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A futures perspective in the curriculum

  • Introduction
  • Activity 1
  • Activity 2
  • Activity 3
  • Activity 4
  • Activity 5
  • Reflection


The study of futures is intellectually stimulating and seeks to empower students. It draws on the innate capacity of the human mind to engage in foresight, or futures thinking enhanced by concepts, tools and techniques. When this enhanced capacity to engage with ‘the future’ is implemented in specific areas … Futures can contribute substantially to social and economic well-being. Students … [can] be encouraged to transform their view of the world. As they develop informed foresight about the 21st century they may experience many shifts of value, focus and attitude and they should discover that most fears, negative attitudes and ‘doomsday’ images of the future rest on misperceptions. In learning how present actions will shape future consequences, students gain access to new sources of understanding and action.

Source: Slaughter, R. (2008) Futures Education: Catalyst for our Times, Journal of Futures Studies, 12(3), pp.15-30.

Nevertheless the future is an essential ingredient of daily life and integral to all human experience. Virtually every activity we engage in presumes some future continuation in time. Whenever we have aims, ambitions, make plans or take precautions, speculate or make commitments, we are concerned with the future. Without some sense of the future we could not even begin to articulate our hopes and dreams, let alone realise them. Thus, thinking and planning for the future is an essential and constant ingredient in all human endeavour.

This module introduces the concept of alternative futures and encourages you to explore your own expectations and aspirations for the future, both in relation to your own country and the wider world – and then to analyse how these views of the future need to be integrated into the objectives of education.


  • To recognise the importance of a futures perspective in education;
  • To understand key concepts in futures studies and futures education;
  • To analyse personal views of preferable and probable futures; and
  • To clarify how visions of a sustainable future can be integrated into the curriculum.


  1. Education for the future: A rationale
  2. Analysing future trends
  3. Alternative futures: Probable and preferable futures
  4. Analysing your futures
  5. Envisioning a sustainable future
  6. Reflection


Bussey, M. et al. (ed) (2008) Alternative Educational Futures, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Dator, J. (ed) (2002) Advancing Futures: Futures studies in higher education, Praeger, Westport CT.

Ellyard, P. (2009) Designing 2050, TPN TXT, Melbourne

Gidley, J. & Inayatullah, S. (eds) (2002) Youth Futures: Comparative research and transformative visions, Praeger, Westport CT.

Gidley, J., Smith, C. and Bateman, D. (2004) Futures in Education: Principles, Practice and Potential, Australian Foresight Institute, Monograph 5, Melbourne.

Hicks, D. (2001) Citizenship for the Future: A Practical Classroom Guide, Worldwide Fund for Nature UK, Godalming.

Hicks, D. (2006) Lessons for the Future: The missing dimension in education, Trafford Publishing, Victoria BC.

Hicks, D. (2009) Preparing for the future: an introduction for educators.

Hicks, D. and Slaughter, R. (eds) (1998) Futures Education: The World Yearbook of Education, Kogan Page, London.

Hutchinson, F. (1996) Educating Beyond Violent Futures, London, Routledge.

Meadows, D. et al. (2005) Limits to Growth: The 30-year update, Earthscan, London.

Milojevic, I. (2005) Educational Futures: Dominant and contesting visions, Routledge, London.

Morgan, A. (2006) Teaching geography for a sustainable future, in D. Balderstone (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook, Sheffield, Geog. Association, Ch.23.

Morin, E. (1999) Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, UNESCO, Paris.

Page, J. (2000) Reframing the Early Childhood Curriculum: Educational imperatives for the future, RoutledgeFalmer, London.

Slaughter, R. (2004) Futures Beyond Dystopia: Creating Social Foresight, RoutledgeFalmer, London.

Slaughter, R. (ed) (2005) Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, CD-Rom, Foresight International, Brisbane.

Slaughter, R. and Bussey, M. (2006) Futures Thinking for Social Foresight, Tamkang University Press, Taipei.


