What is the future of education? Here's what the experts say

Leading Education
Early Childhood

JENNY BOND BIO: Jenny Bond has been teaching English and drama for two decades in private, public and selective high schools and primary schools in Sydney, Canberra and London. She is also a published novelist.

Schools have undergone radical transformation over the last 80 years – from chalkboards to interactive smartboards, and notebooks to iPads. In a time of unprecedented technological change, does the current education system future-proof students? 

In 2016, former US President Barack Obama told the Asia Society

“In a 21st-century world where jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an internet connection, where a child born in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi, where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know - education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it’s a prerequisite for success.”

In other words, schools should not be educating students for the world that exists today, but for the world of the future.

Today, in an increasingly globally-connected world, that means equipping students to be global citizens and have a global education. It’s an increasingly critical part of success in today’s world.

But what does that look like?

What is global education?

Global education emphasises the unity and interdependence of human society. Schools that possess a global philosophy ask students to see themselves as citizens of the world who contribute to a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.

These schools ask teachers to equip students with the skills necessary to work collaboratively with people from different cultures and backgrounds. It means teachers need to take a broader perspective of their role and view themselves not as cultivators of mathematicians, scientists or writers, but as cultivators of adult humans who feel connected to others and confident in facing the challenges of the future.

The global education approach focuses on helping students learn to work together, across cultures, to solve complex problems that may not have simple solutions. In this setting, students are required to think critically and creatively and, in the process, develop the capacity for lifelong learning.

It’s a vision that’s starting to take off in schools.

Snapshot of a global school

At New Century International Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, each grade focuses on one of the continents in the world and, on every grade-level teaching team, you’ll find an exchange teacher from the respective continent.

The school provides all students from kindergarten to year five with the opportunity to learn Chinese, as well as offering a Chinese language immersion program. With more than one billion people in the world speaking some form of Chinese, English is no longer the world’s dominant first language (only around 360 million people speak English as their first language).

New Century recognises that bilingual job applicants will be more attractive to multinational corporations of the future. And, with the number of multinational corporations on the rise from 7000 in the 1990s to 65,000 in 2013, the school is spot-on in recognising that jobs are becoming increasingly global.

The school’s teaching staff use an integrated online platform to access instructional frameworks, professional development modules, a searchable library of standards-aligned lesson plans and a community of educators committed to integrating global content into their classrooms.

What does this mean for employment? 

According to senior economist, Stijn Broeke at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “the cataclysmic scenario of a jobless future is not materialising”. 

Even so, a great deal of fear still surrounds the future of work. What workers find hardest to come to grips with is the increase of automation – the use of robots and artificial intelligence to carry out tasks previously done by human workers. 

Broeke believes this fear was ignited by inaccurate studies that predicted 50 per cent of jobs will disappear in the next 10 to 20 years. However, the OECD believes the risk posed by automation has been enormously exaggerated and, in actual fact, a more accurate figure of job loss is 14 per cent.

Doctor Christine Cunningham, a Senior Educator of Educational Leadership at Edith Cowan University, agrees. "About half of all work activities globally have the technical potential to be automated, but the proportion of work actually displaced by 2030 will likely be lower because of technical, economic and social factors that will slow down those changes," Dr Cunningham says. 

Even though job loss through automation will not be significant, globalisation will see workers shifting into more precarious employment. This is because global connectivity and labour platforms where work is conducted online means flexibility and fluidity in employment will rise. 

Multinationals will opt for independent contractors based internationally, rather than permanent employees. Employment will not be as stable and workers will be required to acquire new skills more often.

Finally, as working lives are getting longer, people will need to acquire new skills more frequently. Broeke calls this process ‘lifelong learning’.

Will university be necessary in the future?

All education will be necessary, vital even, according to Dr Cunningham.

“Even if there is enough work to ensure full employment by 2030, major transitions lie ahead that could match or even exceed the scale of historical shifts of agriculture and manufacturing,” she explains. 

“Because three to fourteen percent of the global workforce will need to switch occupational categories, all workforces will need to adapt as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines."

As a result, workers will be required to top-up their skills regularly. In this new environment universities, like schools, will have to redefine their approach. Driven by the new work paradigm, globalisation and rapid technological change, universities will need to reassess their role in the lifelong learning sphere.

“Education is here to stay,” Cunningham says. “For all countries, increased investment in education and workforce training will have to be a priority. In advanced economies, jobs that require only secondary education will be lost to automation while those jobs requiring a minimum of a bachelor's degree will grow.”

Universities of the future will offer students access to learning in real-time, from anywhere. Whether a short-cycle course or a degree course, this fluid learning experience would be available on-demand and will be customised to the individual student’s goals. Learning will switch seamlessly between on-campus, online and blended - whatever suits the student’s lifestyle and work in the global community.

With a Master of Education with ECU Online, you can develop a global perspective of education and its impact on curriculum, education systems and leadership within national and local contexts. In times of unprecedented change, this course will instil in you the confidence to strategically lead your people and organisation.

Find out more about the online Master of Education at ECU.