3. Taking stock of the present: Trends in education and schooling

This report offers a set of scenarios for the future of schooling. In order to think about how the future might unfold, we must take stock of the present. This chapter does this by looking into the main developments and issues in education and schooling over the last two decades. Key trends include the rising participation in formal education; our expanded understanding of human learning; and the growing expectations that society has of schools and teachers and therefore the ways with which education policy and practice prepares teachers, schools and systems to respond to such demands.

Participation in formal education early in life is not just a given but a major trend that is on the rise. Virtually all children and adolescents in OECD countries participate in formal education through compulsory enrolment in primary and lower secondary education programmes. Furthermore, high enrolment rates often extend beyond compulsory education: for children and adolescents in some OECD countries, full enrolment in education can last for up to 16 or 17 years.

Participation in non-compulsory levels of education is also growing across the board. More than 90% of 4 and 5-year-olds participated in early childhood education in almost all OECD countries in 2017, as did the vast majority of 3-year-olds in 1 out of 3 countries. Participation in education has also kept rising at the other end of compulsory schooling: in just ten years, the OECD average proportion of tertiary-educated young individuals (24-34 years-old) grew from 35 to 44% between 2008 and 2018 (OECD, 2019[1]).

Education functions as a common good, supporting fundamental rights such as civic and political participation and adequate levels of health and well-being (UNESCO, 2015[3]). Highly educated individuals show greater engagement with the democratic process, are more likely to report they have a say in government, to volunteer and to trust others (OECD, 2017[4]). They are also more likely to have better physical and mental health, as higher levels of education are associated with reduced risk-taking behaviour and healthier lifestyles (OECD, 2019[5]; 2019[6]).

In addition, education is critical for the knowledge economy (OECD, 2019[7]). Education builds human capital; it increases individuals’ capabilities, enhancing economic productivity and facilitating the development and adoption of frontier technologies (Goldin and Katz, 2007[8]). In such a context, highly educated individuals enjoy a large premium in employability and earnings (OECD, 2019[1]; 2019[6]). Despite clear signs of occupational polarisation (OECD, 2017[9]) – that is, a decline in the share of total employment attributable to middle-pay jobs, which has been offset by increases in the shares of both high- and low-pay jobs – higher skill levels developed through education may still be required of all workers if jobs in the low end of the wage distribution are to involve increasingly complex, non-routine tasks not replaceable by technology (Autor, Levy and Murnane, 2003[10]) such as in care, for instance.

Much has been written about the potential impact of technological advances on the future of work and jobs, with views ranging from future labour and job scarcity to more extreme visions on the end of work (Brown and Keep, 2018[11]). Advances in computers’ artificial intelligence, vision and movement capabilities could certainly have a strong impact on tasks carried out by the majority of workers in currently existing jobs (Elliott, 2017[12]). Inferring future workforce implications is however difficult; many economic and organisational factors mediate the application of technology in the economy (Brynjolfsson and Mitchell, 2017[13]) and as computer capabilities evolve so does the demand for skills in labour markets – demand for social and emotional skills, for example, has kept rising over the last four decades (Deming, 2017[14]).

Access to education, even at the earliest stage (OECD, 2017[15]; 2020[16]), can hence continue to yield large benefits later in life. Returns on education increase while opportunities to access learning grow outside of traditional schools and colleges, including education in community colleges, for-profit universities, technical institutes and digital programmes of various forms. Yet, because employers learn about their employees’ skills only as tenure in the job increases, many use readily available, albeit imperfect, measures to screen prospective workers, such as academic credentials (Bol, 2015[17]). As a result, educational attainment is still a better predictor of employment than actual skills in many countries (OECD, 2019[6]).

An important question is whether more refined methods for capturing people’s skills beyond what is taught at school will become a source of liberation, allowing academic institutions to focus more on learning and less on sorting, freeing up economic resources for both individuals and society. A second order question that emerges from this, and a farther-reaching one, pertains to the value of learning institutions in a society that accepts the ubiquitous and hands-on nature of learning and is capable of better measuring a wide range of its possible outcomes. In such a world, would the raison d'être of schools disappear?