This module was written for UNESCO by John Fien from materials first prepared by David Hicks for Teaching for a Sustainable World (UNESCO – UNEP International Environmental Education Programme).

Education for the future: A rationale

Futures Education

When we think about the pace of change over the last ten to twenty years, we know that the 21st century will be very different from the past. Yet, surprisingly, the future is often a neglected concern in education.

Why is this the case, when we know that:

  • Young people are concerned about global issues but also often feel unprepared for what the future might bring; and
  • Most of what goes on in education draws on the past, is enacted in the present, but is intended for some future use?

If it is true that all education is for the future then the future needs to become a more explicit element in all levels of education. However, in a world where change seems increasingly rapid, whether at local, national or global levels, it is important to ask questions about the future.

  • Where are we going and where do we want to go?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for future, for myself, for others and for the planet?
  • What can we do together now in order to help create a more just and sustainable future?

Answers to questions such as these provide reasons for integrating a futures perspective into education.

Analyse nine reasons for adopting a futures perspective in education.

These reasons for emphasising futures education are all the more powerful when one considers that:

There are more children in Africa today under the age of fifteen than there are human beings in the United States! There are more young people in China under the age of fifteen who speak English than there are people in England! The future belongs to the youth of the world. They own the future. They may not own the property, or the military, or the multinational corporations. They can’t even vote yet. But they do own one thing, and that is the future …

The youth of the world, at their age, still have three quarters to 80% of their life in front of them. So the future is owned by them. This is why it’s so important that the young people on the planet start caring about both the environment and all the other problems we face, because they’re the ones who are going to have to deal with it.

Source: Medard, Gabel, Director of World Game Institute.

Experiencing the Future

Across the world, people have quite different hopes for the future. These depend, for example, on our political allegiance, income, gender, age or ethnicity. For example, the hopes of the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless tend to be different. Similarly men and women, the young and the old, and the hopes for the future of people living in the rich North tend to be concerned with satisfying their wants, not their needs, while in the South, issues of human rights, and concerns about access to basic food, education, housing and health services are common concerns of the present and the future. These are issues of sustainable human development.

Many decisions about the future may be outside our direct control, but the images and expectations that we have of the future affect what we think is worth doing in the present. Fear of the future can be disempowering but it can also lead to engagement in social and political action to bring about change. The resurgence of the peace movement and the women’s movement in the early 1980s and, more recently, the environmental movement are cases in point. The images that we have of the future matter because they help determine what we feel is worth working for today.

The beginning of a new century seems to concentrate the mind on the future, even more so the beginning of a millennium. The new millennium presents us with an opportunity to re-examine ourselves, our values and institutions, and how we feel about the world we have inherited and will leave for our children and grandchildren.

Analysing future trends

Understanding our Past

No one can predict the future with any high degree of accuracy. Indeed, if we know anything about the future at all, it is that the future will be very different from life today. So trying to understand the future by studying the past requires caution. However, it is still important to appreciate how ideas about sustainability have developed and how many people around the world have been promoting environmental, social, economic and political sustainability.

Trace the history of these efforts in this sustainability timeline developed by the Worldwatch Institute.

Key Trends

With this understanding of the past it is possible to see how the key trends shaping human society will effect us over the next decade.

Eight of these trends are:

  • Increasing cultural differences
  • Globalisation
  • Increasing gender equity
  • Advances in biotechnology
  • Religious revival
  • Rising environmental concern
  • Increasing poverty
  • Technology

How much effect are these trends having on your life now? How much effect will they be having in the next 10 years?

Score each of these trends using the scale.

Alternative futures: Probable and preferable futures

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Studying alternative futures and drawing on the tools and techniques that futurists use can greatly enhance any investigation of contemporary social, political, economic and technological issues.

The distinction between Probable and Preferable Futures is one of the most useful frameworks for exploring alternative futures.

