Review: OECD’s Future Scenarios for Schooling

This 2020 OECD report provides four scenarios on the future of schooling to “support long-term strategic thinking in education.” The time frame of these scenarios is 20 years, long enough to allow for substantial change but short enough not to end up in science fiction. Future predictions tend to fail more often than not, and therefore the OECD decided to imagine a diverse set of scenarios to explore potential implications for education policy-makers.

The first scenario called “Schooling extended” is the most conservative one, with only incremental change happening within the next two decades. Central governments continue to be the main decision-makers and the “bureaucratic character of school systems continues”. Formal qualifications system determines success and student-teacher relations remain similar to today. Digitalisation support student autonomy but only to a certain extent. Lifelong learning gradually increases in importance. There is limited but increasing influence from the private sector and international providers.

According to the second scenario called “Education outsourced” the public sector’s dominance of the education system is diminished. “Diverse forms of private and community-based initiatives emerge as an alternative to schooling.” Parents’ and employers’ involvement in education has increased significantly. Private providers play a much bigger role, in some places replacing the public sector. The bureaucratic and formal system has become much more flexible. Students have more choice in selecting education providers. There is a mix of “home-schooling, tutoring, online learning and community-based teaching and learning”. The importance of traditional teachers has diminished and been replaced by digital tools. Learning is lifelong and integrated into the lives of all citizens.

According to the Scenario “Schools as learning hubs” schools get a much more central role in the community. “Schools are in this sense the centrepiece of wider, dynamically evolving local education ecosystems”. Teachers with “strong pedagogical knowledge and close connections to multiple networks” are important and could even step in to compensate the failings of adults. The schools could also be contributing to more “intergenerational exchange” by bringing people from all age groups together, learning side by side. In this scenario schools are much more “local” serving the interests of the immediate community instead of a global economy.

The last scenario “Learn as you go” is the most radical, depicting a future “marking the decline of established curriculum structures and dismantling of the school system.” It is the doomsday scenario for today’s education establishment. The whole teaching profession has disappeared, replaced by AI personal assistants and collective intelligence. Learning takes place everywhere and in various forms: “classes, lectures and various forms of tutoring may be commonplace both offline and on, some articulated by humans, others created by the machine.”

Verdict: Very thought-provoking scenarios, a must-read for people interested in the future of education. If you have little time just jump to Chapter 4 where the scenarios are described.

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