Despite the growing value of education and the expansion of schooling, uneven access to education services remains a challenge. This is the case for instance for those students with migrant and refugee status, whose schooling experiences are strongly conditioned by language and cultural barriers, changes in syllabi and teaching methods across countries and schools (OECD, 2017[18]; 2018[19]; Cerna, 2019[20]). It relates to rural education, particularly in more remote and sparsely populated areas, which often have smaller schools with greater limitations in human and financial resources and where students often commute long hours to attend school (OECD, 2017[21]; 2018[22]). It has to do with pupils with learning disabilities, physical impairments and mental disorders, who do not always have access to mainstream educational settings, although this trend is reversing in some systems (OECD, 2017[23]).

In addition, students from disadvantaged socioeconomic background are more likely to struggle at school, have lower participation rates in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and lower expectations of and actual enrolment in tertiary education (OECD, 2019[1]). A key driver of inequality in access and opportunity is the intergenerational transmission of advantage. Advantaged students are more likely to have advantaged parents, both in terms of education and labour force participation, which not only poses moral and political dilemmas but negatively impacts economic productivity and innovation (OECD, 2017[24]).

Levelling the playing field has been an important priority for OECD countries over the last two decades (OECD, 2019[25]). Some policies, such as access to ECEC, funding systems that account for differences in schools’ socioeconomic composition, longer school days and greater access to non-formal learning activities can help mitigate social, economic and cultural barriers (OECD, 2017[26]; 2018[22]; 2019[27]). Others, such as grade repetition, early tracking and uncontrolled school choice schemes appear to contribute to reproducing them (OECD, 2019[28]; 2018[29]).

The population in OECD countries is ageing, largely in good health (OECD, 2019[7]). A growing number of adults continue to work beyond the statutory retirement age and access to learning throughout life becomes an important factor supporting people’s professional growth. However, participation of 25-64 year-olds in formal education is strongly linked to participation in the labour market, and tertiary-educated individuals are twice as likely to participate than those with an education below upper-secondary education (OECD, 2019[1]). A number of institutional and circumstantial barriers stand in the way of adults’ access to learning opportunities, such as relevance, costs or lack of flexibility (OECD, 2019[30]; 2018[31]).

Yet, not all learning takes place in the context of formalised learning institutions. Aware of this, countries across the globe have set up skills definition frameworks and associated assessments schemes for recognising adults’ non-formal and informal learning (Braňka, 2016[32]; Singh, 2015[33]; Werquin, 2010[34]). Digitalisation has only increased the avenues for non-formal and informal learning participation, especially considering that digital engagement has steadily grown across all age groups over the last two decades (OECD, 2019[7]). A wide range of open educational resources (OER), such as massive, open, online courses (MOOCs), now facilitate access to learning opportunities for all, particularly in tertiary education (Orr, Rimini and van Damme, 2015[35]).

At the same time, the informal, largely self-directed nature of these learning opportunities can become a barrier for those lacking the necessary skills and dispositions to engage independently and fruitfully (Littlejohn et al., 2016[36]). How meaningful learning opportunities appear to their potential users is as important as how accessible they are. Early proponents of lifelong learning were aware of this issue when recognising that education “must endeavour to instil, especially in children, a taste for self-learning that will last a lifetime” (Faure et al., 1972, p. 184[37]). However, how good our education systems are in building individuals’ lifetime motivation for learning (OECD, 2000[38]) is a relatively unstudied question in comparison to the analysis of short-term academic measures. Education and educational research must increase attention to the kind of skills that enhance engagement with learning in the long run if concerned with lifelong and life-wide learning. Emerging findings in the behavioural sciences and its growing intersection with education may be of particular relevance for this discussion.

