The time in our lives during which we are educated is becoming ever more prolonged. School starts at the age of four and half of the population in Europe stays in school contexts up until the age of 25. Moreover, we are increasingly seeking help from tutors and online learning tools. We are witnessing a process of “schoolification”, along with a trend of “lifelong learning” after we have left school.

Our observations

  • Several studies show that the first years of childhood and even the time spent in the womb are crucial for developments later on in life. This has given rise to a new level of ambition in the early years of life, varying from publications on how to educate an unborn child, increasing expectations of preschools, the rise of educational games and apps for young children and (online) tutoring even before entering elementary schools.
  • Schools are increasingly facing challenges: they have to cultivate cognitive skills, socialize students and meet personal demands. On all educational levels, we are overly demanding of schools, which leads to unfulfilled promises and work stress for teachers.
  • Supplementary tutoring outside of schools, also referred to as “shadow education”, has been common in the cultures of East Asia and is now increasingly widespread in West and Central Asia, Europe, North America, and in Africa. It is primarily focused on preparing students for exams in elementary-, secondary-, high school and university.
  • In response to the shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy and today’s fast-changing world in which the education of adolescents will often not be sufficient for the decades of work that follow, the idea of lifelong learning was introduced. It refers to the skills to constantly explore new opportunities that can be integrated into an environment to continually improve one’s capabilities. In their white paper Shaping the future of Education, the WEF concludes that “regardless of their current competencies, workers will need to dynamically reskill throughout their working lives.”
  • Attending university after the age of 60 has become more common. Reasons why older people are thinking about studying at an age when many think about retirement include personal development, career/professional development and missing out earlier in life.

Connecting the dots

The early years of childhood are increasingly spent on preparing for primary school and sometimes even on creating the best conditions to be an excellent student beforehand. Preschools, games and apps are now frequently put to use in the first years of childhood, and tutoring children before they enter elementary school is already possible. This came about after several studies concluded that the first years in life lay a foundation for our capacities and disadvantages later on in life. This trend is referred to as “schoolification”: time that used to be spent on playing is increasingly taken up by educational activities.
The following period in childhood, from elementary school until the end of high school, seems to show a similar trend: time after school and doing homework is increasingly spent on educational activities that are not provided by school. Due to higher expectations of parents and technological developments that make private supplementary tutoring more accessible and affordable, there is more competition to be an excellent student. So-called “shadow education” is on the rise, focusing mainly on giving extra support to prepare for exams and tests that are being held at school.

Concerns regarding these developments in the education of our children and youngsters mainly involve social inequality, too much pressure to perform and the reduction of time that can be spent on personal development. However, elementary -, secondary – as well as high schools are under pressure to deliver students that are ready for the future in the eyes of parents, governments and employers. Often, these demands are not met, which causes parents to turn to additional educational activities. The trend of schoolification and shadow education is, therefore, not likely to slow down.
According to several reports on the future of work, prospects are that after graduation, education will continue to be necessary to participate on the labor market. And, even when retirement is there, education increasingly seems to fulfill a desire to continue personal development and elderly students are becoming more and more common. All in all, it seems that education will occupy an ever-extending part of our lives and more parties will be involved to provide it to us.

Implications

  • In college or university, shadow education is not nearly as booming as it is in primary-, secondary- and high schools. However, due to the increasingly competitive mentality it brings about in adolescents before entering college or university, it could just as well find its way there too. Nevertheless, supplementary tutoring will be much more complicated because the topics that are taught in college and university studies are more complex and fewer tutors will therefore be able to provide students their assistance.
  • Digital tools that help studying and make it more fun will continue to increase if they are connected with the curricula of school institutions.