UNESCO’s Futures of Education Initiative


Sobhi Tawil, PhD

UNESCO Paris, France.

Noah W. Sobe, PhD

Loyola University Chicago, USA & UNESCO Paris, France


The audience


In this session representatives from UNESCO’s Education Research and Foresight team will present the soon-to-be-launched Futures of Education initiative. This project is an ambitious attempt to mobilize the many rich ways of being and knowing worldwide to reflect on and generate debate on how education might need to be re-thought in a world of increasing complexity, uncertainty, and precarity.

Inequalities, violence and exclusion are bringing many societies to a point of crisis. The fragility of our planet is becoming more and more apparent. And, we must ask whether whether education can continue in a business-as-usual manner. Sadly, these varied forms of insecurity are exploited by some, thus straining social cohesion and weakening trust in institutions around the world. With rapidly changing contexts and multiple possible futures, we must reexamine and reimagine how education can contribute to the global common good.

The project will entail two inter-related tracks for rethinking the futures of education. First, the establishment of an International Commission of eminent personalities and thought leaders of diverse expertise and perspectives from the worlds of politics, academia, the arts, science and business. Second, a broad process of engagement with multiple stakeholder networks and platforms to ensure the insight of youth, educators, civil society, researchers, policy-makers, and business and technology partners. The International Commission will present its analysis and recommendations in late 2021 in the form of a report to serve as an agenda for policy debate and action at multiple levels.

The UNESCO Global Futures of Education initiative proposes that the urgency of the challenges before us seem to require a radical transformation of mindsets and of our conceptions of human well-being, development, and how to share a planet. Knowledge, learning and education broadly considered are at the heart of this transformation. The rise of artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning also raise major ethical and governance concerns about the future, especially as the promises of innovation and technological change have an uneven record of contributing to human flourishing. Despite the promise and many successes we can expect from the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, there is still an urgent need to look beyond this horizon. Even with great advances in enrolments at all levels globally, we still must ask what education might yet become.

This forthcoming project also adopts the view that the complex challenges in our world today require innovative solutions beyond established sectoral approaches and disciplinary boundaries. The initiative will emphasize co-creation, a broad partnership and participation process, and the absence of pre-specified outcomes. The global report, and its inputs, will build on UNESCO’s humanistic approach to learning and the foundation laid by previous UNESCO global reports: Rethinking Education 2015; Learning: The treasure within 1996; and Learning to Be 1972. These reports have established UNESCO as the lead in the global debate on the future of education and learning. The tentative title of the 2021 Global Report Learning to Become signals both a continuation of this work and a departure. To think in terms of “becoming” invokes a line of philosophical and social thinking that emphasizes potentials, rejects determinism, and expresses a flexible openness to the new. The notion of “learning to become” also directs attention at the persistence of inequalities, continuing plagues of violence, and the increasing strains on a fragile planet – all of which demand that humanity become something it has not yet become.

Roberto ArnoveRobert Arnove

Chancellor's Professor Emeritus of Leadership & Policy Studies at Indiana University,Bloomington

Conference: "The Ethical and Empirical Dimensions of Comparative Education"

Biosketch: Robert F. Arnove, Chancellor's Professor of Emeritus at Indiana University,Bloomington is a an Honorary Fellow and past president of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). He has been a CIES delegate to the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) and has served as chair of its special projects committee. Winner of many distinguished teaching awards, he has been a visiting scholar at universities in countries ranging from Argentina to Australia. Over the past two decades, his co-edited textbook with Carlos Torres -- Comparative Education: The Dialectic of the Global and the Local (2013, 4th edition)-- has been a leading English language introduction to the field. (The text has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese.) His research has focused on sociopolitical and educational change, as well as on literacy campaigns and popular education, philanthropy and cultural imperialism, and world-systems analysis. Arnove's latest single authored text is Talent Abounds: Profiles of Master Teachers and Peak Performers. He has been a teachers union president, a candidate for the U.S. Congress, and the president of an experimental theater company. Having worked in Latin America, since 1962, he is very pleased to be able to return to Mexico to participate in the XVII World Congress of Comparative Education Societies in Cancun.

