How does education affect society?

The Society of Tomorrow - Consequences for Education

Martin R. Textor

Confirmed ideas about tomorrow's society - be it our society in 2025, 2030 or 2040 - are of great importance for planning our personal lives and the upbringing of our children. This is even more true of business and politics. For example, education policy should be geared towards the skills that today's children will need as tomorrow's young adults, and teacher training, school organization and curricula should be designed accordingly.

Unfortunately, we only plan for a few months or years in advance in our personal lives or as those responsible in politics, business, science, administration and education. The consequence is that all of our plans are short-term and amateurish. It is questionable whether we can steer the development of our society and economy, but also of our children, in the right direction on this basis.

In this article I would like to venture a few statements about the German society of tomorrow. In doing so, I will draw on the results of the knowledge and education dolphi as well as on the findings of population research. For reasons of space, I will limit myself to the topics of population composition, the economy, the labor market and the knowledge society.

Consequences from population development

Since it has been apparent for several decades that the future of the welfare state is endangered by the increasing aging of German society, a relatively large number of research projects have been commissioned to address this problem. The Bundestag also set up a study commission on "Demographic Change" which wrote several reports (e.g. German Bundestag 1994). There is a great deal of knowledge on this subject.

Let me recap briefly: In the last five decades, the total fertility rate has decreased more or less continuously to a value of 1.54 children per woman (2019) - but 2.1 children per woman would be necessary to maintain the size of the population. The expected population decline was overcompensated by immigration from other countries, so that there was even population growth. According to the nine main variants of the 14th coordinated population projection of the Federal Statistical Office (2020), the population in 2040 will be between 80.7 and 84.6 million people, i.e. only slightly below or above the current value of 83.1 million (2020) lie. However, in 2040 there will be fewer young people and many more old people than today: The proportion of people under 20 years of age will decrease from 18.4% of the population in 2018 to 18.0% in 2040 and the proportion of 65-year-olds and the elderly will increase from 21.5% of the population in 2018 to 28.7% in 2040.

The outlined aging process of the population has the consequence, for example, that around half of the voters will be older than 55 by 2030. Then the interests of the elderly could determine politics. The economists Miegel and Wahl (1993) fear that this could endanger the state's ability to act and ultimately even democracy, because: "The enforcement of these interests, which should not least include high social benefits, is likely to affect the other half of the voters who support them To provide services more or less resolutely oppose "(p. 114).

The population development outlined is of great importance for the economy: the aging of society is likely to lead to a restructuring of demand. It can be assumed that sales of food and (durable) consumer goods will decline. Many factories will no longer be fully utilized. The share of expansion investments will decrease in favor of replacement and rationalization investments. If this development cannot be absorbed or slowed down by increasing exports, parts of the German economy will shrink. In connection with pessimistic future expectations, more companies could migrate abroad (Buttler 1993).

The change in age structure means that demand will shift towards goods and services that are important for older people. These include, for example, medical services, equipment and aids, old people's and nursing homes, food, cleaning and care services, educational, leisure and holiday offers for seniors. The supply of (older) people in poorly populated regions must also be ensured, for which (new) operating and sales forms - such as the bundling of various services, kiosks, mobile vending vehicles, delivery services or small markets - must be developed.

The aging of society will lead to a rapidly growing need for social facilities and services for the elderly and the very old. This includes meeting, leisure, cultural, service and advice centers for senior citizens. Sick seniors and those in need of care, in particular, will increasingly depend on public support, as partners or adult children who have so far predominantly taken on this task are increasingly missing. More geriatric and geriatric psychiatric wards and care beds in hospitals, more old people's and nursing homes, more day and short-term care places as well as more social stations, nursing, housekeeping and meal services will be needed. At the same time, outpatient services will have to reorient themselves, since they were designed to complement the family, but will increase in the future replacing the family have to work (if partners and children are absent or if the latter live and work far away).

