What education can and should look like by 2040

By Civica

GovInsider spotlights the key takeaways of Education 2040, a series where a spectrum of voices across the education system share their envisioning of the sector in 18 years.

“We must look back to look forward,” wrote Lois Peeler, Principal of Worawa Aboriginal College, Australia.

18 years from now, in the year 2040, a child born this year would have just completed high school – a milestone in every child’s education. How would they have experienced their education, and what would they have to say about it?

Would they have been fed the right syllabus to deal with the problems of their time, such as the climate crisis, the loss of indigenous language and culture, or rising inequalities? Would they be more equipped in financial literacy, and entrepreneurship, and be true-blue digital natives?

Hamish Curry, General Manager of Cool Australia found it imperative to look beyond immediate crises that drive short-term decisions in education and explore these visionary questions. Cool Australia is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting teachers with high-quality teaching tools across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and India.

In a joint project with education software supplier Civica, Education 2040 features voices from across the spectrum of the education sector – futurists, a school principal, a high school student, an early childhood educator, and more – to envision their preferred futures. GovInsider sits down with Curry to hear his favourite takeaways from this series.

A probable or a preferred future?


Curry believes we can envision the future through two lenses. The first is the probable future: where we think we will be in 2040. “In the last 18 years, we’ve had war, we’ve had pandemics, we’ve had massive climate disasters. So the same could easily be predicted for the next 18 years, and sometimes people can get a little bit anxious about that,” he says.

The second lens is the preferred future: where we want to be in 18 years. By moving beyond immediate crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic that will be distant histories by 2040, Curry hopes to inject a bit more positivity amid fairly tense and concerning times by looking at the bigger picture for education.

In his part of the series, futurist Louka Parry’s preferred future is an education system that would have “moved beyond standardisation and cognitive obsession”, to one now “based on learner sovereignty, and prioritises diverse and unique contributors”.

“This 2040 feels a long way from the horrors of 2022…yet we transformed for a simple reason – we remembered our humanity and the profound interconnectedness of our schools, communities, society, and planet,” Parry writes.

Technology: An enabler, if distributed equally


Many have emphasised how remote learning platforms and tools that have arisen out of the pandemic increased the resilience that students have against learning disruptions. Few, however, have discussed how the unequal access to these technologies can be a disruption in itself.

In his envisioning of education 2040, Dr Samson Tan, Director of Regional Strategy & Operations at Civica highlighted that the “digital divide” will continue to widen as children living in the poorer rungs of society or rural communities do not have adequate access to devices or the internet to access increasingly important digital educational resources.

This makes students without digital accessibility extra vulnerable to crises like the pandemic, which saw more than 1.6 billion students in 188 countries affected by school closures, UNESCO reported. In turn, such disruptions to learning in marginalised communities may only further global literacy gaps.

Tan highlights the need for a “global concerted effort” to close this digital divide. In other words, the education reform must not only seek to digitally transform education, but also make sure no one child or student gets further left behind in the process.

AI and machine learning can enable schools to provide low-cost, high-quality education by 2040, Tan wrote, citing examples such as Ekatra, a low-data learning platform that delivers micro-courses to students through text messages. This strive toward greater universal access to quality education is what UNESCO refers to as the “right to education”.

Bite-sized information is delivered to youths in rural and semi-urban areas are not connected with high bandwidth internet through text, which has “minimal dependency on data”. Image: Ekatra.

Education as an ecosystem 


Another key takeaway is that educational institutions do not operate in a bubble. “We need to start looking at education as an ecosystem, where schools are actually connected to their local community through local businesses, museums, libraries, and more,” says Curry. This was highlighted by Lois Peeler, Principal of Worawa Aboriginal College, in her Education 2040 envisioning.

At Worawa Aboriginal College, a school established by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal children, a two-way learning approach is employed. This includes drawing lessons from environmental histories, while also having open cultural exchange programmes to skill their students in modern technologies.

While the College partners with the University of Melbourne to educate students about the use of drones and computer programmes, it has also developed a Professional Learning Institute to provide the broader community with resources about Aboriginal history and culture.

“To meet the challenges of the future, we also need to recognise the richness and opportunity to live in harmony with our earth. In one sense, we must look back to look forward, giving voice to Traditional Custodians as well as integrating modern science and technology in the care and management of our lands and waters,” she wrote.