• Mark Tarplee

The role of the OECD in predicting and influencing the future of education and educational policy

This essay aims to investigate and present the role of the OECD in predicting, anticipating and influencing education in the future.

The immediate future seems unpredictable. Things like the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic or the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland, just happen. Nevertheless, some elements of society are less unpredictable as particular forces, actors, contexts, or historical trends guide these elements toward a more calculable and anticipated future. This essay focuses on education as the element of society and examines the role of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in predicting and influencing education and educational policy of the future. It begins by discussing the concept of future and imagined futures of education, then provides a brief overview of the OECD and their role in global governance, and finally considers what the future of education will be according to the OECD. This functions as a context in answering the following questions on role of the OECD in the future of education: 1. How does the OECD anticipate the future of education and how is this legitimised? 2. What are the motives of the OECD? 3. How influential are the OECD? 4. What is the future of education and the implications of this?

The future and imagined futures of education

Arguably, visions for the future can be divided into two categories. ‘Creative visions describe the horizon of possibilities, whilst robust visions depend upon calculations regarding the probability this future will arrive’ (Berenskoetter, 2011, p.657), yet even then, probabilities are still predictions rather than certainties. This essay argues that there is a third vision for the future that we may call anticipatory futures. Berten and Kranke (2022) discuss a similar theme in their work on anticipatory global governance. They argue that ‘…international organisations (IOs) are especially active in authoritatively delineating certain visions, specifying their core features and outlining their desirability’. Nevertheless, an optimistic vision regarding the unknown possibilities of the future of education has been discussed by Macgilchrist et al (2020). Their science fiction article imagines three ‘histories’ of the 2020’s from 2040, when students either become smooth efficient users of technology, digital nomads, or collective agents trying to save the world. As utopian as this vision may seem, this essay considers how future choice and possibility may not be so varied due to

organisations such as the OECD. It is now necessary to understand who the OECD are and their role in the global governance of education.

OECD and Global Governance

The OECD describes itself as follows: ‘As one of the world’s largest and most trusted sources of comparative socio-economic data and analysis, we help steer decision-making’ (OECD, 2022). An example of this comparative data analysis is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which has become a gold standard in educational quality (Sjøberg, 2016). The OECD is part of a group of intergovernmental Organisations (IGO) that participate in the global governance of society such as education. The OECD does not hold direct power over nation-states, but its influence on benchmarking, best practice and international assessments has a large impact on national and local policy making (Mertanen et al, 2021). As global policy discourse reaches local levels, it becomes locally translated, a process which can be called globalisation (Säntti et al, 2021). Arguably, this helps to conceal the influence of the OECD, as policies become accepted as part of the local society. Additionally, it is important to note that the E in OECD stands for economic and not education (Sjoberg, 2016). This must be considered when analysing the role of the OECD in education.

The future of education according to OECD

According to the OECD, the future of education is uncertain, yet in the same publication, it paradoxically details what the future of education will become (OECD,2021b). Although contradictory, it is important to note what futures the OECD imagine in these outputs, due to their global influence. In a video, the OECD (2021a) offer the following scenarios: 1. Formal education thrives with modern technology, 2. A variety of learning platforms by technology providers, 3. No schools, learning anytime and anywhere, 4. Students’ own initiative and individual goals. Additionally, the OECD predicts the following for the future of education: Focus on wellbeing and individual agency, optimisation of education and cost efficiency (OECD, 2021a), the demise of universities, personalised learning, learning beyond age-defined limits and international networks of learning (OECD, 2021b). The OECD is increasingly promoting the ‘new science of learning’ of neuroscience, cognitive and social psychology, and biomedicine (OECD, 2021b & Williamson, 2019). Although the OECD consistently mention the terms ‘unpredictable’ and ‘uncertain’ in their outputs and offer varied futures, arguably their predictions for the future of education appear to be steering their audiences towards a narrow vision. This narrow way points to technology, data-driven policy, networks and platforms of learning, life sciences, individual agency, and wellbeing. Now that some key terms and concepts have been outlined, the essay will focus on understanding the role of the OECD in predicting and influencing the future of education.

How does the OECD anticipate the future of education and how is this legitimised?

