Research and knowledge management

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) - The OECD Schooling Scenarios in Brief


We have developed a set of six scenarios for schooling in the future up to 2020. They have been clustered into three main categories: Scenarios 1a and 1b "Attempting to Maintain the Status Quo", 2a and 2b "Re-schooling", 3a and 3b "De-schooling". This categorisation is slightly different from that in our 2001 publication "What Schools for the Future?" in Chapter 3, but the contents of the scenarios themselves have not changed.

The scenarios describe in "pure form" how schooling might be overall in a society, not individual schools or local developments. In reality, one would expect complex mixes to emerge between these different possible futures, rather than one or the other. By sharpening the alternatives, their value is as a tool to think about what we want and do not want, and how probable the more or less desired choices are in terms of on-going trends and policies.

We would be very interested to have feedback from anyone who has used these scenarios in conferences, workshops or policy-making.

With the "status quo" scenarios, the basic features of existing systems are maintained well into the future, whether from public choice or from the inability to implement fundamental change. In Scenario 1.a, the future unfolds as gradual evolution of the present with school systems continuing to be strong; in Scenario 1.b, there is a major crisis of the system triggered by acute teacher shortages.

This scenario is built on the continuation of powerfully bureaucratic systems, strong pressures towards uniformity, and resistance to radical change. Schools are highly distinct institutions, knitted together within complex administrative arrangements. Political and media commentaries are frequently critical in tone; despite the criticisms, radical change is resisted. Many fear that alternatives would not address fundamental tasks such as guardianship and socialisation, alongside the goals relating to cognitive knowledge and diplomas, nor deliver equality of opportunity.

  • Learning and organisation: Curriculum and qualifications are central areas of policy, and student assessments are key elements of accountability, though questions persist over how far these develop capacities to learn. Individual classroom and teacher models remain dominant.
  • Management and governance: Priority is given to administration and capacity to handle accountability pressures, with strong emphasis on efficiency. The nation (state/province in federal systems) remains central, but facing tensions due, for example, to decentralisation, corporate interests in learning markets, and globalisation.
  • Resources and infrastructure: No major increase in overall funding, while continual extension of schools' remits with new social responsibilities further stretches resources. The use of ICT continues to grow without changing schools' main organisational structures.
  • Teachers: A distinct teacher corps, sometimes with civil service status; strong unions/associations but problematic professional status and rewards.

There would be a major crisis of teacher shortages, highly resistant to conventional policy responses. It is triggered by a rapidly ageing profession, exacerbated by low teacher morale and buoyant opportunities in more attractive graduate jobs. The large size of the teaching force makes improvements in relative attractiveness costly, with long lead times for measures to show tangible results on overall numbers. Wide disparities in the depth of the crisis by socio-geographic, as well as subject, area. Very different outcomes could follow: at one extreme, a vicious circle of retrenchment and conflict; at the other, emergency strategies spur radical innovation and collective change.

  • Learning and organisation: Where teacher shortages are acute they have detrimental effects on student learning. Widely different organisational responses to shortages - some traditional, some highly innovative - and possibly greater use of ICT.
  • Management and governance: Crisis management predominates. Even in areas saved the worst difficulties, a fortress mentality prevails. National authorities are initially strengthened, acquiring extended powers in the face of crisis, but weakened the longer crises remain unresolved. A competitive international teaching market develops apace.
  • Resources and infrastructure: As the crisis takes hold, funds flow increasingly into salaries to attract more teachers, with possible detrimental consequences for investments in areas such as ICT and physical infrastructure. Whether these imbalances would be rectified depends on strategies adopted to escape "meltdown"
  • Teachers: The crisis, in part caused by teaching's unattractiveness, would worsen with growing shortages, especially in the most affected areas. General teacher rewards could well increase as might the distinctiveness of the teacher corps in reflection of their relative scarcity, though established arrangements may eventually erode with "meltdown".

The "re-schooling" scenarios would see major investments and widespread recognition for schools and their achievements, including towards the professionals, with a high priority accorded to both quality and equity. In Scenario 2.a, the focus is on socialisation goals and schools in communities, in certain contrast with the stronger knowledge orientation of Scenario 2.b.

The school here enjoys widespread recognition as the most effective bulwark against social, family and community fragmentation. It is now heavily defined by collective and community tasks. This leads to extensive shared responsibilities between schools and other community bodies, sources of expertise, and institutions of further and continuing education, shaping not conflicting with high teacher professionalism. Generous levels of financial support needed to meet demanding requirements for quality learning environments in all communities and to ensure elevated esteem for teachers and schools.

