A new social contract for education 

UNESCO launches global report on the Futures of Education  

“The time has come for transformative action on education.” These were the words of Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations at the launch of the long-awaited UNESCO global report on the Futures of Education on 10 November 2021 chaired by UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azouley at the organisation’s headquarters in Paris. “In the face of profound social, political, economic, environmental and technological change, there is a growing consensus that today's education systems are no longer fit for purpose” he said. “With this report “Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education”, Unesco has given us a vision of education that ensures justice, human rights and opportunities for all. A vision that enables every person to live a life of purpose and contribute to our collective wellbeing, and our shared home.” 

The UNESCO report is the fruit of three years of reflection and consultation led by an international commission of experts and world leaders chaired by Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The Commission received over one million submissions from around the world, including art works. It launched a survey with 85,000 responses and organised over 400 focus groups and events and webinars involving over 750,000 participants. 

The report comes as a critical response to current global challenges facing today's societies, including marginalization, exclusion, lack of access to education, as well as climate change and technological innovation. 

“The futures of humanity and the planet are at risk” said Ms Sahle-Work Zewde. “We now face a critical choice: do we continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course? Education is key to redefining ourselves in relation to each other and the world around us. Education can help set to set us on paths towards more just and sustainable futures for all.”  

The UNESCO global report “Reimaginging our futures together: a new social contract for education” builds on the humanistic vision of learning in a lifelong perspective set out in previous UNESCO reports, “Learning to Be: the world of education today and tomorrow” of 1972 and “Learning: The treasure within” of 1996.  The current report reframes the purpose of education as enhancing and sustaining the dignity and capacity of human beings in relation to others and to nature. It sees education as a public endeavour and a common good, and calls for a new social contract for education to allow us to think differently about learning and the relationships between students, teachers, knowledge, and the world. Pedagogy should be organised around the principles of cooperation, collaboration, and solidarity. Curricula should emphasise ecological, intercultural and interdisciplinary learning enabling students to access and produce knowledge while also developing their capacity to critique and apply it. The report stresses the central role of teachers and schools, while calling for the expansion of educational opportunities throughout life and in different cultural and social spaces.   

The global report is intended as a starting point for widespread reflection, discussion and action at global, regional and national levels to reframe the development of policies and systems for decades to come. 

“It's not a blueprint” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and former Italian Education Minister. “It's a call for action. It's a call for reaction. It's a call for change.” She described the report as putting the main questions on the table about what is already there in existing education systems, what needs to be strengthened and what needs to be dramatically reshaped and reimagined for the future. “Our engagement doesn't end today” she said. “It's a process which will involve millions of people around the world in this live document to be implemented.” 

The report resonates with many areas of the ETF’s work and will frame the ongoing cooperation between the two organisations following the ETF-UNESCO joint conference on Building lifelong learning systems green and inclusive societies in the digital era.   

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