Publish at December 15 2021 Updated January 06 2022

What will education be like in twenty years?

What about the teachers, the classes, the curriculum?

Decommissioned school

Doing foresight, no matter the field, is a rather risky exercise. After all, there were many articles at the beginning of the 2010 decade on the vision of the 2020s... Who would have foreseen a highly contagious virus with consequences whose full extent we have yet to realize at the time of writing? Nobody!

These "black swans" can disrupt everything. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop experts from speculating about what will happen in the decades to come.

Education is no exception. Let's take a rough summary of the past two centuries: we started from a world where, in 1820, 12% of the population could write and read. 200 years later, the percentage has reversed and only 14% of the world is completely illiterate. This picture could be refined by strata of mastery of primary skills, but the fact remains that the school model has been successful in educating the majority of people.

Since then, the formula has remained pretty much the same with technological additions over time. The paper on which calculations were scribbled became a calculator. Not content with this machine, the computer arrived. The Internet followed years later as well as tablets and smart phones, apps, virtual and augmented reality, etc. Nevertheless, for many experts, the real revolution has not yet happened. None of these technologies have fundamentally changed the educational approach. Then the covid-19 pandemic arrived. Could this unprecedented crisis be the beginning of a new chapter?

4 Possible Futures

In September 2020, as the pandemic raged and vaccines were in the experimental stage, the OECD released a report on four possible futures for education. Experts had tried to see where education would be projected in the next 20 years. In 2040, what might students be entitled to? Here, in summary, are the four projected scenarios:

  1. Continuation of school: this is the potential scenario where the changes would be least noticeable. Children would continue to go to school traditionally and graduation would remain the means to social and economic success. Countries would work on a common foundation, possibly for more international partnerships. More personalized learning would change the role of the teacher and public bodies would have a determining presence in education.

  2. Externalized education: In this scenario, the place of the school institution decreases drastically. Private or community-based forms of education would spring up everywhere. The place of the bureaucracy shrinks drastically, leaving more curricular choices for learners with the ability to learn at their own pace.

    Thus, it is more the professional community that would value different schooling. For example, the OECD and Cedefop (European Center for the Development of Vocational Training) have envisioned vocational training that could be designed as "brands" or "labels" that learners would earn. It would then be up to companies to see which of these labels fit their needs.

  3. Schools as learning laboratories: school would still be at the center of education. However, gone would be the uniform curriculum. Local actors, including museums, technology centers, libraries and others, would develop programs based on shared values. As a result, experimentation and diversity of knowledge become the norm. Personalized learning is reinforced by a collaborative work canvas.

  4. Learning by doing: in this vision, it is the end of school. The digital universe capable of holding more knowledge than ever before could be used by each individual to train on what suits them and for "free". Artificial intelligence and technological solutions blur the line between learning, work and leisure more than ever. Consequently, it is also a farewell to institutionalized professors since the individual becomes a consumer of the training he or she likes.

Of course, the authors are aware that natural hazards could very well favor one or another of the scenarios, or even create another one. In fact, as we read them, we realize the dilemma posed on the future of education. Should we simply adjust the current system to align with future needs, or should we imagine an entirely different model?

Farewell, teachers?

When we look to the future of education, even excluding those proposed from the OECD, there seems to persist the idea of the demise of educational professionals. After all, why rely on teachers and books when the Internet and refined algorithms are capable of doing the job even more efficiently? Especially since a report published in 2021 by Education International bears witness to the fact that work is becoming increasingly thankless, positions are getting filled less and less, etc. Hence the fantasy of some to get rid of these "whiners" through technological means and approaches closer to what industries need.

However, we should not immediately cry extinction of the role of educator. Already because many other scenarios tend to show their place still present. Whether they are public or private workers, their presence would still be necessary, if only to accompany learners on their journey. Indeed, it may seem logical to appeal to technology as the basis for teaching, but who will be able to truly verify students' understanding? Artificial intelligences? Possibly, but we are still far from this reality and we know that the machine can sometimes misjudge situations.

Amongst all, prospective scenarios in education keep on not really materializing. The "MOOC turn" that was supposed to change the face of the educational world will have, in the end, been mostly an additional channel of training that will not have eclipsed the traditional faculty curricula in any way.

So these scenarios are plausible but still very far from being realized. So many small things could lead to a completely different picture in 2040.

Photo : Andrew Amistad on Unsplash


"Back to the Future of Education." OECD ILibrary.

Boudreau, Emily. "What the Future of Education Looks Like from Here." Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Hill, Paul. "In the Future, Diverse Approaches to Schooling." Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Joseph, Vincent. "3 Scénarios Pour Le Futur De L’apprentissage En Europe." Centre Inffo.

Laucius, Joanne. "No More Teachers, No More Books: Nine Near-future Scenarios for Education." Ottawa Citizen.

Schleicher, Andreas. "What Will Education Look Like in 20 Years? Here Are 4 Scenarios." World Economic Forum.

Williams, Matthew S. "Life in 2050: A Glimpse at Education in the Future." Interesting Engineering.

See more articles by this author

Access exclusive services for free

Subscribe and receive newsletters on:

  • The lessons
  • The learning resources
  • The file of the week
  • The events
  • The technologies

In addition, index your favorite resources in your own folders and find your history of consultation.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Add to my playlists

Create a playlist

Receive our news by email

Every day, stay informed about digital learning in all its forms. Great ideas and resources. Take advantage, it's free!