In addition, because adult learning tends to be discussed in the framework of labour market needs, questions around meaning and accessibility of learning opportunities for senior citizens have also traditionally been mostly overlooked. Living longer entails changes in the meaning of old age. People now spend an increasing number of years in retirement (OECD, 2019[7]). Seniors’ learning needs thus go beyond those related to labour activity, for example in making healthy transitions from work into retirement (Schuller, 2019[39]; Istance, 2015[40]). Importantly, regarding learning as part of an active and healthy ageing should not be at odds with the fact that older, frailer seniors often face situations of dependency, isolation and poor health. Supporting elders’ access to learning opportunities should thus recognise the circumstances of the most elderly as well younger seniors (Boudiny, 2013[41]).

Developing a well-trained workforce equipped with advanced competencies is central to remaining competitive in the global knowledge economy. This idea, common in political discourses and policy documents, together with the expectations of more educated and demanding parents, helps explain what can be defined as a global urgency for learning.

Not surprisingly, schools and teachers are in the limelight. They are meant to support academic learning and excellence and their impact is increasingly closely monitored. An example of this is the growing focus that countries have placed on measuring learning outcomes over the last two decades, which in turn generates still greater public and political attention (Verger, Parcerisa and Fontdevila, 2018[42]).

At the same time, the enterprise of education becomes increasingly challenging as changes in the wider environment of schools unfold. Take literacy for example: traditionally the main measure of success of an education system, literacy is no longer about reading and writing only. In a digital world, it also relates to making sense of abundant, often conflicting pieces of information, assessing the reliability of sources and the validity of given claims within concrete cultural contexts (OECD, 2018[43]).

Today, education is about the capacity to process information and solve problems, which includes strong disciplinary knowledge as well as analytical, creative and critical thinking skills. It is about broader abilities that, while related to cognition, have also to do with interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning, such as social and emotional skills, tolerance and respect for others as well as capacities to self-regulate and better understand one’s own learning processes (Luna Scott, 2015[44]; Pellegrino, 2017[45]).

Arguably, these attributes are not of higher value today than they were in the past. Yet, in the past, only those in leading social roles were expected to develop such abilities. This has all changed in a world where work develops in flatter, dynamic and multicultural structures, a world with growing risks for individuals and where people more actively shape the state of events locally and globally, virtually and face-to-face vis-à-vis traditional powers such as the church, the traditional press or the state (OECD, 2019[7]).

Advanced cognitive and attitudinal competences, once considered beyond the reach of most, are now expected as the norm. Yet, national and international assessments highlight striking differences in learning outcomes, raising concerns around “learning poverty” (World Bank, 2017[46]) and “skills gaps” – although the latter are subject of a heated debate (Modestino, Shoag and Ballance, 2019[47]; Shierholz and Gould, 2018[48]). With rising expectations of schooling, the role of schools in maintaining a balance between equity, an excellent education provision and catering to individual learning needs is as increasingly challenging as it is necessary.

Large-scale schooling appeared as a response to the needs of modern societies, emerging in the 18th and 19th century to equip children with and certify knowledge for the emerging industrial economy. These systems continued to grow, additionally playing the role of taking care of children while parents were at work, increasingly so with the decline in child labour and the entry of women into the labour market during the 20th century. Schools additionally familiarised learners with social roles and rules, religious customs and, increasingly, the secular values of larger and diverse communities of civic and national belonging. Yet, by the time massive schooling emerged, little was known about how learning actually worked. Schools traditionally operated under a “factory model” where standardised processes, rote-learning, memorisation and information recall were the norm – and this is still the case in many places today.

Nowadays, we have a much more robust understanding of human learning (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018[49]; Cantor et al., 2018[50]; Kuhl et al., 2019[51]; Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010[52]). Today, we know that human brains are plastic and that people learn differently, even given similar environments and learning methods. We know that learners are not empty vessels or blank slates. The prior beliefs, experiences and skills that they bring into their learning are central in the processing of new information. Prior knowledge needs thus to be leveraged, and counterbalanced in the case of misconceptions, if learners are to move from fragmented facts and routine processes to recognising how problems relate to what they already know and to develop and apply skills to solve them.

