Envisioning Alternative Futures of Education

As the Director from the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, University of Hawaii with Manoa, Professor Dator emphasized that there was no way to make an accurate prediction of “the future”. Futures research is not merely about correctly forecasting the future; instead, it is about learning the varieties and sources of different “images of the futures”, which are expressions of beliefs, ideas, fears and expectations that people hold and express in regards to the futures.


After a comprehensive analysis of many images of the futures expressed in laws and regulations, government plus corporate documents, statements by political figures, public opinion polls, books plus essays, etc ., Professor Dator reached four generic images of the futures, or simply called four alternative futures. These four alternative futures can be called as “growth”, “collapse”, “discipline” and “transformation”.


The majority of all images of the futures are related to ” growth”, particularly ongoing economic growth. It appears that most nations would consider this to be the official see of the future of all governments and schooling systems: they aim to develop a society which keeps the economy growing plus changing forever, under the assumption that the society in the present form will keep grow in the manner that it presently will.


In recent years, “collapse” images of the futures are attaining some popularity as more people than usual worry about the unsustainable environment and economy. This can be a future with, for example , changed climatestar and sea-level, severely declined population, scarce water, food and natural resources, economies based on farming, fishing and hunting, plus absence of national borders and government authorities.


In order to avoid “collapse” and in recognition of the impossibility and undesirability of continued growth, many people share a “disciplined” images of the futures, in which people’s lives are governed simply by and “disciplined” around a set of basic values such as natural, spiritual or even cultural ones in pursuit of a deeper purpose in life than endless financial growth.


Your fourth alternative future is “transformation” where many technologies are converging quickly in such a way to transform the society, including humanity from its present form into a new post-human form. The one thing that people still do better than their machines in this future is to be imaginative plus creative.


Professor Dator emphasized that no single future could be regarded as the best or the worst. Each future makes very different assumptions about a number of driving forces; therefore , whenever stakeholders envision the futures of education, all the four alternative futures should be equally and fully regarded as and should avoid privileging one on the others. He also pointed out that concern of plausible alternative futures would be a necessary step that must be undertaken just before trying to move towards preferred social futures or preferred educational processes. Otherwise, a naïve preferred long term will be likely merely a response to current or past problems without getting ready to address actual problems and possibilities yet to come. Finally, in talking about futures of education, Professor Dator stated that he believed that schooling planning and policies should, as far as possible and appropriate, be guided by prior futures foresight routines.


For more information, please get in touch with Ushio Miura [u.miura(at)unesco.org] or Antony Tam [kh.tam(at)unesco.org] at the Education Policy plus Reform Unit.



Written by Antony Tam [kh.tam(at)unesco.org]



Related Links:


• SEAMEO Consultation and Workshop upon Post-2015 Education Scenarios and Post-EFA Education Agenda in Southeast Asia
• Alternative Futures at the Manoa School, Journal of Futures Studies, November 2009, 14(2): 1-18

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