What is Futures and Futures Education?


The Futures Field incorporates research, education and social movements that are involved in a wide range of activities, from trend analysis to curriculum development to social innovations.  A core element of these activities is the development of individuals’ capacity of foresight.  Foresight brings the past and future into the present, enabling the investigation of choices.  This leads to an empowerment about creating preferred futures.


Futures education is seen as helping students to think more critically and creatively about the future, by:

  • “enabling pupils to understand the links between their own lives in the present and those of others in the past and future
  • increasing understanding of the economic, social, political and cultural influences which shape people’s perceptions of personal, local and global futures
  • developing the skills, attitudes and values which encourage foresight and enable pupils to identify both probable and preferable futures
  • working towards achieving a more just and sustainable future in which the welfare of both people and planet are of equal importance.”


Futurists utilise the technique of foresight, considering a 200 year present, 100 years in the past, and 100 years into the future.  There are three distinct purposes of applying foresight in the business, community, government or educational spheres.  Pragmatic foresight seeks to improve current practice, to make it more effective.  Progressive foresight considers other dimensions that affect the operation of current practice.  Civilisational foresight considers the worldviews and seeks to create the character and structure of the next stage of our civilisation.


Futures education, one area of the futures field, uses civilisational foresight.  It taps into young people’s hopes and fears for the future, challenges and opens up their paradigms about the world, and empowers them to be agents of change to create sustainable preferred futures.  Fears of the future are based on the dystopic images in the media, which are scrutinised in terms of their nature as social constructions not fact.    Issues are critically engaged with to uncover the reasons behind current practices.  The role of governments, with short term decision making, and our consumer driven society are examined. Young people need to see their how their choices impact today, tomorrow and in the future.  Finally, young peoples’ hopes for the future are harnessed to articulate sustainable preferred futures.


The futures tools and concepts can be used in the classroom across the disciplines.  Future wheels put a future event in the centre of a page, and then the consequences of it occurring are written in a circle around it.  Then the consequences of those actions form the next circle. The Y Diagram, a Y on its side, explores probable and preferred futures down the two arms, focussing on either personal or global futures. Scenarios explore contrasting futures, while backcasting creates a future history of events leading to a preferred future, starting from the future and working back to the present.






Richard Slaughter presents these points as a rationale for futures education:


  • Due to rapid change in our society, many past assumptions, purposes and meanings are no longer relevant.
  • Consequences of actions often are delayed into the future.
  • Forward thinking is preferable to managing crises.
  • Future images impact on the present.
  • Futures is present action, not an abstraction.
  • Present is taken for granted, whereas the past and future meet in the present.
  • Education must make sense of the present by considering future alternatives.
  • The future can be shaped whereas the past is re-interpreted.
  • Futures is relevant for students who are viewed as interpreters of their world.



He articulates the resistant forces that prevent Futures Education from being adopted.


“One of the main areas where FS has already demonstrated a potential that is a very long way beyond present levels of implementation is within education.  Here, an extensive, but simple set of concepts and tools provide the symbolic and practical foundations for the development of futures understanding and capability…But within school systems there is a key systemic constraint that has, so far, prevented futures in education from developing to anything like its full potential…Educational systems and bureaucracies, both public and private, are not focused merely on education.  The determining forces within them are more directly concerned with the imposition of such industrial era imperatives as efficiency, effectiveness and control…It is now time to challenge the educational bureaucracies on their own ground and to charge them with failing to fulfil their public responsibility – which I take to be that of preparing young people to become active citizens of the 21st century.”




How does Futures Education fit into the Curriculum?

The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century states that,



“Students will have the capacity to exercise judgement and responsibility  in matters of morality, ethics and social justice, and the capacity to make sense of the world, to think about how things got to be the way they are, to make rational and informed decisions about their own lives and to accept responsibility for their own actions.”


“Students will have an understanding of, and concern for, stewardship of the natural environment, and the knowledge and skills to contribute to ecologically sustainable development.”



Futures education directly fits with focus of this declaration. The core statements of VELS also resonate these ideas, “Students will need to create a future which is sustainable, innovative and builds strong communities ”.  Further, “Students will need to develop a set of knowledge, skills and behaviours which will prepare them for success in a world which is complex, rapidly changing, rich in information and communication technology, demanding higher order knowledge and understanding, and increasingly global in its outlook and influences.”