The aging of the population will also have consequences for the labor market: An age-specific segmentation of the labor market is to be expected in the next few decades: The competition between employers for the fewer and fewer young professionals will increase, which will probably also affect initial wages and wages and will lead to a narrowing of the gap to final income. The middle cohorts will find fewer opportunities for advancement, since higher positions are likely to be blocked longer and longer by older employees. These will continue to be particularly affected by labor market risks.

The aging of the labor force will force employers to change their hitherto strongly youth-centered personnel policy and allow them to make use of the option of early retirement much less often than before. The more the average age of employees increases and the fewer younger job seekers there will be on the labor market, the more important further and advanced training will become - after all, innovation and increased labor productivity will have to be done more by older employees.

Population growth will probably have little effect on the unemployment rate. The decisive factor here is to what extent the qualifications of the workforce correspond to the needs. It is to be expected in the coming decades that the tendency will continue, that less and less unskilled and semi-skilled workers, but more and more highly qualified specialists and university graduates will be needed. Accordingly, there will also be a shortage of skilled workers in the years to come.

On the way to the knowledge society

With the last few words I already indicated that in tomorrow's society only those who are particularly qualified will have a future. This can also be deduced from the Knowledge Delphi of 1996 and the Education Delphi of 1998 (Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998). On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education, more than 1,000 scientists and education experts were asked about the future development of knowledge and its influence on society as well as the consequences for the education system, taking into account the period up to 2020. The purpose of the Delphi method is "to use the experience of experts systematically to derive statements about future events ... which cannot be reliably obtained with other methods" (Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 10). For this purpose, a multi-stage survey was carried out at each Delphi, with the results from the preliminary round flowing back to the experts questioned from the second survey round. Workshops were also held with some of the experts.

According to this study, we are currently in a transition phase from an industrial society to a knowledge society. The importance of the productive forces labor and capital is decreasing, while knowledge is becoming more and more important - it is the "cultural capital" of our society. "Knowledge" is the "collection of self-ordered statements about facts or ideas" that a person has worked out for himself on the basis of information, experience, etc. This means that knowledge depends on the individual capacity of the respective person to absorb and process. Knowledge can be passed on in the form of information, provided it can be formulated and communicated. In contrast to knowledge, information is not tied to a person and can be disseminated widely with the help of modern technologies.

In the emerging knowledge society, knowledge is the defining force for human action. More and more knowledge will be produced thanks to the sciences that already encompass more than 6,000 individual disciplines. Research and development expenses will continue to rise. Globalization will increasingly become the engine for the development of knowledge, since the German economy can only remain competitive on world markets through knowledge. People will deal with information more and more; access to them will be further facilitated by new technologies. Those who miss the boat here will only have few career opportunities: The gap between "close to knowledge" and "non-knowledgeable" groups is likely to widen, and jobs with lower qualifications will become increasingly rare.

Today's children "have to adapt to a world that has extensive information and communication infrastructures including software, databases, forms of access and devices. It allows them to access growing amounts of information with varying degrees of detail in specific cases. Their use, however, binds increasing temporal and intellectual resources "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 103). This means that, on the one hand, the acquisition and use of information becomes an individual and social optimization problem. On the other hand, people will find themselves inadequately informed more and more often, which is likely to lead to feelings of individual powerlessness. You will look for support in stable and functional groups, but you will often have to experience that traditional ways of life and cultures or patterns of thought and orientation adopted in youth are no longer up-to-date. So they will increasingly build their own social structures through their own efforts or have to develop individual values ​​and ways of thinking ("individualization"). The knowledge society therefore offers the individual a lot of freedom, but this can also lead to fears and disorientation.

The reliability of information will continue to decrease in global, freely accessible networks. There is also the risk of propaganda and other manipulative information being fed into the Internet - for example by sects or radical groups. In addition, the increasing virtualization of learning and leisure activities is also having an impact on social relationships: there will be fewer personal contacts on site and more virtual ones via the Internet.

