In May 2022 a group of educators, policymakers, academics, and education activists from around the world met at Schloss Leopoldskron, the home of Salzburg Global Seminar, to take part in a five-day program called Education Futures: Shaping a New Education Story – part of Salzburg Global Seminar’s Education for Tomorrow’s World series.
The Salzburg program was convened to support growing global momentum for radical transformation in education systems. There has been a lot of analysis and discussion about the ways in which education systems around the world are no longer quite fit for purpose, along the lines of “analogue approaches for a digital age” or “nineteenth century inputs when we need 21st century outputs.’” There has been reform and innovation, but most education systems remain fundamentally the same as they were at the start of the 20th century in terms of assessment, subjects, and pedagogy.
The Salzburg program was convened partly in the belief that there now exists a compelling but small window of opportunity during which significant transformation feels possible. This window of opportunity exists for two reasons. The first of these are our recent collective experiences of multiple and convergent societal, climate, and health crises.
In the years immediately before the pandemic many countries were beginning to address long overdue recalibrations of structural inequalities around race, gender, and inclusion. The climate crisis is affecting more and more communities around the world. The pandemic shone a very harsh light on inequalities between and within many countries and communities.
In different ways all of these acted as catalysts for fundamental conversations and new thinking about the purpose of education. When 90% of children around the world were out of school what were the things that they really missed and how can everyone involved in education work to make sure those things get more attention in schools in the future.
The other massive factor contributing to this window of opportunity is the 2030 agenda and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, which in many contexts are focusing political attention on progress, or lack thereof, toward meeting SDG targets.
These twin lenses of the recent past and the near future give hope that there is a real opportunity for long overdue education transformation. This was the focus of the discussions and working groups during the Salzburg program.
The first output from the program was the Salzburg Statement on Education Transformation, which was co-authored by all of the program participants and which follows this introduction. The statement was published in May 2022 during the Education World Forum in London and helped inform the UNESCO Futures of Education Commission statement that was published in June during the Presummit to the UN Transforming Education Summit.
This essay collection is the next outcome from the Salzburg program. Some of the essays are individual pieces and some are the results of the working groups that were formed in Salzburg. Many of the Salzburg participants will also organize education conferences and seminars over the next few years and we hope that the ideas that were first discussed or refined in Salzburg, and which are now part of this book, will be visible and further developed in other events. Education Transformation will be a collective effort and one that will be best advanced without individual or institutional ego.
It will be necessary to harness many kinds of collective intelligence and new collaborations if we are to help design education systems that will best prepare young people for the century ahead. Margaret Mead, anthropologist and chair of the very first Salzburg Global Seminar program once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
This was very much the spirit of the Salzburg Global program and one which is reflected in this essay collection.