FE is a curriculum vehicle to apply VELS in a meaningful way.  It can be applied across all strands, Physical, Personal and Social Learning, Discipline-based Learning and Interdisciplinary Learning.


The VELS statement describes several ways to implement the Standards,

  • Integrated approach where one or more disciplines and other relevant domains are combined and addressed through key questions or themes.
  • Incorporate the interdisciplinary and physical, personal and social strands of the Standards into existing discipline based subjects and broaden their focus this way.
  • Combine all three strands in the context of extended projects which require students to learn and apply knowledge and skills across many interrelated domains.


FE can be used in these three ways by providing a context for integrated learning, drawing on multiple domains.

  • Key questions or themes have a FE focus, drawing on one or more discipline and relevant domains.
  • Discipline based subjects frame their teaching and learning in terms of FE, incorporating the Physical, Personal and Social Learning Strand, and the Interdisciplinary Strand.
  • Extended projects have a FE focus, drawing on all three strands.


An alternative application of FE is as a framework for the Thinking Domain.  The FE tools and concepts utilise all the three dimensions, Reasoning, processing and inquiry, Creativity, and Reflection, evaluation and metacognition.  Hence the Thinking Domain could be renamed Futures, and taught as a distinct subject or integrated within other domains.


Schools have the flexibility to use FE to implement VELS appropriate to their setting.  This is not another level of curriculum planning on top of VELS, but a way of implementing the Standards in a meaningful way, true to the essence of VELS.





One example of FE used in an Integrated Project is from Eltham College of Education’s City Campus for Year 9.  “Proaction” asked students to create their vision of a preferred future and plan a response to achieve it. The context was social issues in Melbourne.  Guest speakers from church and charity organisations outlined the programs they offered, assisting people in need. Groups of students chose a specific issue, eg youth homelessness, and researched the historical and present responses and interventions.  This included arranging and conducting interviews of an intervention, eg Lighthouse Foundation.  From this work they brainstormed the probable future of this issue.  The groups then created a preferred future for their issue, and set about planning their own program to achieve it.  An outcome of this process is the empowerment of students to create a better future.  They are exposed to the tools and skills to utilise long term thinking whilst applying it back to present action. Students gain an insight into the future consequences of current actions or inactions.






Professor David Hicks is the Director of the Centre for Global and Futures Education at Bath Spa University, and the Principal Lecturer of Education Studies in the School of Education.  He teaches the modules Education for Change, The Effective Teacher, Education for the Future, Education and the Environment, Citizenship Education and Radical Education in the undergraduate program. David conducts research, is a consultant and a prolific author of books and articles.  He has created resources for teachers in the areas of geographical education, global education, peace education, environmental education and futures education. David is responsible for an international working group on Futures Education (Schools) of the World Futures Studies Federation.  He sits on the editorial boards of two journals: Futures and the Journal of Futures Studies.  David has lectured internationally in Australia, Canada, Taiwan, Thailand and Italy.



“The world I would like to live in embodies Johan Galtung’s five broad ‘goals for peace’ which I also take to be the prerequisites for any definition of a more sustainable future: economic welfare, social justice, non-violence, ecological balance and participation.  This would require a much simpler, less materialistic, more decentralised society that we have today.  It would however be a more celebratory and convivial society.”


“The main forces shaping the immediate future are, I believe, the continuing expansion of consumer capitalism, the forces of globalisation, the widening North-South gap, the rule of patriarchy, and the ecological crisis.  At the same time I think there are signs of hope.  What interests me most is the suggestion that we may be seeing a clash of worldviews or paradigms in the western world, between what Milbrath calls the Dominant Social paradigm and the New Ecological Paradigm.  I am therefore particularly interested in the possibilities of revisionary or constructive postmodernism, which supports the emancipatory movements of our times and stresses the need to move beyond the limitations and contradictions of modernity.”






