Do formal education systems have a future?

Do formal education systems have a future?


The question posed in the title of this article comes from the 2019 international conference organized by the International Review of Education of Sèvres , as explained by Jean-Marie De Ketele in his introduction to this issue, entitled “Reforming Education“. The short and obvious answer to this question, which we think everyone at the symposium would agree with, is “yes”. But they might also agree with a more elaborate answer, such as “yes, but…”. In any case, this will be the common thread of this article.

To approach the future, this article must necessarily take note of certain trends of the past; but it also examines emerging trends that are expected to continue. The article begins with what might be called the great history of schooling, before turning to more recent developments, including the emphasis placed by some educators and institutions on ways to facilitate learning, whatever whatever the place. Spectacular technological progress precipitates and accelerates certain changes in priorities and, beyond public schooling, additional private education is experiencing significant developments. These changes show that reform is not just a government-led action, but can also be an independent process,

The great history of schooling

3The 19th and 20th centuries  were characterized by a remarkable development of the school throughout the world, to the point that it became a compulsory and universal institution in essence, even in the poorest countries. The historical study by Boli et al. (1985) note that in the 1980s, almost 75% of children of primary school age worldwide were enrolled in “something you might call a school”. Since then, enrollment has expanded further. Unesco (2019) recorded a global gross enrollment rate of 104% in primary education and net enrollment rates of 84% in lower secondary, 64% in upper secondary.

As a bottom-up process, key drivers of the expansion of schooling have included the desire of families to make their children literate and equip them with skills so that when the time comes, they can enter the labor market and the promotion of certain values ​​by churches and other institutions that built schools. In due time, states became involved in order to promote what would today be called human capital and to guarantee forms of socialization conducive to local and national development. The combination of mass education and state orchestration has led to processes of isomorphism, whereby schools have come to resemble each other more and more in terms of grading formats, curricula, timetables and other organizational aspects,

One of the major historical turning points was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , adopted in 1948 by the United Nations. Article 26 of the Declaration affirms not only the right to education, but also the obligation to receive an education (understood as schooling) at least at the elementary level. This article 26 adds that technical and professional education must be generalized and that higher education must be open in full equality to all according to their merits. The Declarationpaved the way for universal primary education goals, first leading in time to pressure for universal lower secondary education, then contributing to the considerable development of upper secondary and higher education

But learning is an activity, not a place

The previous paragraphs have dealt mainly with institutions – “something you might call a school”. But, of course, learning has always taken place before, after, as well as during schooling; it involves informal learning through family and larger forms of social interaction, and what Philip H. Coombs (1985) has called non-formal education. Coombs founded and directed UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) in 1963; he showed great vision. No government seriously considered that non-formal education could permanently replace formal education and Unesco, like other organizations guided byUniversal Declaration of Human Rights , remained resolutely focused on education.

Nevertheless, even in the relatively short period since the writings of Coombs and others, the terrain on which institutional structures operate has changed considerably. One of the most obvious changes is related to advances in technology, which have led to particularly dramatic changes over the past decade. The old model of schooling, which readers of this article will no doubt still remember, was built to transmit knowledge of which, as far as the pupils were concerned, the teachers were the main source. Classrooms were arranged in rows of desks facing the blackboard and the teacher’s desk, from which knowledge was imparted and learning orchestrated. But the advent of the internet and search engines mean that, with the click of a mouse or iPhone, students can instantly access vastly greater reservoirs of knowledge than teachers will ever be able to provide. Some institutions are seeking to maintain their authority and limit “distractions” in the classroom by banning the use of smartphones and related technologies during regular lessons. Others choose to evolve their role to make teachers more obviously facilitators of learning rather than sources of knowledge. Institutions seeking to maintain their authority by keeping electronic sources of knowledge outside the classroom will sooner or later have to give in, even in the most traditional environments.

Furthermore, with the pace of technological change showing no signs of slowing down, further developments are certainly to be expected. Distance teaching and learning technologies have been around for a long time, in both individual and collective formats, but they are in the process of being revolutionized. Tutoring companies in China, for example, use software to leverage the skills of their best teachers in the city to reach classrooms of learners in rural areas. Their remote camera software analyzes students’ facial expressions to indicate how focused they are on their task and understanding the lessons.

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