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The Education Futures Blog

Last March, we asked a deceptively simple question, does the future need schools? As we look 10, 20, or 50 years into the future, will ‘school’ be relevant?

Our survey consisted of a simple yes/no question, together with an optional why/why not follow-up response. 71% of respondents said, yes, the future does need schools. Watch our webinar presentation for more details:

To ensure a high level of accuracy in the interpretation of the data, Kelly Killorn-Moravec and I dual coded all responses. Kelly went beyond the call of duty and developed a beautiful, detailed mind map of participant responses, available as a PDF at: https://bit.ly/2LhgZdY


Or as a webpage at:


Once you’ve viewed our webinar, why not earn an hour of continuing professional education? After all, you’ve already done half the work. Just go to educationfutures.com/learn, and sign up for the Does the future need schools Moodle course. After you post your thoughts in response to the questions we have for you in the sound off forum, you can download your certificate of completion. It’s free, and it’s our gift to you for joining the conversation.

We were delighted by the diversity and detail in the dataset and we found many of the responses to be very profound. Here are a few that struck us the most:

From a respondent who said, "no, the future does not need schools."

Does the future need schools? The future will find its form anyway; whether there are schools or not. But I guess when you say future, you think of an acceptable future for human kind. I think the future of human kind does not need schools; I think we will even be better off without. The question for societies then is: what will we do with all these wild, creative, rebellious, active, exploring young people in society? What will be their place, or better: their role, in the community of men if schools seize to exist?

As Jean Pierre Lepri says: "Schools are prisons, for the students as well as for the teachers. Democratic schools are nice prisons, but still prisons." We put in all this time and money and effort and good intentions in the educational system, but it is a crappy system and gets worse by the day. But the problem is: so many people are completely caught up in it and have their lives depending on it.

So on a individual scale school is a disasterous invention for many people (people being paid to do the job, convinced it is their responsibility to make others learn; as well as students, convinced they need these paid adults to learn in order to succeed in life). Everybody is unhappy in their role and I think it does not help people to get the best out of their lives. So I think for the future of the individuals involved the best thing would be to quit, like deciding to break up a marriage that does not work.

On a society scale I can see that schools are beneficial to society to a certain degree, because of the structure. Society can use schools to get where it wants to get. It is an old rotten vehicle, but it still drives. Better an old car that's slow and does not steer very well, than no car at all. Question: does democracy need schools?

Back to the future of human kind. Schools will pass; the educational system will implode, topple over; too much weight on a bad foundation. So I think it is time we start to think about what comes next. Not democratic education. Democratic education (I have been working in democratic education for the last 15 years) is a way to wake people up, but it is not the future. It is a step towards the grave of the educational system, but it will not carry us far into the future.

Thank you for asking this question.

From a respondent who said, "yes, the future needs schools."

I believe school settings will experience disruptive changes, similar to the radical changes observed over the last two decades in creative companies’ workspaces.

As stated by Clark Aldrich in his book “Unschooling Rules”, today “What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom” and “The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.”

In the future, students shall only attend a school building part time, which is the essence of the space-time concept – the space they need for the time they need. (Please find the SpaceTime concept developed by Chadwick- Space Strategy, Architecture + Design, who implemented the SpaceNet® configuration for Andersen Consulting West Europe, hereinafter Accenture West Europe, as the company changed its name).

Our current education system has its roots in the industrial age society. Today students are much more social and enjoy to learn in a less structured way, anytime, anywhere. Learning is no longer limited to the confines of a traditional classroom.

The new learning space environment shall offer a variety of settings, as catalysts for changing classrooms into authentic research & experimentation workshops, moving away from the postindustrial revolution settings, conceived for mass production.

This change in structure will emphasize the concept that the school student is at the core of the learning experience, rather than the teacher. Educators will then focus on what matters most: creating opportunities and environments in which students learn and thrive, establishing the foundation of a learner-centric education.

As reported by the Future Learning Spaces (FLS) project:

“In fact, sometimes it is the students who will be doing the teaching as they report upon their findings during the learning process. The students instruct themselves as they see fit, whether it be individual internet research, group discussion, planning a joint experiment with a partner and more. This classroom of the future eliminates passive learning, transforming the teacher’s role to one of a mentor, guiding students through the active learning process, adapting the curriculum to students’ individual needs, and enabling students to learn at their own pace.”

Dave Townsend, a former business and law teacher, predicts a school where students aren’t always on site:

“Build schools half the size that they are now, for the same number of pupils but half the size,” he suggests. “Build it to a high standard – think something like a Google Campus. Have students come into the school three days a week and then the other two they can work from home. They’ll be able to access a teacher when they need one but you won’t need such a big building because you’ll be dealing with fewer students on site at one time.”

And, another respondent who said, "yes, the future needs schools."

At the elementary level, schools act as "in loco parentis." Many children need an adult in their lives when responsible parenting is absent. Schools provide a shelter and caring environment when this is missing. Schools act as in loco parentis and provide opportunities to develop social, group, and communication skills. Ideally they are a respite from less than ideal home and neighborhood environments. At the secondary level schools need to provide relevant vocational skills for those who may not think a college track is for them. Secondary schools need to revamp their curricula with proper funding to realize variation in curricula. At the college level, and I will use a personal example, my family never attended college and most didn't complete a 4 year H.S. curriculum. Therefore college was never encouraged and upon H.S. graduation I did not have a clue as to my future. Attending college following military service opened up a world to me that I never knew. The idea of sharing ideas with other students is something I'll always cherish. Yes, schools are necessary but schools need to adapt to change.

Finally, from a respondent who said, "no, the future does not need schools."

John, You're asking the wrong question. The question should be; "in the future, what role will the school play in preserving and building our society?" There will always be a 'need' for schools- 10 years, 20 years, 50 years and beyond. Humankind is inherently social. It's built into our DNA. From its very foundation, schools have served the role of providing a social setting through which children could learn how to assimilate into a broader society. Initially, it centered around teaching the '3r's' at a level sufficient to allow them to capably interact in a marketplace and be self-sufficient. School buildings weren't necessary. Churches would do; incorporating a system of instilling values into one's character. Eventually, as societal needs changed, curriculum and instruction followed- historically it's never led. Industrial age brought industrial age buildings; replicas of the manufacturing world. Soon, buildings came to 'represent' schools and all that went into them. Today, the question of the need for schools only arises because of the focus and interdependence of curriculum, instruction and facilities. Once this relationship is broken, the more appropriate question of what role the school will play in the future can be addressed. Recognizing the social nature of our inner being and the 'breakdown' of the 19th and 20th century family, a place where children can gather will always be a necessity. What happens in that 'place' will be different than what we call a school today. This new place will need to provide socialization opportunities; aided by facilitators and experts in this area. This new place will provide opportunities for learning, learning in ways beyond simple 'sit and git' as well as beyond 'stare, glare and prepare.' This place called school will include planned opportunities for children (and adults in need of retooling) to collaborate on areas of particular interest. It will be a place where community resources will be found, available and used. It will be a place to share, build and grow ideas that will lead to a better society and world to live in. So, does the future need schools? Yes, just a lot different!

Want to read more? This is an open research project. You are invited to review the entire dataset, anonymized to protect respondent identities.

Slides from the webinar are also available vis SlideShare.