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A considerable number of factors place unprecedented pressure on education and learning systems to change swiftly and profoundly. These include rapid advances in communications and information technology; growing urbanization; concerns for environmental sustainability; shifts in geopolitics, demographic patterns and labour markets; increasing unemployment, especially of young people; new waves of violent extremism; and the growing divide between rich and poor.

The emergence of the fourth industrial revolution is fully acknowledged as a formidable accelerant of change and complexity in the twenty-first century, and as having significant implications for education. Industry 4.0 is pressuring learners to develop a wider range of multifaceted, multidisciplinary, complex, and integrated competences, for which many education and learning systems are unprepared.

The rapid pace of change in the twenty-first century amplifies the pertinence of education and learning systems as foundations and key sources of lifelong learning and human resilience, and, by unleashing the potential of the human mind, as foundations and key sources of development.

While policies that address the role of education in development are commonplace, specific and concrete instruments for enacting these policies remain both scarce and ineffective. In today’s world, the perception of education’s heightened role in human and societal development coexists with heightened frustration about the irrelevance of educational practices to modern challenges and opportunities. Evidence for this frustration includes young graduates’ functional illiteracy, their lack of digital skills required by their labour markets, their alienation from their cultures, and so on.

The International Bureau of Education (IBE) is deeply involved with these issues. The IBE’s work highlights the crucial role of curriculum in enabling learners (young and old) to acquire competences for effective uptake of opportunities and for the effective addressing of challenges across fast-changing, and sometimes disruptive, twenty-first century development contexts. In this setting, the IBE also aims to improve access to the evidence-based knowledge needed to guide curriculum design and development as well as to guide teaching, learning, and assessment.

This is, therefore, a particularly opportune time for the IBE to publish this important book, which stresses the need to re-evaluate education and learning and to prepare learners for an unknown future.

Conrad Hughes comes to the subject as an educator and school administrator, a standpoint entirely different from the academic perspective usually featured in publications of the IBE. Educated in South Africa and England, Conrad has worked in schools in Switzerland, France, India, and the Netherlands. He is now Campus and Secondary Principal at the International School of Geneva, La Grande Boissière, the oldest international school in the world, which has learners from over 130 different cultures, and strives to make the world a better, more peaceful, open-minded place through education.

Drawing on his extensive personal and professional experience, and on his substantial contributions to thinking and writing about future competences, curriculum, and learning, this book bridges theoretical scholarship and applied work relating to education policy and practice.

Conrad Hughes is at home in this century – in his own words, an “exciting, chaotic, fast-moving era” – which is about to fundamentally change education, teaching, and learning.

His power stems, I believe, from a coherent, historically-and-personally-informed world view. Conrad knows more than a little about most things under the sun, and he expresses an entire world view through his writing – an intellectual landscape that encompasses art, current events, economics, fiction, history, music, philosophy, politics, and science. His previous works (including Guiding Principles for Learning in the Twenty-First Century and Understanding Prejudice and Education) can be reread in this light as a single, continuous, coherent theoretical undertaking, a commitment to the idea of sustainability, public good, and community, laced with his feeling the burden of responsibility for the future of our planet. In the world according to Conrad Hughes, there is always a moral edge and there is always something to be done.

Conrad Hughes’ book is emblematic of the amazing potential and the excruciating limitations faced by education in the twenty-first century. However, for all of Conrad’s stern seriousness about the state of the world, his writing also evidences a merriness; it is morally serious but never drearily earnest, as he returns again and again to life and work events, with humour and wisdom, often veiled with introspection and internal conflict, to support his arguments.

His ability to fuse history, futuristic thinking, and personal experience is exceptional. His personal history becomes the history of our times, and his book, a walking chronicle of the twenty-first century in the making.

Mmantsetsa Marope

Director, UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE)

Geneva, Switzerland

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