The TDA’s Futures project brought hundreds of people together to think about the future of education. Mike Newby reports.
Suppose, instead of educating children and young people for today’s world, we look ahead to the time when they become adults and set our sights on that – on a world perhaps 10 years away from ours, perhaps even 20? What kind of education will be needed then? What sort of curriculum, schools, teachers…? And, since our particular task is to educate, train and then support their professional development, what kind of initial preparation and CPD are we going to need for the education professionals of the second and third decades of the 21st century – never forgetting that many of them are already in post.
Questions like these have formed the basis of the Training and Development Agency’s Futures project , an exercise which began in December 2003, which has involved hundreds of people across the country and which, along the way, has given rise to a special edition of the Journal of Education for Teaching (JET) and a web-based report . In a nutshell, the project took the form of two colloquia, a national conference and a sequence of regional seminars ending in March 2006. It’s been an extensive exercise in consulting those who provide teacher education and training about the future of the profession and their role within it.
Those who participated agreed that it was good – more, that it was unusual – to have been invited to escape for a while from the daily intensities of the workplace and let the mind drift off over the deep waters of future possibility. It has been an exercise in collective speculation in which, confronted by images of the future, providers of teacher education have tried to conceive of the impact on their own work, and on that of their successors, as they prepare for the, sometimes, astonishing world still facing us.
To prompt thinking about the challenges we devised three scenarios (see box below). Of course, no one is proposing that any one of these scenarios will happen, nor that these are the only three possible scenarios. (A more-than-just-faintly-possible fourth is that nothing much will change, as central government continues to direct affairs with painstaking attention to fine detail.) More likely is that some elements from all these scenarios will blend as characteristics of the education service of the future begin to emerge more clearly. By offering pictures of the future which are at least internally consistent, we can make a start on planning ahead, and instead of just carrying on unquestioningly doing the same as we’ve always done, invent innovative programmes of teacher education.
For example, if certain trends in these projections prove correct, we’ll need CPD courses which help an increasing number of self-employed portfolio professionals to know how to run their businesses. And if the availability of subject knowledge on the internet really does diminish the need for subject experts in school staff rooms, doesn’t that suggest that CPD which prepares teachers to help pupils navigate the endless oceans of knowledge and make sense of it for themselves will become ever more important? The ‘double L/double K’ (learn how to learn, know how to know) version of education (invented for the Futures project!) could become the keystone of our educational approach in the future.
What did people conclude from the Futures project?
Throughout the Futures project, and in particular to the scenarios above, the most extreme responses of teacher educators fluctuated between the sceptical and the alarmed, though somewhere in the mix we found excitement and optimism too.
In particular, people found the image of a future dominated by technology especially disturbing. While recognising the huge benefits which advances in (particularly digital) technology could bring to education, people nonetheless voiced urgent caution. Education was not, in their view, something which could be undertaken entirely through the medium of the computer terminal, but a flesh-and-blood process in which real people met together in the same space to interact and learn from each other. So a major task for future educators – and so for those who support them through CPD – will be to learn how to tame the otherwise ferocious power of virtuality in the lives of children and young people. The challenge for teacher educators will be: how can we support teachers in knowing how to help their learners find a way through the vast labyrinths of virtual space (wherein lies all human knowledge) yet to find there only the good and the true? Even more so than today, the future teacher will have to shoulder the role of intellectual and moral guide as much as (and probably more than) that of subject expert. This is a formidable task, but an exhilarating one.
Participants in the project foresaw consequences in the kinds of approaches in which future educators would therefore come to specialise: from learning coach to internet guide, from educational diagnostician to behaviour manager, from subject mentor to assessment guru – they foresaw a profession much less homogeneous than today’s, in which (certainly in secondary schools) staff are mainly distinguished by their subject background. And, if they are right, then the initial training and subsequent professional development of future educators will increasingly need to reflect these changing needs. Furthermore, graduates who enter teaching will find themselves doing so in an increasingly multi-professional context. Consequently, their own curriculum will need to adapt, with subject knowledge being present alongside education in the knowledge, skill and understanding which all professionals will need, as well, of course, as that particular subset of specialist knowledge that only teachers will need.
It will also be the case, people concluded, that the management of education will have to take account of some deep-seated changes in funding. As our population grows ever older, so central funding will move increasingly away from the young to the old. This means that education will have to find an ever-increasing proportion of its money from other sources. While this should not give cause for alarm (there is a lot of money in the world), it will mean that parents, and particularly the profession itself, will have to loosen their ideological presumption that the state should pay for everything. It has already begun: the move to student fees (hardly uncontentious) will come to be seen as the trend-setter for much wider diversity in school funding. So teachers and school managers will need to find out more about how their organisations can work in partnerships of many kinds, including those with the private sector. Can education and the profit motive co-exist? Our conclusion is that they will almost certainly have to.
