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Before the industrial revolution, neither education nor technology mattered much for most people. But when technology raced ahead of education in those times, many were left behind, causing unimaginable social pain. It took a century for public policy to respond with the ambition of providing every child with access to schooling. While that goal still remains beyond reach for some, the stakes have now risen well beyond providing ‘more of the same’ education.

Through the digital revolution, technology is once again racing ahead of education and those without the right knowledge and skills are struggling. That thousands of university graduates are unemployed – while British employers cannot find people with the skills they need – shows that better degrees do not automatically translate into better skills, better jobs and better lives. The rolling processes of automation, hollowing out middle-skilled jobs, particularly for routine tasks, have radically altered the nature of work. For those with the right knowledge and skills, this is liberating and exciting. In India for instance, online providers have picked up the outsourced functions of traditional corporate and public enterprises. But for those who are insufficiently prepared, it can mean joblessness or the scourge of vulnerable and insecure work: zero-hours contracts without benefits, insurance, pension or prospects.

There is an urgent need for policymakers and educators to once again break free from short-term fixes and instead focus on the big trends that will shape the future of education. The contributions in this collection explore these major trends, and each is framed by the experience of practitioners on the ground in our separate collection Views from the classroom. Only when policy is aligned with the best research and the experiences of teachers can it begin to reshape an education system fit for the challenges of our times.

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