Opinion, Richard Worzel

Forewarned Is Forearmed: A Futurist’s Opinion

Forewarned Is Forearmed: A Futurist’s Opinion

Originally published May 2023

By Richard Worzel

In the ten years since I last wrote for TEACH, the world as we know it has transformed in astonishing ways and, as a result, so has the world of education. But as the pace of change keeps accelerating, here are some of the major factors that will continue to significantly impact both our lives in general and the education sector specifically.

Climate Change

We are experiencing more frequent and violent weather events, as predicted by climate models and the IPCC forecasts. Changes in the Earth’s climate are now accelerating, and unless society as a whole is able to make immediate and drastic changes to our current ways of life, weather events will only continue to get progressively more intense and less predictable as time goes on.

Governments at all levels will be hard pressed to provide financial assistance to all the people who are likely to be displaced by a rising number of weather-related disasters. This means they will be looking for areas in the budget where they can find money to compensate for such events. Education might be one such place, which means that educators, as a group, must prepare for this kind of fiscal theft.

Likewise, climate change also means that school districts and administrations should ask themselves how they can make school grounds and playground equipment more robust to survive a wilder climate. Preparing for catastrophe is much cheaper than recovering from it.


One consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it pushed many boomers to retire. And although this mass exodus had been widely anticipated, employers—including school districts—have found themselves caught off-guard by the sudden shortage of workers that has resulted.

There are no quick fixes for this, which means that teachers’ unions and individual educators will potentially have stronger bargaining positions, and young teachers may find advancement comes more easily than they expected. However, educators should also prepare for demands that they do more for less, as a politically expedient way to “solve” the problem of teacher shortages. If this ends up being the case, the voting public must be made aware of what’s happening, in order to ensure that education does not suffer because of inadequate planning.

Artificial Intelligence

Peter Drucker, who is widely considered to be the father of modern business management, once commented that when a new technology emerges it is first hyped beyond its ability to deliver results. Then, Drucker said, when the technology matures, it surprises people again by how quickly it provokes change. AI has reached that stage of maturity, and it is about to change the world in astonishing ways.

If you have not yet heard about ChatGPT, for instance, then I would suggest you read a few articles about it (such as this one from the Associated Press, or this one from ScienceNews). You can also play with this experimental AI yourself. It is temporarily available to the public through the website, chat.openai.com.

In the immediate future, AI represents one more way for cheaters to avoid work by having an AI write essays or answer questions for them. And when an AI does the work, a successful cheater learns nothing more than how to game the system.

A longer view, though, raises a very different question. In a world where AIs can do much of the work involved in research, writing, and analyzing, what will be left for humans to do, and how will they earn a living? Clearly, the future of the workforce is changing radically, which means that how students need to prepare in order to achieve a worthwhile career must evolve as well.

In this way, the emergence of AI requires a revamping of the education system and its objectives. At the same time, it should also lead teachers to re-evaluate how they can use AI to create more effective ways to educate.

Education in a Winner-Take-All Society

Vince Lombardy is often misquoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Yet, this attitude that winning is the only thing justifies doing anything to win, including cheating or threatening those responsible for selecting the winners. And the statistics are clear. Someone with a post-secondary degree or diploma will out-earn someone without one by a huge margin over their lifetime.


As a result, being awarded a diploma is a prize worth winning at any cost, even if the recipient has not earned it. This is producing several toxic results, starting with widespread cheating. Indeed, there are people who earn their living by selling answers and essays to students.

It also means that some parents are now more interested in their child’s diploma than whether the child actually learns anything. As a result, teachers are frequently confronted by parents who demand grades that their children have not earned. Meanwhile, administrations are becoming more and more reluctant to confront angry, abusive, and politically active parents, meaning that teachers are often the ones to get thrown under the bus. Unfortunately, this problem is only going to get worse as the workforce continues to segregate people who will earn good money from those who will struggle to earn anything at all.

The Weaponization of Education

Over the past 50 years or so, education has gone from being a crucial but often ignored part of society to becoming a fulcrum in the culture wars. Starting with the boomers, politicians realized that education was a hot button issue that could win them attention, followers, and political power.

That has now evolved into a situation where, in some jurisdictions—especially, but not exclusively, in American red states—politicians are using the education system as a weapon to score political points. One particularly egregious example is Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has left Florida teachers uncertain about what they can and can’t teach, and whether they might be in legal jeopardy if they guess wrong.

And lest Canadians be too smug about this, I expect Canadian politicians to start employing the same wedge-issue tactics because they help win elections.

Where Are Students in the Equation?

Too often we all talk about education, the education system, pedagogy, educators, teachers, and schools without actually mentioning students. Yet, individual students are the only valid reason the education system exists in the first place. That fact gets lost when education is micro-managed to the point where teachers are told what to teach, and how and when to teach it, instead of relying on their knowledge and understanding of their students’ unique needs and abilities.

But perhaps the greatest challenge facing the education system as a whole is that it focuses on educating students when it should be helping them learn. This is what skilled educators are able help students do more effectively and efficiently than they would on their own.

A system that treats education as a factory through which a student is processed in order to “educate” them will inevitably bore the student, waste the time and talents of their teachers, and produce expensive, unsatisfactory results. It’s the difference between hearing and listening. Students may hear teachers, but if they are not listening then it’s a pointless effort on both sides.

So if educators are to serve the children in their care, they must be aware of the way the future is trending, and subsequently re-orient in order to help every individual student learn in the way that’s best for them, rather than trying to teach them en mass.

Otherwise, the future will overwhelm us.

Education is the foundation of our way of life, our entire society and economy. If we get education right, we have a chance of dealing with our other problems. But if we get it wrong, we have no chance at all.

And since teachers are the primary reason our education system functions in the first place, on behalf of all those people who should say this, but don’t, allow me to say: Thank you for being a teacher. You are appreciated.

Richard Worzel is Canada’s leading futurist. Over the past 25 years, he has spoken to an estimated half a million business people around the world. He volunteers his time to speak to high school students for free as his schedule permits.