Senarios for 2020
The Futures project used three to peer ahead into the 2020s:
Scenario 1: Education everywhere
In the mid-2020s, the last schools as we knew them – places where children and young people were required to be during the weekday, supervised by teachers – finally closed down. Now, education happens in networks based around people’s homes, nurseries, churches, sports centres, community bases, hospitals, shopping centres, you name it … It’s fair to say that education is everywhere, and the idea that it should be restricted to places called ‘schools’ seems very curious. People like to invoke that old African proverb, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’, but now it’s invested with a whole new meaning. For ‘village’ read: ‘the networked world’. From the moment they’re born, kids are nodes in the network, and the network looks after their education. In this village, demarcations have blurred between teacher, student, and parent; between educational setting and wider community; and between the early and the lifelong stages of a person’s education. Networks bring different groups together to meet particular learning needs. As the need changes, so does the network. People change all the time. An adult might be enmeshed in many different networks, sometimes as the teacher of one or more young people, sometimes as a learner him- or herself. We’ve seen the rise and rise of the portfolio educator (either multi-skilled or specialist) and, nowadays, freelance educators are in demand not only for children and teenagers but in adult education and workplace training too. The idea that these portfolio professionals would restrict themselves to work in just one ‘school’ is simply absurd.
Scenario 2: Gifts, actually
As, during the first two decades of the century, prosperity increased for the majority, people became more selfish. Politicians on all sides, perhaps wishing to exploit what they saw as the zeitgeist of the times, encouraged individualism, enterprise and self-reliance and we began to see a fading in people’s lives of a respect for key civic, social and cultural values. It was everyone for themselves. This growth of what you could term individualism, but might equally call anti-social selfishness, threatened to undermine social cohesion. Secondary education was in danger of fragmenting entirely. Parents, worrying that schools were no longer motivating and preparing their children properly, fled from state to private or home schooling. Because knowledge had become available everywhere at any time on the internet, schools had to refocus away from subjects and exam passes, and concentrate instead on community values and work-related competences.
In fact, this became a part of their mission. Yes-schools, at least, were still places to which people went to be together for a purpose, and a good purpose, too! And as schools began to recognise that they could, in some way, advocate the virtues and benefits of collaboration and the group rather than (or perhaps as well as) individualism and personal enterprise, they began to succeed in unexpected ways. The focus of learning in the 2020s is broad. Concentration is on non-cognitive outcomes: above all, on ‘values’ and good citizenship. The school buildings are used day and night, seven days a week by local groups, who contribute cash or kind for doing so, and this revenue funds high-quality facilities. People still enjoy spending money on consumer goods, and as a result schools have benefited from a steady supply of hardly-used second-hand equipment, contributed by people as-well, as gifts, actually!
Someone writing in The Times in 2024 remarked that our schools had become ‘secular churches’. She appeared subsequently on many television stations defending that assertion to audiences who, by and large (and certainly according to www.instapoll.com) tended to agree.
Scenario 3: The education marketplace
Deregulation long ago became politically irresistible, given the clamour of calls from the powerful middle class to ‘let our children go!’ Now, we agree to leave it to the consumer to decide, and we find that education provision in our country is largely determined by the marketplace, consumers demanding tailor-made, personalised education. So customised learning programmes are being designed to meet sometimes highly-specific group and individual needs. Parents can exercise choice because of the considerable diversity of types of education in this vibrant market.
In the schools of the 2020s, emphasis is placed on knowing how to learn more than on prescribed subject knowledge. The curriculum has changed to reflect this, and so have the teachers: the days of the subject teacher are long gone – subject experts can be accessed online whenever they’re needed. The innovative private sector has naturally used the internet as the way to customise edusoft materials for pupils, using information about their individual needs to help them produce and market best-fit products. Schools have assisted them by telling them what their pupils want. Most schools or school networks enjoy lucrative partnerships with suppliers of edusoft and incorporate their products into the curriculum. Multi-national companies can, of course, bring massive resources to making these wonderful products. From the pupil’s perspective, each learning event seems made for them alone and works at their own pace, though in fact individualised versions of the same product are being sold all over the globe and being used by millions of pupils.
Corporations have started to accredit particular learning programmes (such as the Google Baccalaureate) as they get more and more involved in education. It’s really not that surprising. After all, the first edusoft flotation on the world’s stock markets was way, way back in the early part of the century. Many parents like the idea of investing in their children’s future in this marketplace. Let’s be honest: education, once the market is unfettered, makes everyone rich. In all kinds of ways.