As mentioned, the OECD arguably steer their audiences toward a certain way of imagining the future of education. Therefore, the OECD use anticipations to predict the open and malleable future (Berten & Kranke, 2022). In their work on anticipatory global governance, Berten & Kranke (2022) discuss that IOs such as the OECD socially construct present futures and ‘By imagining a certain future and rendering alternative ones less visible or less credible, IOs portray some futures as more desirable than others’. Resultingly, organisations such as the OECD can push their interests to the forefront. Robertson (2022) points out that the OECD use anticipatory devices such as publications, programmes, and indicator development such as PISA to establish their predictions of the future. Furthermore, due to the OECDs geo-strategic alignments and the investments they receive, it allows them to mass produce data and documents and reach audiences globally (Robertson, 2022). The OECD legitimise their anticipations with evidence-based data (Sellar, 2015) which is seen as objective and precise, due to its association with biodata and neuroscience (Sjøberg, 2016). As a result, their PISA tests are seen as a reliable instrument, which leads to the OECDs economic and political ambitions being ignored or under communicated (Sjøberg, 2016). Additionally, Robertson (2022) points out that if a ‘future present’ were to arrive and its promissory legitimacy was compromised, the OECD would utilise new strategies to ensure their global influence. As a result of the legitimisation, the OECD gain hegemony over an idea of the future (Robertson, 2022), which causes a ‘There Is No Alternative’ type of scenario for other ideas for the future. The motives of the OECD for anticipating the future will now be considered.

What are the motives of the OECD?

The OECD explain its motives as ‘…to shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity, and well-being for all’ (OECD, 2022). In examining IOs such as the OECD, Berten and Kranke (2022) state they ‘…push their preferred outlooks and enroll receptive audiences in these visions’. Sjøberg (2016) argues that these outlooks are economically driven because the OECD has an ‘…underlying commitment to a competitive global free-market economy and this can be seen in the policies that they advocate and through PISA’. Robertson (2022) shares this sentiment regarding the OECD’s alignment with neoliberalism and mentions other motives such as wanting to promote their own interests and those of their global strategic partners. Another motive is global relevance. Due to the zeitgeist of current global educational policy being evidence-based, the comparative performance data produced by OECD has become a powerful currency in global policy agendas

(Sellar, 2015). As the data is continuous, the OECD maintains its centralised position to data-driven policies through its consistent outputting of useful comparative data for education systems globally. As a result, Sjøberg (2016) argues that the financial gains for OECD are significant as shown by their recent partnership with the publishing giant Pearson. This shows the importance for the OECD to stay relevant in educational policy making.

How influential are the OECD?

To understand the role of the OECD in the future of education, its global influence is considered. The OECD counts on 60 years of experience in shaping and building policy (OECD, 2022) and in education, arguably their most powerful ‘tool’ is PISA - an international test that provides globally comparative results for education systems. In 2014, the OECD claimed that its PISA participants accounted for 80% of the global economy, highlighting its global reach (Sjøberg, 2016). Sellar (2015) explains that the PISA data is influential because it is globally comparative, thus allowing nation states to compare their education system against others. Furthermore, Sellar, (2015) states that as policy has become evidence-based, comparative data-driven tests such as PISA become increasingly influential. Accordingly, PISA has become generally accepted as a reliable instrument and has influenced policy in many of its participating countries (Sjøberg, 2016). This is characterised by ‘PISA shocks’ such as in Norway in 2000 and 2003 (Sjøberg, 2016), which saw supposed poor results in PISA followed by drastic policy changes. An alternative way of understanding the global influence of the OECD is termed by Grek (2013) as ‘research tourism’. They state that due to the capability of the OECD, they can send their experts around the world to network with national education ministers to discuss the implications of PISA on specific national contexts. Therefore, the influence of the OECD’s ideas for the future are extremely powerful and trusted, not just because of their longevity and global reach, but also due to societies current reliance on evidence-based data-driven policy.

How does the future of education look and what are the implications?