Richard Slaughter has a PhD in Futures Studies.  He has a long association with teaching Futures Studies at universities in the UK and Australia.  In 1999, Richard became the Foundation Professor of Foresight, at the Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University.  There he developed a Masters program in Strategic Foresight.  Slaughter likes to periodically move away from institutions to achieve more autonomy.  He worked at the Futures Study Centre, and now is a Director of Foresight International.  He works as a consultant and on editorial boards of various futures journals. Slaughter has published prolifically including resources for futures educators, and then books and journal articles about the field he helped develop, critical futures.  He edited the KBFS, Knowledge Base of Futures Studies.  From 2001 to 2005, Slaughter was the President of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF).


Slaughter has a clear view of what is inadequate with how the world operates and recognises the majority of the global population do not face reality.


“The diet of ‘bad news’ that has characterised the late 20th Century will continue for a long time to come because humanity is only part way through a transition that will take many, many years to complete.  So the killings will go on.  The bombs, the massacre of the innocents, the turning of people against their own kind and their world will continue.  The environmental news will worsen… Overall, the erosion of the ecological foundations of life will continue unabated…It is a terrifying prospect – so terrifying, in fact, that those with the relevant money, resources, choices, will en masse, generally opt for the comfort of images, unreality industries, 3DTV, instead of the work of facing up to it. But face annihilation we must.  It is the only way forward for a culture in extremis.” 


Consumerism provides a means of distraction from reality.

“I believe that a combination of low-level human motivations and high powered technology in any realm is likely to be what I have called elsewhere ‘a continuing disaster’. … I do find it fascinating that what were once called the ‘seven deadly sins’ (pride, envy, avarice, wrath, gluttony, sloth and lust) have finally been domesticated within the hyperculture of consumerism that now rages around as, perhaps, what now might be called the ‘seven marketing imperatives’…In late industrial culture caution has been thrown to the winds, with the results that we all know so well.”


The basis of current global development is stuck in an outmoded narrow paradigm.

“At present the key drivers of change in the world emerge from the still relatively primitive stages of human and social development such are expressed in: technical dynamism coupled with scientism, materialism, commercial exploitation (profit-driven organizations such as the trans-nationals, banks etc), nationalism (the military-industrial complex), colonialism, greed, short-term thinking, ego, fear of death and defects in the Western industrial worldview – particularly short-term thinking and the hegemony of instrumental rationality.”


A new paradigm is needed to move forward.

“The vast and largely unresolved meta-problem that now confronts us is that a technological dynamic that acknowledges no limits whatever is poised to overrun all human cultures and the world in which they are located.  Yet the kinds of values and cultural capabilities that would, under more ‘normal’ circumstances, be available to mediate such a dynamic are contested, fragmented, largely unavailable as a coherent set of policies or responses.”


Slaughter summarises his view of the Meta problem:

  • “The Western worldview is defective because it provides us with a thin, instrumental view of the world, which, though successful in the short term, cannot be maintained in the long term.
  • Dominant political and economic powers in the world are generally not interested in the real future…
  • There are significant arenas of human experience that have been marginalised or overlooked by Western institutions…
  • Modern technologies do little or nothing to assist people in solving the perennial problems of human existence…But they are represented as if they were of central and vital importance.
  • The ideology of material growth was only viable for a short time and cannot be sustained.
  • Overall, it is possible to re-design the Western worldview by retiring defective components and replacing them with consciously chosen equivalents.”



Denial of Metaproblem


Despite the overwhelming body of evidence of the Meta problem, the world at large does not acknowledge it or respond to it.  Slaughter cites several reasons for this.


Industrial Flatland      “During several centuries of industrialism the sheer success of instrumental reason for many years eclipsed other ‘ways of knowing’ such that the outer world of empirical reality seemed to be the primary, or indeed the only one…Wilber coined the term ‘flatland’ to describe the way that, in the standard view of science, a world with a vital vertical dimension embracing heights and depths, was reduced to a flattened travesty of itself.  Within that ‘thin’ and diminished domain were all the comforts and diversions of material life, but meaning was nowhere to be found.”


The ideology of economic growth      “..the world’s political players still hold fast to the view that ‘growth is good’.  They are supported in this view by conventional economists… Growth of the old, industrial, material kind is clearly becoming increasingly costly and dangerous..”


Impacts on the global system  “Nature is now surrounded and, in many places, overwhelmed by humanity… But human beings have many ways of blocking out reality and it is true to say, I think, that very few people actually try to begin to connect the detailed reality and texture of their lives with our collective impacts on the world…overall, the rich players in the rapidly globalizing world economy continue to live ‘as if there was no tomorrow’.”


