Don’t look up; look forward: How are global trends shaping education?

Looking up at the yellow, orange, and green tops of trees

By Andreas Schleicher

Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Key points:

Don’t Look Up reminds us that both incremental and abrupt systemic disruptions will challenge how we live, work and learn.
– The OECD’s Trends Shaping Education 2022 report examines major economic, political, social and technological trends affecting education.
– We should look forwards to global trends and ask what impact they may have on education systems, and what we can do about it.

If you are a film buff or have opened your social media accounts lately; in fact, even if you have been living under a rock for the past month, you will have probably heard of the latest Netflix film Don’t Look Up. Equally acclaimed and obliterated by the audience and critics, this film tells the story of two scientists who discover a super-sized comet on a direct collision course with Earth, and face great difficulties in making themselves heard by politicians and the media.

The film is a satire about our society’s “terrifying non-response to climate breakdown”, using the words of climate scientist Peter Kalmus. Its main point is that climate change, once a relatively unknown inconvenient truth, is now a palpable reality for which insufficient action is being taken.

Future-proofing education by looking forward

At the OECD, we have long advocated for future-thinking policy making to prepare for shocks and surprises – be it climate change, digitalisation or pandemics.

Today, we release the latest edition of Trends Shaping Education. This report examines major economic, political, social and technological trends affecting education, from early childhood through to lifelong learning, and helps us to reflect on the potential of education to influence these trends.

A key focus of the report is on trends that are impacting the environment. The data we are highlighting show that meeting the global goal of net zero emissions by 2050 will indeed require bold action. For example, in the field of energy, as demand for renewables has risen and their technology has improved, the costs of renewables have fallen. However, while the availability and affordability of renewables have increased, we continue to burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas at an unsustainable rate and our carbon footprint keeps growing.

Chart showing world total final energy consumption from 1971 to 2018, by source. The chart shows fossil fuels are still king.

Similarly, in the field of agriculture, technological progress and innovative practices are increasing the efficiency of agriculture production, a key to ensure food security and nutrition while limiting the adverse environmental impact of food systems on our increasingly crowded planet. All the same, food systems, including all the elements and activities involved in the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food globally, are still responsible for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to other forms of environmental degradation.

Education must prepare for environmental shocks

More remains to be done in our fight against climate change and education has a pivotal role to play. Education is key to provide all citizens not only with an understanding of the science behind the climate crisis but also its socio-demographic, political and moral implications. Moreover, education can make a fundamental contribution by offering learners the space to take direct action in their communities while fostering pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours.

Education can make a fundamental contribution by offering learners the space to take direct action in their communities while fostering pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours

Training systems must support people to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn as we transit towards “greener” economies and societies. In parallel, our research systems must count with appropriate policies and resources to engage in the kind of long-term, risk-taking research that we need to innovate our way out of our current unsustainable growth model while still ensuring shared prosperity.

Furthermore, as large employers and consumers, education systems must “green up” their infrastructure and operations, enhancing their environmental performance while preparing for the challenges already underway, such as the increased likelihood and severity of extreme events like floods and droughts. These are not issues from a distant future; they are happening now.

Whether you’re a fan or not, Don’t Look Up raises an important message, reminding us that, in our global and interconnected world, incremental threats like climate change as well as abrupt systemic disruptions like COVID-19 will continue to challenge our ways of living, working and learning. Most importantly, the film tells us that we cannot and should not look away from these trends.

We cannot and should not look away from these trends

Trends Shaping Education 2022 helps us with this challenge through robust data and provocative questions. Featuring trends on the environment as well as on a wider range of issues – from digitalisation and labour markets to democracy, science and identity – our report invites you to look backwards, sideways and forwards. It invites us to ask ourselves, what do global trends mean for the future of my education system? And what can we do about them?

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Photo: Shutterstock/Top Photo Corporation