Semblanza: Robert F. Arnove, profesor Emérito de la Universidad de Indiana en Bloomington. Miembro honorario y ex presidente de la Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). Ha sido delegado de CIES en el World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) y se ha desempeñado como presidente del comité de proyectos especiales. Ganador de distintos reconocimientos como profesor; ha sido profesor visitante en universidades de países que van desde Argentina hasta Australia. En las últimas dos décadas, su libro coeditado con Carlos Alberto Torres - Comparative Education: The Dialectic of the Global and the Local (2013, 4ª edición) - se ha destacado como texto introductorio al campo de la educación comparada, en inglés, aunque ya ha sido traducido al chino, japonés, español y portugués. Sus líneas de investigación se han centrado en el cambio sociopolítico y educativo, así como en las campañas de alfabetización y educación popular; filantropía e imperialismo cultural y análisis de los sistemas- mundo. Su texto más reciente es Talent Abounds: Profiles of Master Teachers and Peak Performers. Ha sido presidente de un sindicato de docentes, candidato para el Congreso de los EE. UU. y presidente de una compañía de teatro experimental. Habiendo trabajado en América Latina desde 1962, está muy contento de poder regresar a México para participar en el XVII Congreso Mundial de Sociedades de Educación Comparada en Cancún.

Mmantsetsa MaropeMmantsetsa Marope

Director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education (IBE) since July 2014. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Chicago, a Master’s degree in Education from Pennsylvania State University, and a BA and a CCE from the University of Botswana and Swaziland. Within UNESCO, she has held several director positions including the Director of the Division for Basic to Higher Education and Learning. Prior to UNESCO, her work experience includes the World Bank, university teaching, academic networks, and consultancy services for governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies. She is on advisory boards of diverse academic, public, private sector institutions and development agencies. Her publications cover a wide range of areas in education. Dr. Marope holds many prestigious awards including: The World Bank Excellence Award for the Africa Region, Alumni Achievement Award from Pennsylvania State University, and Macmillan’s Best Setswana Novelist Award. She is an unwavering advocate and global thought leader on the transformation of education and learning systems towards innovative and constant self-renewal, quality, impactful effectiveness, current and future development-relevance, equity, inclusion, justice, and fulfilment for all. As the Director of IBE, her resolve is to propel and sustain the Bureau’s critical acclaim as the Global Center of Excellence in Curriculum and related matters

Conference: “Shaping the Future of Education or Shaping the Future Through Education”

The future of education has never been more debated than it is in the 21st century. Across virtually all noteworthy forums, debates echo escalating unease about the readiness of education and learning systems to prepare learners (both young and old) for the future. Most significantly, for a future whose detailed directions, challenges, and opportunities we cannot quite predict. At the core of this unease is the reality that change has become the only constant in the 21st century. It is a century of relentless, unpredictable, often disruptive waves of human-made and nature-driven change, touching all spheres of live. It has ushered issues pertaining to globalization, globalization 4.0, violent extremism, security, cybersecurity, food security, migration, immigration, displacement, climate change, unimaginable innovations, extraordinary human advancements and more. It is a century of “revolutions”: the information revolution, knowledge revolution, technology revolution, and now the fourth industrial revolution (I4.0); an unimaginable accelerant to what was already an overwhelming pace of change. Combined, these factors challenge the readiness of education and learning systems to prepare learners for a complex and unknown future. They raise pertinent questions about how we can make education and learning systems future-ready. They question the competences that learners must develop, if they are to lead productive and fulfilling lives in contexts of constant change. They ask if globalization 4.0 warrants global competences that everyone must have. These questions are at the heart of curriculum, and of comparative studies of curricula contexts. Though a pertinent debate, it bears a clear risk of pushing education and learning systems into a reactive future. This begs the question how proactive should education and learning systems be? Therein lies a new debate: Shaping the future of education and/or shaping the future through education: What can comparative education offer?

Norberto Fernández LamarraNorberto Fernández Lamarra

UNESCO Chair “Education and Future in Latin America”
Director of Posgraduate Department at Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, Argentina