Schooling Developments and Issues


Download PDF  | By SfT/CERI Secretariat | Published in What Schools for the Future?, 2001


The past century, and especially the last few decades, show that education systems change. The question is, how will future developments affect and change today's schooling and learning systems? This article looks at major educational trends as a starting point for analysing various options for development. These issues inform the Schooling for Tomorrow scenarios, which are referred to in the analysis.


Compulsory education for the young has become the norm in recent decades, worldwide. Ever-increasing participation at pre-primary and tertiary levels in OECD countries amplifies the trend beyond the notion of compulsion. Rapidly rising female attainments over the past 20-30 years accounts for major part of this extension, with average female attendance now exceeding men's by a half-year. This is rapid change is perhaps the most remarkable educational trend of recent years. Essential gender challenges remain, however, both in educational choice and even more so in the workplace, in both choice of career and equal pay.


With this great expansion, the education sector now constitutes a significant proportion of the labour force, on average 5.4 % including all personnel. It accounts for 6% of GDP, some 4% specifically on schooling. The sheer volume of the sector means that effective reforms can prove very expensive. Some Sft scenarios examine the context of failed reform of large bureaucratic systems; a common concern is that school has changed too little in structure, organisation, and behaviour.


Nevertheless, policy choices and reforms do have power to shape systems, as shown by the large international variations in organisation, governance, curricula, assessment, student:teacher ratios, private-sector participation, and sensitivity to demand. How well are current education systems adapted to the learning needs of the 21st century? Do they linger in the "status-quo" of long-established models (SfT scenario), or are they dynamic enough to become true "learning organisations" (SfT scenario), concerned with diversity and the creation of knowledge, and not merely its transmission.


ICT use is the most powerful herald of fundamental change in school structure and organisation. Computers and internet access provide huge opportunities for research, sharing of materials, and networking for teachers and students. This requires heavy investments not only in hardware and infrastructure, but in training for the diverse set of teaching and organisational skills needed to attain the full benefits of ICTs in learning. ICTs offer opportunities to develop the lifelong-learning competencies that are crucial today, in the areas of communication, analysis, problem-solving, and information management. These changes in the focus of learning requires that assessment and evaluation of these new skills be incorporated into day-to-day teaching.


Educational ambition has grown sharply in many countries, bringing increases in tensions, demands, and criticisms. Teachers, recognised as linchpins for success, face more pressure and higher expectations. Teachers have always faced such pressures, but consensus seems to be shifting from seeing them as part of the problem toward seeing them more as part of the solution. New demands are changing the perception of teachers from the traditional classroom model to a combination of a facilitator who fosters individual student learning, an expert, a networking team player, a person involved in research and development. At the same time, some OECD countries already have teacher shortages despite high unemployment, which can compromise educational hopes and quality, put the whole teaching profession at stake (SfT scenarios), or simply provoke new departures.


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