uses the concept of futures in the plural in order to recognize that there is a rich diversity of ways of knowing and being around the world. The plural form also acknowledges that there are multiple dimensions to the future and that there will likely be various desirable and undesirable futures – all of which will vary greatly depending on who you are and where you stand. Rather than attempting to chart a single future, looking at futures in the plural validates multiple possible and desirable futures of humanity on our shared planet.
UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative also approaches the future as a space for democratic design that is connected to, but not limited by, past and present. It builds on dedicated evidence-based trend analysis that can help shine light on anticipated challenges and opportunities. This is complemented by participatory mechanisms for envisioning new possible futures of education. Consultations across world regions will tap the visions and aspirations of a wide range of stakeholders under the understanding that innovation and ownership of the future need to be locally anchored as well as globally discussed.
The project embraces a fluid, iterative, and collective approach to futures-making. The goal is to generate discussion and action on the role of education, knowledge and learning in view of the predicted, possible and preferred futures of humanity and the planet.
The concept of Learning to Become points to a philosophy of education and an approach to pedagogy that views learning as a process of continual unfolding that is ongoing and life-long. To think in terms of “becoming” is to invoke a line of thought that emphasizes potentials, rejects determinism and expresses a flexible openness to the new.
Learning to Become also invokes the need to develop the capacity to imagine a good and fulfilling life. Around the globe, for the many that live in conditions of poverty, exclusion, displacement and violence, the future can appear more as a set of shrinking possibilities than a world of hope and promise. When human aspiration is wasted, the world suffers.
As we come to terms with human-caused changes to the planet and face the possibilities of fundamental transformations in social organization, human consciousness and human identity, humanity needs to devote attention to the question: what do we want to become? Knowledge and learning are at the core of transformations in human minds and societies. Learning to Become invites us to become something we have not yet become.
Education is a key piece of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite the scope of these global commitments and the expected achievements, there is still an urgent need to look beyond this fast-approaching horizon. While the Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action lays out a roadmap for the transformation of education systems and affirms a central commitment to inclusion and equity, we must still ask what education might yet become – and what education might yet enable us to become. UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative uses the horizon of 2050 and beyond in order to anticipate and shape both nearer and more distant futures.
UNESCO global reports on education
Part of a UNESCO tradition
The Futures of Education: Learning to Become is the latest in a series of global reports commissioned by UNESCO to grapple with the challenges that the future holds in store and to inspire change and issue policy recommendations for education.
The first of these reports, Learning to Be: the world of education today and tomorrow was developed in 1971-1972 and prepared by a commission chaired by Edgar Faure, a former Prime Minister and Minister of Education of France. The Learning to Be report warned of the risks of inequalities, privation and suffering and emphasized the universal features education. The Faure report called for the continued expansion of education and for lifelong education.
From 1993-1996 a second international commission under the leadership of Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission and former French Minister of Economy and Finance, prepared a report that was published as Learning: The Treasure Within. This report further emphasized the importance of a humanistic approach to education and established “the four pillars” of education, namely: learning to be, learning to know, learning to do, and learning to live together.
Among other important UNESCO publications on education in the intervening years is the 2015 report. Rethinking Education: towards a global common good? which proposed a rethinking of education and knowledge as global common goods.
All of these initiatives, as well as UNESCO’s work broadly across the Education Sector, inform the global report currently under preparation. The Futures of Education: Learning to Become report (forthcoming, late 2021) will build on this tradition and lay out an agenda for education policy dialogue and action at multiple levels.
Shaping global priorities for the future
UNESCO’s International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) has launched a Futures of Higher Education project that supports the Futures of Education through a broad expert and public consultation process and research literature review on how higher education can contribute to better futures for all in 2050.
The Dehli-based UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) is embarked on an International Science and Evidence based Education (ISEE) assessment that is also contributing to the UNESCO Futures of Education initiative.
UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative has also contributed to the #ShapingOurFuture dialogue that took place on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. More information on this year of dialogue is available here.