Educators are in the business of predicting the future - so what trends might they want to pay attention to?

In preparation for the official launch of the School Design Lab, our Education Lead here at Innovation Unit unleashed the collective precognition - or rather knowledge of current global trends - of our leading thinkers. She asked, “What will the world be like for young people leaving school in 2030 - that is, those starting school this September(!)?”

What began as a crowd sourcing exercise turned out to be an absolutely fascinating dive into our understanding of the evidence that exists out there, our raw perceptions of what the future holds, and also of our collective selves. The result? A roller-coaster of emotions starting with unadulterated fear and ending with the audacity of hope and the re-establishment of our shared determination to design extraordinary learning with schools the world over.

Somewhat inevitably, the knee-jerk assessment was that we live in truly perilous times. Reflections on chronic underemployment, the climate countdown, persistent social inequality, resistance to antibiotics, and the unpreparedness for an ageing population left us weeping for the millennials. As one colleague put it “we, the baby boomers, had the party, and now the millennials are getting the hangover”.

The 37 horsemen of the apocalypse continued their charge - rising obesity, diabetes and mental ill-health led us down the path of distressingly low levels of emotional and physical well-being, with dreaded consequences for already under-prepared public services.

Truly perilous times. Sigh. Sob.

Fascinatingly, it took a documentary on the birth of Jerusalem to snap us out of it. “It was like Game of Thrones but without the dragons - bloody terrifying! Although, it is true that we live in perilous times, a) that’s always been true and b) our times are also exciting and full of potential and opportunity. I’d choose now, wouldn’t you?”

Absolutely.

From then on, the conversation was all about the potential of global connectivity and technological advancement. We asked questions such as; “what does the progress made at CERN and by SpaceX mean for what young people will need to know and be able to do in the future?”, “what opportunities do global digital platforms offer political participation and creative entrepreneurship?”

Even the widely rehearsed critique of automation and artificial intelligence as grim reapers of the labour market, transformed into the belief that they presented opportunities for a re-emphasis on the human, the authentic and the aesthetic contributions that we as a workforce and people can make to society.

Erring on the side of caution, it’s important to make clear: predicting the future is a fool’s errand. Trying to understand trends can all too easily slip into determinism. We don't know what the world will be like, but there are some trends that anyone whose job it is to predict or shape the future need to pay attention to, and act upon.

And, as educators, aren’t we shaping the future when we decide what young people should learn and learn to do?

Which returns us full circle to why we are launching School Design Lab.

We believe that the future is unlikely to be what most educational processes, policies and practices currently assume it will be - and that is the point. It's neither enough to say we have no idea what will happen nor that we are confident we know what will. But what we are resolutely determined about is supporting schools, in partnership with their students, to respond to the trends that will profoundly influence the lives of young people, and helping them to design extraordinary learning that inspires and prepares a generation.

We want to hear from anyone and everyone about what they think the future trends are, so get in touch: schooldesignlab@innovationunit.org