  • Learning and organisation: The focus of learning broadens with more explicit attention given to non-cognitive outcomes, values and citizenship. A wide range of organisational forms and settings emerge, with strong emphasis on non-formal learning.
  • Management and governance: Management complex as the school is in dynamic interplay with diverse community interests and of formal and non-formal programmes. Leadership is widely distributed and often collective. Strong local dimension of decision-making, while drawing on well-developed national/international support frameworks, particularly where social infrastructure weakest.
  • Resources and infrastructure: significant investments would be made to update the quality of premises and equipment in general, to open school facilities to the community, and to ensure that the divides of affluence and social capital do not widen. ICT used extensively, especially its communication capabilities.
  • Teachers: A core of high-status teaching professionals, with varied contractual arrangements and conditions, though with good rewards for all. Around this core would be many other professionals, community players, parents, etc., and a blurring of roles.

Schools are revitalised around a strong knowledge rather than social agenda, in a culture of high quality, experimentation, diversity, and innovation. New forms of evaluation and competence assessment flourish. ICT used extensively alongside other learning media, traditional and new. Knowledge management to the fore, and the very large majority of schools justify the label "learning organisations" (hence is equality of opportunity the norm), with extensive links to tertiary education and diverse other organisations.

  • Learning and organisation: demanding expectations for all for teaching and learning combines with widespread development of specialisms and diversity of organisational forms. Flourishing research on pedagogy and the science of learning is systematically applied.
  • Management and governance: "Learning organisation" schools characterised by flat hierarchy structures, using teams, networks and diverse sources of expertise. Quality norms typically replace regulatory and punitive accountability approaches. Decision-making rooted strongly within schools and the profession, with the close involvement of parents, organisations, and tertiary education and with well-developed guiding frameworks and support systems.
  • Resources and infrastructure: substantial investments in all aspects of schooling, especially in disadvantaged communities, to develop flexible, state-of-the-art facilities. Extensive use made of ICT. The partnerships with organisations and tertiary education enhance the diversity of educational plant and facilities.
  • Teachers: Highly motivated enjoying favourable conditions, with strong emphasis on R&D, continuous professional development, group activities, networking (including internationally). Contractual arrangements might well be diverse, with mobility in and out of teaching.

Rather than high status and generous resourcing for schools, the dissatisfaction of a range of key players leads to the dismantling of school systems, to a greater or lesser degree. In Scenario 3.a, new forms of co-operative networks come to predominate, compared with the competitive mechanisms of Scenario 3.b.

Dissatisfaction with institutionalised provision and expression given to diversified demand leads to the abandonment of schools in favour of a multitude of learning networks, quickened by the extensive possibilities of powerful, inexpensive ICT. The de-institutionalisation, even dismantling, of school systems as part of the emerging "network society". Various cultural, religious and community voices to the fore in the socialisation and learning arrangements for children, some very local in character, others using distance and cross-border networking.

  • Learning and organisation: Greater expression given to learning for different cultures and values through networks of community interests. Small group, home schooling and individualised arrangements become widespread.
  • Management and governance: With schooling assured through inter-locking networks, authority becomes widely diffused. There is a substantial reduction of existing patterns of governance and accountability, though public policy responsibilities might still include addressing the "digital divide", some regulation and framework-setting, and overseeing remaining schools.
  • Resources and infrastructure: There would be a substantial reduction in public facilities and institutionalised premises. Whether an overall reduction in learning resources is hard to predict, though major investments in ICT could be expected. Diseconomies of small scale, with schooling organised by groups and individuals, might limit new investments.
  • Teachers: there is no longer reliance on particular professionals called "teachers": the demarcations between teacher and student, parent and teacher, education and community, blur and sometimes break down. New learning professionals emerge, whether employed locally to teach or as consultants.

Existing market features in education are significantly extended as governments encourage diversification in a broader environment of market-led change. This fuelled by dissatisfaction by "strategic consumers" in cultures where schooling is commonly viewed as a private as well as a public good. Many new providers are stimulated to come into the learning market, encouraged by thoroughgoing reforms of funding structures, incentives and regulation. Flourishing indicators, measures, and accreditation arrangements start to displace direct public monitoring and curriculum regulation. Innovation abounds as do painful transitions and inequalities.

  • Learning and organisation: The most valued learning is importantly determined by choices and demands - whether of those buying educational services or of those, such as employers, giving market value to different forms learning routes. A strong focus on non-cognitive outcomes and values might be expected to emerge. Wide organisational diversity.
  • Management and governance: There is a substantially reduced role for public education authorities - overseeing market regulation but less involvement through organising provision or "steering" and "monitoring" - and entrepreneurial management modes are more prominent. Important roles for information and guidance services and for indicators and competence assessments that provide market "currency".
  • Resources and infrastructure: Funding arrangements and incentives are critical in shaping learning markets and determining absolute levels of resources. A wide range of market-driven changes would be introduced into the ownership and running of the learning infrastructure, some highly innovative and with the extensive use of ICT. Problems might be the diseconomies of scale and the inequalities associated with market failure.
  • Teachers: New learning professionals - public, private; full-time, part-time - are created in the learning markets, and new training and accreditation opportunities would emerge for them. Market forces might see these professionals in much readier supply in areas of residential desirability and/or learning market opportunity than elsewhere.


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