Karmel oration: On with the 21st century

by Neil Selwyn, Monash University

In this summary for his Karmel oration presentation, Neil Selwyn describes some of the changes that he feels are likely to impact education during the 2020s – that is, in the near future, in 5 to 10 years’ time.

He notes that views about the future will always be subjective, but suggests three principles that can guide useful discussions of what might lie ahead.

  • "Speculate on the future in plausible, rather than fantastical, terms.
  • Distinguish between what is probable, what is possible and what is preferable.
  • Think of futures plural – that is, be open to the idea of different variations and directions that may well unfold over the next few years."

Near-future challenges

Selwyn describes each of the following six challenges and what they might mean for educators and others working in education.

1 – Making a persuasive case for retaining traditional models of school and teacher in the face of compelling alternatives

  • Educators will need to justify more strongly and often “the added value of the classroom teacher and the traditional school, while also being open to suggestions for improvement.”

2 – Developing broader notions of skills, competencies and aptitudes to help students flourish in an age of precarious employment, misinformation and an increasingly fragmented society

  • Educators will need to ensure young people “are well-equipped to navigate their increasingly non-linear and unpredictable futures.”

3 – Engaging with digital technology in ways that strengthen the character and values of public education

  • Educators will need to exert influence over the digital practices that are implemented in schools – ensuring they are “in the best interests of teachers, students and the public education ethos.”

4 – Renegotiating relationships between educational institutions and corporate actors that are shaping education agendas around the world

  • Educators will need to ask questions about whether commercial actors are responding to the needs of schools or just working to create demand for their products.

5 – Engaging with public opinion, and fostering a genuine public understanding of, and support for, education

  • Educators will need to make “concerted efforts to better publicise the work of teachers and schools to parents and local communities.”

6 – Re-imagine educational provision and practices that are appropriate for an age of climate change

  • Everyone working in education needs to make a rapid, collective change of attitude and action.

"Education in the 21st century may already be well under way, yet we should all take a proactive role in how it continues to unfold."


Neil Selwyn. (2019). Karmel oration: On with the 21st century. Australian Council for Educational Research. 

The Karmel oration is delivered as part of the Australian Council for Educational Research conference.

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