How meaningful the context is to learners and how actively they participate in their own learning are crucial aspects as well. Different experiences offer different learning opportunities. Additionally, research is clear on how close the link is between cognitive and affective, social, and emotional functions. A positive environment supports learning, and so does the possibility for learners to articulate knowledge and engage in conscious reflection on how such knowledge is developed. Articulation and reflection are social in nature: discussion with, and guidance and support from others (teachers, parents, peers) are invaluable learning resources.

Various combinations of learners, educators, content and resources can enhance learning in schools (Darling-Hammond et al., 2019[53]). A first consideration is building a learning environment where learning is safe, that fosters warm relationships among its members and is sensitive to cultural and functional diversity (OECD, 2019[54]; 2020[55]; 2010[56]; 2017[23]). Support systems for students, including academic support within and beyond the classroom and the consideration of learners’ physical and emotional health, reinforce positive environmental conditions (Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[57]; 2020[58]).

At the level of instruction, motivation is key. Curricula need to identify core competencies while leaving room for educators and students to adapt it to their needs and interests. Important to curriculum design is the recognition that students develop meaningful understanding through prior knowledge transfer, epistemic reasoning and meta-cognitive skills rather than by accumulating facts in an ever-growing variety of topics (Pellegrino, 2017[45]; OECD, forthcoming[59]).

Deep learning processes require teaching strategies featuring cognitive activation, providing space for self- and collaborative reflection and offering well-designed scaffolding, i.e. the instructional technique in which sufficient support is offered when tasks are first introduced to students. It is gradually removed when students start mastering the expected knowledge and skills (Paniagua and Istance, 2018[60]).

In addition, schools must provide learning opportunities to all students (Schmidt et al., 2015[61]; OECD, 2016[62]) and work proactively to develop the habits and mind-sets that favour resilience and positive attitudes towards learning (Chernyshenko, Kankaraš and Drasgow, 2018[63]).

Evaluation and assessment tools need to align with these objectives, which is currently not often the case (OECD, 2013[64]): the pre-eminence of individual testing vis-à-vis collaborative learning, or testing based on information recall within schools that are increasingly digitalised are good examples of such dissonance. 21st century assessments need to look into students’ integrated knowledge, skills and attitudes within applied tasks, responding effectively to the increasing need of capturing processes that may manifest validly in multiple ways, such as creativity (Vincent-Lancrin et al., 2019[65]).

Future-fit evaluation needs to adapt to diverse student bodies and hold high expectations for all regardless of social stereotypes (Kuhl et al., 2019[51]; Tarabini, Castejón and Curran, 2020[66]; OECD, 2017[23]). Advanced assessments go beyond what can be memorised to help learners to be more self-aware about who they are and how they learn (Conley, 2018[67]). Greater student ownership over such information can improve assessment formative power for a range of skills, not only those that have been traditionally valued. In turn, soft skills, such as readiness to learn, may be a key for individuals to keep developing themselves, intellectually and professionally, as they grow older (Fernandez and Liu, 2019[68]).

New technologies with learning analytic functions may soon support learners and teachers to do this (Kuhl et al., 2019[51]; Wyatt-Smith, Lingard and Heck, 2019[69]; OECD, 2018[70]), but greater capacity of practitioners and decision-makers to use educational data is required (Schildkamp, 2019[71]) in order for these technologies to work effectively. Even with the investments in this area (OECD, 2019[25]), educational data are still often not used, misused and abused in a number of ways (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[72]).

Despite the importance of modernising education, system-wide change in massive schooling systems has proven to be an elusive task. Central to schooling improvement is the extent to which education systems are able to better leverage its main asset: teachers. Expressed almost two decades ago, however, the following description is still unsettling relevant today:

The more complex and uncertain the world in which we live, the more that alternative sources of knowledge and influence are available to students, the more open schools become to diverse clienteles, and the more varied the organisational and pedagogical strategies that teachers should deploy, the greater… the levels of professional skill needed to meet them. There are growing expectations that they [teachers] can operate in new organisational structures, in collaboration with colleagues and through networks, and be able to foster individual student learning. These call for demanding concepts of professionalism: the teacher as facilitator and knowledgeable, expert individual and networked team participant, oriented to individual needs and to the broader environment, engaged in teaching and in R&D (OECD, 2001, pp. 71-72[73]).

