Whole Child Symposium

The Future of Schooling

In 2001, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identified scenarios for the future of schooling as part of its What Schools for the Future? report. The OECD, for those who may not be aware, are those same people based in Paris that put out the PISA scores that compare and rank countries' education systems.

Regardless of what we might think about PISA and ranking systems overall, the 2001 report is worth a look as it proposed three clusters of scenarios for where education may be in the not so distant future—education as a system and also as a social and economic enterprise. These clusters are the status quo, re-schooling, and de-schooling.

Status Quo

Status quo ("status quo extrapolated" or "extending the market model") foresees little change in systems, but an expansion in reaction and consequences. These scenarios continue to support strong bureaucracies, robust institutions, and vested interests, all with resistance to fundamental changes. This would be aided by continuing problems of poor school image and lack of funding. Consequences could include widespread dissatisfaction that leads to a reshaping of public school funding; rapid growth of "market driven" reform; and a greater divide between school quality, teachers, and even credentialing.

Does this sound familiar? It's certainly quite plausible.

"[The development of a much more market-oriented model for schooling] would be fueled by a substantial sense of dissatisfaction with established provision among 'strategic consumers,' especially articulate-middle class parents and political parties, combined with a culture where schooling is already viewed as much as a private as a public good."

"There is substantial interest in market approaches in some countries and quarters and many pertinent developments ... they cover a bewildering variety: the enhanced exercise of parental choice, including in some cases through vouchers; the involvement of the private sector in the running of schools ...; the public funding of 'private' institutions organized by particular cultural, religious or citizen groups; the corporate promotion of the e-learning market; and others."

"[In the geo-political dimension there is a] substantially reduced role for central providers and public education authorities."

"[The goals and functions would support] substantial tolerance of wide inequalities and exclusion. Possible tendency for greater homogeneity of learner groups."


But then, if that wasn't bad enough, they also forecast de-schooling ("an expanding of learner networks," but also leading to and caused by a "meltdown and teacher exodus"). This environment would be characterized by

"[An] abandonment of school institutions ... further stimulated by the extensive possibilities opened up by the Internet and continually developing forms of powerful and inexpensive information and communications technology. The result is the radical de-institutionalisation, even dismantling, of school systems."

De-schooling would increase opportunities for distance and cross-border learning, however it would also greatly increase exclusion from a quality education—especially for those most marginalized—and would increase inequity and widening the digital divide. Consequences could include:

"Widespread public and media dissatisfaction with the state of education in the face of the teacher recruitment crisis and growing sense of declining standards, especially in worst-affected areas."

"Widespread dissatisfaction with the institution called 'school'—its bureaucratic nature and perceived inability to deliver learning tailored to complex, diverse societies."

"[In the geo-political dimension,] community players and aggressive media companies are among those helping to 'disestablish' schools in national systems."

"Teacher rewards increase as part of measures to tackle shortages. Conditions of teaching worsen as numbers fall, with problems acute in worst- affected areas, exacerbating the sense of crisis."


Before we despair, there is a third forecast: Re-schooling ("schools as core social centers" and "focused learning organizations"). These scenarios would be characterized by high level of public trust and funding. Schools become the hub of the community and are seen as key to developing each community's social capital by "providing bulwark against fragmentation" of societies with greater priority given to social and community role of schools.

These schools would be aided by greater autonomy; with many focusing on developing a "knowledge agenda." Experimentation and innovation would be the norm and the there would be a commitment to lifelong learning for all. It could result in

"[A] strengthened, creative school institution available to all communities, meeting critical social responsibilities while silencing critics."

"Strong distinct schools reinvigorated by new organizational forms, less bureaucratic, more diverse."

"Inequalities reduced, but diversity widens and social cohesion strengthened."

"General erosion of 'high school walls.' Wide diversity of student body; greater inter-generational mixing and joint youth-adult activities."

So, where are we? Each idea sounds plausible and is probably in the midst of coming true somewhere in the world. Has it or is it coming true? Is the writing on the wall? What can or should we do? Follow the conversation here on the blog, share your thoughts in the comments and by e-mail, and pose your questions on Twitter using the hashtag #WCSymposium2014.

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