The Wider Environment of Schooling


Download article (.pdf) | By SfT/CERI Secretariat | Published in What Schools for the Future? 2001


This 40-page analysis of OECD research on economic, social, technological, and environmental developments in OECD countries is intended to inform and inspire trend-based scenario work. While acknowledging the variations in trends from one country to another, the analysis points to common denominators and underlying forces in the wider environment that influence school agendas. Here are some samples of the issues raised in the article, under its five broad headings:


Childhood, generational issues and the aging society

Recognition of the benefits of schooling has led to continual increases in the norms for staying in school, resulting in a slower transition to working life and economic autonomy, and creating a sense of extended childhood and adolescence. How far will this trend go? To what extent are societies moving toward lifelong learning, with flexible mixes of learning and work, and away from rigid age-segmentation of life phases? This trend increases economic pressure on society by increasing the "dependency ratio," which is also affected by the growth in elderly populations. These tensions might provoke new departures.


Gender and family

The remarkable transformation in the position of women over the past century in many OECD societies underlies trends that deeply influence socio-economic development. Increased education and employment among women are closely associated with the major decline in fertility and birth rates. Together, these trends mean fewer children in school, more need for early childhood care, and dramatic changes in consumption and living standards. Key effects are on the supply of labour and the increased pressure on school systems to prepare girls and boys equally for work. These changes have also been accompanied by increased rates of divorce and single parenthood, resulting in greater demands on schools to fill roles that might otherwise be taken by the family.


Knowledge, technology and work

OECD economies, already seen as knowledge-based, are developing more and more into "learning economies" where the success of individuals, firms, regions, and countries depends mostly on the ability to learn. The speed of change is increasing on all fronts, reflecting the rapid diffusion of information technology, the widening global marketplace, strong competitors, and reduced stability in markets. As life-time careers recede, schools stand at the centre of learning economies, with the responsibility to prepare future citizens with the skills to learn and adapt to rapid change.


Lifestyles, consumption and inequality

Recent increases in consumption have brought enormous changes in what many children expect as their standard of living. A growing concern is that extreme materialism has become an end in itself, to the detriment of the civic values and social responsibility necessary for healthy societies. Amid the struggle to give proper emphasis to environmental and sustainable development issues in the over-crowded educational agenda, schools are key across all disciplines for inculcating and strengthening critical thinking, media analysis, self-reflection, personal and group decision-making - skills that contribute to responsible citizenship, including responsible lifestyles and sustainable consumption.


The geo-political dimension - globalisation

Schools also hold the key to equip young people with the means to understand contemporary culture and life in a globalising world, the intertwined relationships of local, regional, and international developments. Globalisation and new technologies open opportunities for education: schools that actively use ICT and the Internet contrasts strongly with the other end of the spectrum, where knowledge is tightly controlled through nationally- or locally agreed syllabuses, textbooks, and materials. As to quality, international comparisons increasingly shape national education policy debates. Comparisons of student performance and test scores in different systems have already shaken many to rethink their educational methods in hopes of raising their standards.


Read the whole article (PDF)

Related topics:

Bridging the Digital Divide

Introduction to ICT and Learning 


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