Improving the quality of the teaching workforce has been high on the policy agenda in recent decades (OECD, 2005[74]; 2019[25]). Countries face challenges around an ageing teaching workforce, high rates of attrition among new teachers or a shortage of quality teachers in disadvantaged schools. Additionally, they may be concerned about the quality of teachers’ preparation for the job, which has also a large influence on the attractiveness of the profession (OECD, 2019[75]).

A variety of policy actions can be linked to these priorities. Many countries have reformed teacher salary scales and career structures to ensure options for professional advance and diversification exist and are rewarded (OECD, 2019[76]). Diverse forms of teacher appraisal have been developed and strengthened and teaching standards and competence frameworks have been introduced to inform teacher education and training, certification and career progress (Révai, 2018[77]; OECD, 2013[64]).

Many systems cover teacher shortages by drawing upon keeping teachers in the classrooms later in their lifespans (OECD, 2013[78]). However, as the number of healthier, competent and motivated senior teachers continues to grow, a tension may emerge between safeguarding their right to work and favouring the entry of younger professionals. In turn, such policies may further complicate efforts to address other demographic imbalances, such as ensuring the teacher force is reflective of the student population – in terms of gender or ethnic composition, for example (OECD, 2015[79]; 2017[18]; 2010[56]).

In parallel, improving teacher qualifications, skills and training has been a key policy priority (OECD, 2019[25]). This relates to developing comprehensive teacher education curricula and offering relevant field experience to prospective teachers. It has to do with easing the transition from school to work for novice teachers, providing time for practical experimentation and socialisation with peers, and continuously nurturing professional skills with training, opportunities for reflective practice and on-the-job research (OECD, 2005[74]; 2019[80]; 2019[76]; Paniagua and Sánchez-Martí, 2018[81]).

Nevertheless, outstanding issues remain. Despite wide evidence on the key role that motivations and emotions play in teaching and learning, teacher education as well as entry, selection, certification and hiring criteria in many systems do not give proper consideration to teachers’ affective and motivational capacities (OECD, 2019[80]; Guerriero, 2017[82]). In addition, despite efforts to build “sheltered environments” for novice teachers via induction and mentoring programmes, questions exist regarding how accessible and meaningful opportunities for practical experience are in initial teacher preparation (OECD, 2019[76]). Also being considered is how desirable it is to quickly induce early career teachers into schools that may not be open to scrutinising and revising their practices, that is, to innovate (Paniagua and Sánchez-Martí, 2018[81]).

Education systems have also placed a great emphasis on improving teachers’ access to continuous professional development: extending training options, securing time and leave entitlements for participation and linking training to career progression (OECD, 2019[76]). However, training in the form of one-time or short-series of externally provided learning is not ideal. Knowledge, that is, “assimilated information and the understanding of how to use it” (Hess and Ostrom, 2007[83]), cannot be ‘transferred’ like a piece of paper. Evidence use, improvement and innovation go hand in hand: teachers use knowledge available to create new solutions and generate new knowledge throughout the process (Révai, 2020[84]).

Hence, teachers are brokers of their own knowledge, increasingly often by organising themselves in peer networks that extend beyond the “school walls” (Paniagua and Istance, 2018[60]; OECD, 2015[85]). Sharing, exchange, dialogue and collaboration among teachers and within partnerships between these and other actors, such as research institutions, move beyond linear knowledge transmission models to create an innovation-research ecosystem where evidence and new methods can be incorporated effectively by all teachers within their respective contexts (OECD, 2019[76]; Révai, 2020[84]). A better understanding about how these arrangements work is necessary if policy makers are to foster, collaborate with, sustain, enhance and hold such organisational structures accountable (Lima, forthcoming[86]).