Short term thinking     “I regard short term thinking as one of the most dangerous perceptual defects that we have inherited from the recent past…Western civilisation (and those that follow in its path) has adopted a curiously contradictory stance.  On the one hand: transform the world beyond measure; on the other: don’t stop to consider the consequences.”


These reasons are deeply embedded into our global society, which explains why little momentum has been achieved to counter the Meta problem.


Vision of Future


Slaughter has a clear vision of the future which has moved from an industrial age culture to a wise culture. His vision is of a civilisational change.


Slaughter believes the plight of the world will get worse before it gets better.


“There may be.. immense suffering between where we stand at the dawn of the 21st Century and the kind of ethically, and technologically advanced civilisation that could lead us into new territory.  Hence the existential burdens will continue to grow for some time, as will the many evidences of disaster and dysfunction around us.”

A diagnosis of the current world is needed before moving forward.

“Although there is no rule book for reconstructing cultures that is what we must attempt…. the first step is to attempt a diagnosis of our world.  What is working well, what badly?  What do we need to maintain and protect, what do we need to change?  We could do worse than begin by valuing some of the things we have inherited from the efforts of people in the past: language, writing, electricity, notions of social justice and so on.”


He states that Futures Studies has emerged from the Meta Problem, and that it offers a solution.

“..this contradiction between the likely onset of disastrous or heavily technically-modified futures moving inexorably toward us, set against the more down to earth needs of real people living lives amidst great contradictions and uncertainty, that stimulated the emergence of Futures Studies in the 20thcentury.  Whatever else it might be as well, the latter is an attempt to re-assert human agency in the face of dehumanisation and the destruction of all that we hold dear.  And here, perhaps, is the essential clue to finding our collective way forward.”

Slaughter suggests that a ‘congruence of insight’ is emerging in Futures Studies and in the broader community, which has the potential for cultural creativity and the highlighting of human needs through social innovations.

  • “We should remember (indeed, re-member) how healthy cultures work, from what features they are constituted, and the kinds of perennial human values they embody.  A healthy culture would re-assert limits and understand that there are some technological possibilities that should not be pursued under any circumstances.
  • …regard people as ‘layered beings’ with a range of attributes, capabilities and needs at different levels. Material wealth..
  • We need to recover a set of social values and embody them in socially-validated forms such that they can be available to moderate other powerful forces including those of technology, finance and commerce. Progressive social values..
  • ..people are searching for meaning, vision and leadership.
  • Institutions of foresight (IOF’s) are social innovations that re, in some sense, ‘called forth’ by this time…IOF serve limited interests but universal ones as well.
  • Human beings possess significant reflexive powers; they can look afresh upon the world (inner and outer), revise assumptions, explore others and, together, reinvent their worldview by consciously incorporating other components.”


He can envision a new paradigm which would form the basis of the civilisational change.

“As we reach the end of the 20th century and contemplate the 21st, viable futures for humankind cannot be created from pre-industrial, industrial or post-industrial models.. We should not therefore uncritically carry over existing cultural commitments from this era to the next.  Rather we need to let go of some earlier commitments and consciously take up others.  We need grounded visions, designs if you will, of a world that has experienced a recovery of vision, meaning and purpose; one that has moved beyond the disastrous conceits of industrialism – particularly the obsession with material growth, the subjugation of nature and the marginalisation of non-Western cultures.  Such a world is likely to be fundamentally a post –materialist one which embraces stewardship and the needs of future generations.  Intrinsic value would become more dominant than use, or exchange value.  Science and technology would be reigned in and subjected to higher order imperatives.  This would be a materially stable but infinitely more subtle, interconnected and many-layered world.”

In summary, Slaughter states that his,

“.. preferred vision of the future is of a wise culture which values wisdom about raw technical power.  It is far sighted and imbued throughout with transpersonal awareness… The route from here (the slide towards destruction) to there (a future worth living in) is through the growth of human awareness across the planet and the implementation of a host of future-saving, future-creating structures and processes. Most of these already exist but they remain culturally marginalised.  The key to their mainstream emergence is an advanced futures discourse which can re-shape existing agendas.”