The COVID Pandemic of 2020-21 has produced plenty of journal articles and reports about how schools should navigate crisis and temporary closure. However, there is also a growing body of work on what this enormous ‘shock’ to the education sector will produce in the way of long-term change to our structures, practices and procedures.
For example, in 2020, Andreas Schleicher (Director of Education and Skills) and his team at the OECD wrote a paper called ‘Back to the Future of Education’ which puts forward four possible scenarios for the future of education. Their aim was not so much to predict the future as to put forward very different situations that would stimulate discussion and preparation for the future. Their hope was to “…to inspire, to dream, to transform… to future-proof systems and stress-test against unexpected shocks. Above all… to move beyond complacency and easy solutions.” (Page 3)
The four scenarios they chose were as follows:
This report is all the more valuable for being done by a relatively impartial institution like the OECD, rather than a software provider like Zoom or Microsoft who have a vested interest in schools remaining online or going hybrid. Also, it was published in 2020, meaning that the first wave at least of the COVID-shock to education had started.
These are all very interesting scenarios and Schleicher delves deeply into each one. However, it intentionally leaves unanswered the big question – which one will become the future?
To my mind, scenarios 2 and 4 are very unlikely; they are just too radical. The education world is actually a very conservative one because everyone is deeply conscious that we only have one chance to educate our students. Also, governments pour billions of dollars into education every year and they expect a significant amount of control as a result. That means centralised decision-making, common curricula and statewide, standardised credentialling. Speaking of credentials, the continuing demand of universities and employers for these is another conservative force on schools.
This still leaves us with Scenarios 1 and 3, which make for interesting reading and discussion.
This is where other sources, like the discussion with RMIT Professor Tricia McLaughlin and the work of McCrindle Research, become useful. Both believe that teaching and learning-related technology has developed so much over the last two years as a result of the COVID disruption that it will become the mainstay of schools in the future. And, that students would actually prefer a hybrid approach, mixing traditional face-to-face schooling with online learning. For example, the McCrindle report claims that “Seven in ten students (70%) describe their ideal learning situation as a hybrid one, where there is a combination of time spent learning from home and in the classroom”(Page 6). Students recognised that different settings were best suited to developing different skills. The conclusion was therefore a very definite “The future of learning is likely therefore to be a hybrid one” (Page 6).
If the McCrindle Report is right, then OECD Scenario #3 would be the most likely one to come true.
Teaching and learning would take place in person and online. Furthermore, the opportunities for expanding learning through digital technology means that schools would increasingly utilise a very large community of providers, learners and ‘teachers’ from global, national, regional and local places. For example, our students have already carried out a research project with students from around the world, connected online by Round Square. Also, STEM courses are enriched by local and regional connections for the teaching of certain topics. Why learn about ANSTO’s nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, or its particle accelerator in Melbourne by textbook or website when you can ‘visit’ them online? Equally, school trips which hare difficult from a regional centre like Newcastle, could be invigorated by online ‘visits’ to museums around the world, or watching online performances of plays from world-famous venues around the world.
All of this is in the future, and we obviously cannot guarantee which scenario will actually come true. However, as they say, the exercise of examining different scenarios, championed by the OECD education team, can certainly help us to identify key drivers for change, trends and developments that will help us to be ready; whatever happens.
McCrindle (2021) Future of education: Insights into today’s students and their future expectations; Sydney, NSW; Education-Future-Report-2021.pdf (mccrindle.com.au)
Noonoo (2021) What will online learning like in 10 years? Zoom has some ideas; EdSurge; What Will Online Learning Look Like in 10 Years? Zoom Has Some Ideas | EdSurge News; Accessed on 28 September
OECD (2020) Back to the future of education – four scenarios for schooling; Educational Research and Innovation; OECD Publishing; Paris; https://doi.org/10.1787/178ef527-en
RMIT (2021) The future of learning and teaching: Big changes ahead; The future of learning and teaching: Big changes ahead for education - RMIT University; Accessed on 28 September