Teachers that are more experienced and knowledgeable provide higher quality teaching, which results in better student outcomes. Knowledgeable teachers – with knowledge that is explicit and codified and tacit, implicit, fruit of experience (Révai and Guerriero, 2017[87]) – are better classroom managers, ensuring that students are organised, attentive and focused. They experiment new approaches, providing students with a thought-provoking instruction to keep them engaged in the task. They are attentive and responsive to the emotional needs of pupils, and actively build warm relationships with them (Ulferts, 2019[88]).

Good teachers diagnose a situation and identify learning needs. With a diagnostic, they have to apply one of various potential solutions, a dilemma that they resolve by mobilising knowledge (Révai and Guerriero, 2017[87]; Pollard, 2010[89]). This is knowledge on their subject content, on general pedagogical practices and, increasingly, knowledge on technology. Its acquisition may come directly from the study of evidence and active engagement in research, as well as from professional experience and through peer collaboration and exchange (Guerriero, 2017[82]; Harris, Mishra and Koehler, 2009[90]; OECD, 2019[80]).

Different teaching strategies may support student learning in different ways. For instance, teachers may design activities where students play an active role in directing their own learning, as in project-based learning or by building on play and game mechanics. Other teachers may prefer to engage students via storytelling, suggestive analogies and provocative examples, and open-up topics to discussion. Teachers may often combine various strategies depending on the task, their own skills and confidence and the level of student responsiveness (Paniagua and Istance, 2018[60]).

This offers a perspective in which practitioners actively use, connect and adapt different forms of knowledge to their contexts and practice. This is a complex competence, which involves evaluating specific learning cases and contextual factors, such as students’ prior knowledge, attitudes and motivation, curricular goals and available learning resources, and connecting them to knowledge of teaching and learning (Guerriero and Révai, 2017[91]). Such a view of teaching moves away from the perception of teachers as technicians who implement procedures in a curriculum towards one of professionals whose practice is discretionary and builds on knowledge and judgement. In this sense, innovation is at the heart of teachers’ professional practice: teachers must constantly develop new solutions and adapt those of others by means of study, intuition and collaboration (Paniagua and Istance, 2018[60]; Révai, 2020[84]).

The distribution of power within education systems has changed substantially in the last four decades. Based on the assumption that officials, governors, managers and professionals who are close to local operations know best what should be done, many education systems have moved towards greater decentralisation, granting local actors more discretionary power in the exercise of their responsibilities. Political reforms and wider global trends such as globalisation and expanded connectivity have shifted power in other directions as well: “upwards, towards international organisations” and “sideways to private institutions and non-governmental organisations” (Theisens, 2016, p. 56[92]). Central governments, still responsible for the outcomes of the schooling system have adapted to new roles, moving away from central planning and control and strengthening accountability and support in relation to local actors.

Public administration worked traditionally through planning by “breaking down a goal or set of intentions into steps, formalising those steps so that they can be implemented almost automatically, and articulating the anticipated consequences or results of each step” (Mintzberg, 1994, p. 108[93]). With greater local autonomy and vertical, performance-based accountability mechanisms like large-scale assessments, educational administrations exercise a more indirect form of control through goal-setting, evaluation and steering. Furthermore, many systems have adopted market-inspired tools to govern areas such as school management and student enrolment (Sahlberg, 2016[94]), although with disparate results (Waslander, Pater and van der Weide, 2010[95]; Lubienski, 2009[96]).

Central education administrations have strengthened support to local actors, redefining the roles and resources of existing structures, such as inspectorates, increasing communication efforts to clarify policy priorities and actions, and setting up mechanisms to translate and mobilise evidence, knowledge and expertise (OECD, 2007[97]). This has spurred experimentation and innovation, strengthened self-evaluation and improvement capacity in schools and the sharing of good practices. Nevertheless, the reverse has also been observed, where policy implementation flaws occurred following miscommunication and rapidly changing priorities, reform overload and fatigue, and when centrally-developed tools (e.g. data, software) were not used locally (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[72]).