The following development is also connected with the knowledge society: "Previously separated Cultures and social Life forms to overlap with something. Through the worldwide exchange of information and goods, historically different patterns of value and thought are confronted with one another. So far clearly demarcated forms of life and economy are colliding, global migratory flows are becoming easier. The risks of culture-related disputes are increasing "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 107).

According to the Knowledge Delphi, areas of knowledge will develop particularly dynamically in the next two decades, which are closely related to pressing problems or which are expected to contribute to increasing economic and technical performance. These include information technology, media, new technologies, medicine, environmental protection technology, economics and social sciences. But knowledge management will also gain in importance, since the flood of information has to be managed and processed somehow. In contrast, the "knowledge production" in the humanities, in art and music as well as in basic research in mathematics, chemistry and physics will tend to decline.

Especially in very complex problem areas, but also due to increasing specialization and the flood of information, interdisciplinary cooperation will become more and more the rule. The Knowledge Delphi distinguishes between three forms: "Subject-related and subject-related interdisciplinarity mostly refers to subdisciplines or sister subjects, ... Problem-oriented interdisciplinarity also links more distant subjects along a specific problem. Creative interdisciplinarity describes combinations of subjects that are unusual and original that promise a creative and fruitful collaboration "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 39).

Competencies required for the future

In the Knowledge Delphi it was emphasized that the next generation must be enabled to cope with the flood of information and knowledge. "This means, for example, being able to handle information and knowledge as skilfully as possible and to be able to manage your own knowledge. Or to know which amounts of information can be processed and then to limit yourself to what is necessary. You should know where knowledge is possibly available. And one should, for example, be able to make selection decisions and critically assess information "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 40).

All of this is only possible when the particular person is over General knowledge disposes. This term is defined more comprehensively in the Knowledge Delphi than in current usage, since not only knowledge, but also competencies and skills are meant. General knowledge serves as the basis for understanding, should enable entry into specialist knowledge and facilitate orientation in the flood of information (e.g. by providing evaluation grids or assessment criteria). It comprises the following four fields:

Four fields of general knowledge

General Basics and cultural techniques: Knowledge of foreign languages, classical cultural techniques, logic, creative techniques, understanding of technology

Handling information technology: Knowledge of modern media, mastery of programs, targeted search and selection of information

Personal Knowledge from experience: Self-confidence, identity, competence to act, self-management, structuring, cultural experience, dealing with feelings, experience of social belonging, dealing with death, ethics, religion

Personal skills for dealing with knowledge: curiosity, openness, critical analysis, ability to reflect, judgment

Communicative skills: Linguistic expression, ability to work in a team, moderation, self-portrayal, personal interaction within partnerships and social relationships

Social responsibility: Tolerance, willingness to take responsibility, consideration, solidarity, prosocial behavior

Basic knowledge
Content knowledge about current problems: Education and work, ecology, European integration and global dependencies

Content basics: Everyday knowledge about money, economics, education ..., basics from sociology, pedagogy, history, religion, literature, philosophy, politics, technology, geography, biology ...

(Source: Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 42)

The experts interviewed at the Knowledge Delphi considered personal and social skills to be even more important than methodological skills and basic knowledge of the content. The latter should be conveyed to children and young people less via the classic school subjects than on the basis of current, complex and overarching problems or topics. The general education schools should attach more importance than before to medicine, psychology, politics, law and economics. Above all, however, personal development and social behavior should be promoted.

The Educational Delphi came to a similar conclusion. The interviewed experts demanded that schools, universities and vocational training should primarily impart the following skills:

  • Specific technical skills: These should be taught primarily at universities and in vocational training, whereby other skills could also be trained in this context.
  • Learning technology / learning methodological competence: It makes it easier for the individual to find the information they need, to reduce its complexity, to sort, to evaluate and to select it.
  • Psychosocial competence: This enables people to find their way around different social reference systems, to cope with transitions, to check their own orientations, to communicate meaningfully with others, to develop tolerance for those who think differently, to help shape society, etc.
  • Foreign language skills
  • Intercultural competence: In a world that is getting smaller and smaller, adolescents have to learn to interact with people from other cultures in a positive way.
  • Media literacy: This is primarily about dealing with new media.