From drawing on research, it is possible to understand what the future of education may become. Public services such as education become privatised (Sjøberg, 2016) and marketized with the influx of EdTech companies (Mertanen et al, 2021) who offer personalised learning by utilising psychodata, biodata and brain data (Williamson, 2019). Learning becomes global through networks and takes place anytime and anywhere (OECD, 2021b). This shift away from traditional education toward more personalised learning and behavioural management through precise tailoring of student data (Mertanen et al, 2021 & Williamson, 2019) has been termed precision education, a concept which the OECD have increasingly been promoting (Mertanen et al, 2021). Although this future has been portrayed by the OECD as essential and positive, scholars have been quick to highlight the possible implications. Williamson (2019) argues that students are becoming calculable objects through datafication, and personal data is being utilised and sold by data management companies (Mertanen et al, 2021). The University of Helsinki offers an Ethics of Artificial Intelligence course that explains the detrimental effects of data misuse in learning. Sellar (2015) explains that student data becomes commensurate and decontextualised, which allows life-science focussed corporations to manipulate data to serve their own interests and objectives (Williamson, 2019). Mertanen et al, (2021) note the emergence of ‘precision education governance’ as being essential to examine all these aspects together to gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the future governing and implementation of education. Therefore, it is imperative that further research is continually produced that is transparent and understandable, so that these concerns are accessible to everyone globally.


Although this essay has portrayed a pessimistic view of a predetermined future of education, it is acknowledged that there are positive advancements. Increased technology and biohacking may open up new possibilities for learning, increased agency and wellbeing are important and global networking may allow for a more diversified knowledge base. Nevertheless, this essay has shown that there is a plethora of implications for the OECD’s predicted future of education. The aim of this essay was to understand the role of the OECD in predicting and influencing the future of education. It has been shown that the OECD use anticipations for the future that disseminate their own interests on a global scale using various devices. The OECD legitimise and validate their anticipations, and due to their global reach, these have become influential especially because they are seen as evidence based. Through their publications and policy recommendations, the OECD direct their audiences toward a narrow way of imagining the future of education, which helps to render other alternatives as undesirable or unimaginable. For this reason, it is imperative that further research highlights the ongoing influence of IOs such as the OECD in determining the future of education and to not simply accept that the future is unpredictable and undetermined.



Berenskoetter, F. (2011). “Reclaiming the Vision Thing: Constructivists as Students of the Future.” International Studies Quarterly, 55 (3): 647–668.

Berten, J., & Kranke M. (2022). Anticipatory Global Governance: International Organisations and the Politics of the Future, Global Society, 36(2), 155-169. https://doi.org/10.1080/13600826.2021.2021150.

Grek, S. (2013). Expert moves: International comparative testing and the rise of expertocracy. Journal of Education Policy. doi:10.1080/02680939.2012.758825

Macgilchrist, F., Allert, H., & Bruch, A. (2020). Students and society in the 2020s. Three future ‘histories’ of education and technology. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 76–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2019.1656235.

Mertanen, K., Vainio, S., & Brunila, K. (2021). Educating for the future? Mapping the emerging lines of precision education governance. Policy Futures in Education. 147821032110499. https://doi.org/10.1177/14782103211049914.

OECD (2021a, Jan 24). What will schooling look like in the future? Four OECD scenarios [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbE-cSsvneY.

OECD. (2021b). Building the future of education publication. https://www.oecd.org/education/future-of-education-brochure.pdf. OECD. (2022). About the

OECD. https://www.oecd.org/about/

Robertson, S. (2022). Guardians of the Future: International Organisations, Anticipatory

Governance and Education, Global Society, 36(2), 188-205. https://doi.org/10.1080/13600826.2021.2021151.

Säntti, J., Hansen, P., & Saari A. (2021). Future jamming: Rhetoric of new knowledge in Finnish educational policy texts. Policy Futures in Education. 1478210320985705. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478210320985705.

Sellar, S. (2015). A feel for numbers: affect, data and education policy. Critical Studies in Education, 56(1), 131–146. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2015.981198.

Sjøberg, S. (2016). OECD, PISA, and globalization: the influence of the international assessment regime. In C.H. Tienken, C. H. & C. A. Mullen (Eds.), Education Policy Perils. Tackling the Tough Issues. Routledge, 102-133.

Williamson, B. (2019). Digital policy sociology: software and science in data-intensive precision education. Critical Studies in Education, 62(3), 354-370. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2019.1691030


Mark Tarplee is a double masters student at the University of Helsinki. He is undertaking the masters programme in Changing Education and also in Contemporary Societies in the faculty of Social Sciences. He is from the UK originally and completed his bachelors degree in Sociology in 2013 at the University of Leeds. He is passionate about wide ranging subjects, but specifically the role of technology in education, health and wellbeing, power structures in society and antiracism.

Key Words: OECD, Education, Prediction, Anticipated Features, Global Governance


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