Education systems have become more complex, with a broader diversity of actors and a growing number of governance levels in which decisions are made and implemented. Importantly, local autonomy creates the space for a larger and more diverse range of stakeholders to participate in and shape the policy process – with their engagement, feedback and support but also their resistance (Burns and Köster, 2016[98]).

What has been described so far is only part of the story. Greater local autonomy brings as well increased power for actors to self-organise and collaborate. Networks and partnerships are now common for exchanging ideas and learning and optimisation of service delivery. Formed by individuals or organisations, formal or informal in nature, voluntary or mandated, these are more and more common, such as in school-to-school and teacher professional networks and partnerships between educational services and service providers in other fields, public and private (OECD, 2018[22]; 2019[76]; Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[57]; Révai, 2020[84]).

Networks and partnerships may entail a number of undesired outcomes, including increased costs of collaborative activities, lack of capacity, complexity in co-ordination, and diffusion of responsibilities and consequent accountability issues (Lima, forthcoming[86]; Ehren and Perryman, 2017[99]). These need to be taken into account to make sure the costs of partnering do not outweigh its benefits. In addition, a crucial question for governments is how to relate to these networks (Theisens, 2016[92]).

Networks and partnerships imply new ways of thinking, with social actors guided by their own preferences and priorities. Governments need to assess whether and how reactions from stakeholders may favour or hinder advancement towards desired policy objectives or, indeed, whether such goals need to be reformulated, build up jointly outside the administration or defined locally. Once an initiative emerges from communities or local actors (bottom-up), the question for governments becomes what is next? The answer varies, and can be different in each particular context: to do nothing, block, facilitate, influence or gain control of such emerging structures (Frankowski et al., 2018[100]).

Building up trust and mobilising legitimacy are key for governing under these complex circumstances, and governments may leverage network structures and alliances to push policies forward (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[72]). Networks and partnerships may be more difficult to manage given the different goals of public and private actors, and the need to effectively coordinate multiple nodes simultaneously. But these may need to be strengthened to make sure education systems leverage external expertise and resources and keep up with rapid changes in the wider environment (Burns and Gottschalk, 2019[57]).

At the same time, establishing these alliances implies dealing with concerns related to quality and equity, such as in potential fragmentation of services provided and unethical behaviour by some of the parties (Verger, 2019[101]). Additionally, because the adoption of policy instruments privileges and nourishes certain actors and particular interests by “determining resource allocations, access to the policy process, and problem representations” (Menon and Sedelmeier, 2010, p. 76; in Verger, Parcerisa and Fontdevila (2018[42]), policy decisions taken in a particular moment in time may have long-term consequences. Potential lock-in effects are aspects of the present that can be crucial to how education’s future develop.

This chapter has provided an overview of main developments and issues around schooling and formal education provision. It has looked at schooling as a socioeconomic trend, one that has grown for over a century and continues to expand. First, access to formal education continues to increase with the expansion of early learning, a wide range of learning programmes outside of schools and the growth of post-secondary programmes. Second, participation in schooling has also expanded where equity gaps are bridged, both in terms of learning participation and the recognition and accommodation of existing social diversity within learning programmes.

Better insights from the learning sciences hold the promise for eventually being able to deliver on the intention of education reform. Meanwhile, expectations for schooling keep growing. Despite greater access to formal learning, there are persistent and significant learning deficits in large parts of the population, which causes scepticism over both the quality and equity of education provision in current systems. Concerns also exist regarding the provision and nature of lifelong learning. Despite ongoing refinement of learning metrics, artificial distinctions between what is learnt within and out of schools remain too often unchallenged.

Are massive schooling systems fit for purpose? Will their current strengths and challenges be reduced or amplified in a world of increasing complexity? How will they evolve in a more resilient, self-organising society? Should we embrace some sort of technological solutionism? Furthermore, would technological solutions solve schooling shortcomings or could they potentially replace schooling systems entirely? Our current version of schooling systems emerged with the industrial society and whether they will continue to persist remains an open question.


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