Global Futures Timeline

This activity enables you to think about how these trends will affect the future under the heading of ‘My Life in the World: The World in My Life’. However, instead of predicting only one future, the activity asks you to predict what you would like to happen (your ‘Preferable Future’) as well as what you think is most likely to happen (your 'Probable Future').

  • Print diagram.
  • On the left-hand side of the timeline on the printout, mark 3-5 important past events and current trends that have affected, are affecting and/or will affect you and world society.
  • On the ‘Probable Futures’ line, mark 3-5 events and trends that you expect to occur within the next hundred years.
  • On the ‘Preferable Futures’ line, mark 3-5 events and trends that you would really like to see happen within the next hundred years.

Q1: Analyse the completed timeline by answering the following questions:

  • What are the main similarities/differences in your ‘Preferable and Probable’ futures?
  • Why are there these similarities?
  • Why are there these differences?

Analysing your futures

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

People’s views of the future can vary radically depending on their underlying assumptions and values. Consider the following five sketches of commonly held visions of the future. What elements of (one or more of) them are in your Preferable and Probable Futures?

  • Business as usual
  • Edge of disaster
  • Authoritarian control
  • Technological miracles
  • Sustainable society

The future we will experience may well involve a mix of all these elements depending in part on who we are and where we live on this planet.

Look at the trends you marked on your Probable and Preferable Futures Timelines. Identify – guess-timate – the approximate percentage of each of the five types of visions in your visions of Preferable and Probable Future.

Analysing Your Futures

Q2: Identify elements of these five visions that may be part of your Probable and Preferable Futures.

  • How may the Probable Future affect your life personally?
  • What sort of action is needed to bring about your Preferable Future?
  • What organisations are already working towards such a future?

Envisioning a sustainable future

Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

The visions that we have of the future affect what we think is worth doing in the present. Fear of the future can be disempowering but it can also lead to engagement in social and political action to bring about a different sort of world. The peace, women’s, and environmental movements are cases in point. The visions we have of the future matter because they help determine our priorities in the present.

Visions of the future play a critical role in the creation of change. They are continuously being promoted by business, advertising, politicians, the media and in science fiction. They exert a powerful influence over what people think is, or is not, worth doing in the present. We can most easily work towards the future we prefer if we have clear images of where we want to go and how we might get there. Sharing the process of envisioning these futures with others enhances their creative power, both at the individual and societal levels. As Elise Boulding writes:

At any moment, there are hundreds of images of possible futures being generated within each society, and thousands for the planet as a whole. In any cultural epoch, only certain images of the future out of that much wider pool develop enough cultural resonance to affect the course of events. There is a selective empowerment of certain images, which ‘explode’ later, like time bombs, into the realised future.

Source: Boulding, E. (1988), Building a Global Civic Culture, Teachers College Press, New York.

Images of a Sustainable Future

A crisis of direction in society, national or global, may stimulate the emergence of new guiding images. In this period of rapid change and social upheaval we should be searching for new guiding images – it may well be that the concept of sustainability provides just such an image.

The principles in the Earth Charter provides four basic images or goals for a sustainable future:

Qs 3-6: Use your learning journal to answer the following questions for each of the four goals:

  • Why is this a critical goal for a sustainable future?
  • What might it look like in practice?
  • What is already being done to achieve such goals and by whom?
  • What should educators be doing about this goal?


Begin by opening your learning journal for this activity.

Completing the module: Look back through the activities and tasks to check that you have done them all and to change any that you think you can improve now that you have come to the end of the module.

Summarise what you believe is important in this module by answering the following questions in your learning journal:

Q7: Why do futures educators often insist on calling their field futures education (ie. plural) not future education?

Q8: Why is a futures perspective in the curriculum important?

Q9: What aspects of global trends:

  1. provide opportunities to envision a sustainable future?
  2. provide barriers to envisioning a sustainable future?

Q10: Identify topics or teaching activities you could plan with your students to encourage them to think positively and optimistically about the four images or goals of a sustainable future in the Earth Charter.