What is “school” in the future? We gaze forward to 2025 and imagine Mariam, aged 10, in West Africa. Her school is a visor and a touch-response glove that let her enter virtual worlds to play and learn her way. For Aarav, age 15, in South Asia, school is a training center built by employers where he prepares for work. For Luiza, age 9, in Amazonia, school is a classroom occupied with rigorous core learning under a new international millennium goal for basic literacy and numeracy.
Education is under pressure to reform, to improve, and to change. But change to what? Without a clear vision, we are not likely to get the future system our children need.
We can begin to envision alternative futures using scenarios. This article does that with a focus on three transformational ideas about primary/secondary education. Each develops a concept that is already part of the education dialog into a clearer future view of what is possible.
Three 2025 Scenarios for the Future of Education
- 2025 Scenario 1 — EyeLearn
Mariam sits under a red cotton tree in her village. She adjusts her visualizer and puts on a touch-response glove.
“Hello Papio,” she says to start a new lesson. Papio is a baboon, her animated guide in her daily learning journeys.
Mariam begins a game about plane geometry. With her gloved hand she presses the edges of a square in her visualizer and it turns into a rhombus.
“Rhombus!” Papio says.
She watches him grab the shape and dance around.
She gestures to rotate a right triangle with a square drawn on each of its sides. Color drains like water from the squares on the short sides into the square on the hypotenuse. It exactly fills the big square. Mariam twirls her finger to see it again.
“The areas of the first two equal the third!” she says.
“Yes!” Papio says. “A2 plus b2 equals c2.”
Four mangoes pop into her view. Mariam is ready to move up a level.
In the afternoon, Mariam will go to the learning center to work on a group project and maybe play basketball. But first, it’s time for literature. She wants to talk to Fatima, the book’s heroine, and ask her why she took the journey with Ahmed.
- 2025 Scenario 2 — Vocation, vocation, vocation
Aarav does not know the joke, “What are the three things that matter in education? Vocation, vocation, vocation.” But educators say it, government ministers say it, and for employers it is no joke, they demand it. And that has remade his country’s schools since the early 2020s.
Aarav knows he has to work hard as a student so he can help his family. He wants to do more than be a laborer. He rated for electrician at the Grade 8 vocational testing. So in 2024, at 14, his father signed a contract with the power company for Aarav to get certification in applied electricity. Every day, Aarav spends most of his school time working toward the technical skills he will need. And each year the Ministry of Labour representative visits the school and the students reaffirms their commitments to complete their studies.
“Remember your commitment,” Aarav’s instructor says, and the boy touches his tablet to join the maths lesson. He yawns. In the afternoon he can use the power plant simulator, which is more fun. In 2027, when Aarav is in Grade 11, he will begin two days a week working in the industry cooperative program. He is excited but scared at the thought.
- 2025 Scenario 3 — Millennium 2
Luiza always has to wait for her classmates to finish a lesson. Since 2019, when the country committed to M2 and “Every Child,” all Year 3 students have done the same work at the same time in school.
The first Millennium Goal for education had come up short. “Ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.” So by 2015, policymakers, NGOs, philanthropists, and educators in every region coalesced around a new goal. We would not use conflict, hunger, and poor infrastructure as excuses. The world had the tools to raise its goal higher. “Ensure by 2030, children everywhere will complete a full course of primary and secondary schooling, and enter their adulthood prepared for work and citizenship.”
Luiza stares out a window, seeing the sun glare off the solar array. The schools have been adding power in rural villages, and issuing all students learning tablets to reach the M2 goals. Millennium 2 testing will come in a few weeks. She will be ready.
How to Think About these Scenarios
What can you do with scenarios 10+ years in the future?
These brief scenarios are thought experiments. We use them to play out “what ifs” about the future. They are tools for asking, “if this future emerged, what are its implications?”
- Scenario 1 EyeLearn — Could learning technology go as far as it does for Mariam? The potential for technology in education is enormous but we have not worked out how best integrate it. What else would have to change?
- Scenario 2 Vocation, Vocation, Vocation — What if a focus on VoTech reached the heights it does for Aarav? Is the hand of the employer then too strong? Does general learning lose out?
- Scenario 3 Millennium 2 — What if a centralized focus on meeting basic literacy and numeracy remade our schools? What trade-offs would we make trying to bring everyone up to a basic level?
The three scenarios help us begin to examine imagined revolutions in education. We will not likely realize any of these as written. But the transformations they portray are each thrusts the current system wants and needs to pursue. Envisioning possibilities desired or not is our best route to choosing a desired future and charting a course to reach it.