The individual must be ready to learn for life. This will be easiest for him when he has learned to learn. Continuous education and training will become the norm.

Consequences for the (pre-school) education system

According to the Educational Delphi, it can be assumed that people will acquire the required knowledge and skills in more places of learning in the future than they do today: at inter-company training and further education institutions, at private institutes (especially in the IT sector), through consultation with experts , through multimedia teaching and training programs, on the PC (e.g. through learning software or via the Internet), abroad or directly at the workplace through the guidance of experienced colleagues (e.g. in the IT sector, in the film and media industry).

The role of the learner "is changing more and more towards that of a person on his own initiative 'Explorers'who, in a team with others, with a spirit of research, curiosity and the support of teachers, conquers and develops new knowledge terrain "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 72). Accordingly, teachers become consultants" who provide information in the process of acquiring knowledge, but above all stimulate, support and encourage self-responsibility and independence "(op. cit., p. 73). They become moderators of learning processes in groups, so they organize learning teams and promote the exchange between the participants.

According to the Educational Delphi, teachers should ensure the following factors in particular that promote learning:

  • Learning from meaningful content that is related to the life and interests of the learner;
  • Learning in real situations or with practical relevance, so that the personal, professional and / or social relevance of the learning content and its usability for the individual become clear;
  • interdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, holistic learning;
  • responsible, self-directed learning;
  • credible feedback, promoting self-awareness;
  • The learner's creative freedom and opportunities to participate in the selection of learning content and methods;
  • cognitive learning and subjective learning by experience, but also playful and intuitive learning;
  • Learning in a team, with others;
  • Project work;
  • media-based learning;
  • Learning in an atmosphere in which the learner is also allowed to make mistakes and can learn from them.

According to the Education Delphi, the role change of learners and teachers, the change in learning content and the increased introduction of factors promoting learning should already begin in pre-school education: "So far, the tasks, roles and functions of learners and 'teachers' have received far too little attention Institutions for children before they start school. With a view to the goal of upbringing and guidance towards independent and self-directed, team-oriented learning, the first, very learning-intensive years of children and the important role of their companions in preschool institutions should not be neglected enables learning, stimulates self-initiative experimentation and playful learning, and gains positive self-awareness with regard to exploring, questioning and creating 'new things.' This raises the question of the Training of pre-school supervisors who have so far hardly been understood as 'teachers' in the true sense of the word and have been trained too much with regard to supervision "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 74).

However, the preschool institutions in particular are also of great importance if the danger of growing primary experience deficits due to the mediatization of our society is to be countered. In the elementary area, holistic learning, physical experience of the world, sensory training and self-awareness are most likely possible.

Closing word

In the Education Delphi it was repeatedly emphasized that the current education system no longer meets future requirements and that there is already a major backlog of reforms. That is why the report says: "The time seems ripe for a new awakening in educational policy" (Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 96). However, at the Education Delphi, most of the experts were very skeptical about the willingness and ability of the education system to change. Due to the innovation-inhibiting context, the gap between the knowledge acquired in the education system and the requirements of the economy and society will tend to widen.

The experts therefore called for a significant expansion of quality assurance and quality management in all educational sectors, in particular a continuous external evaluation of state educational offers. At the same time, the educational institutions should be granted more independence, personal responsibility and freedom of design (de-bureaucratisation, de-hierarchization): "This is the only way to mobilize creative and innovative potential in the institutions. In relation to public funding, this means: Institutions must be given more financial (partial) autonomy Initiative and dynamism are encouraged; grants must be linked to quality and efficiency criteria "(Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Sozialforschung 1998, p. 88). A flexible, adaptable, "profit-oriented" education system should emerge that anticipates the future.


This article was updated in November 2020.


Buttler, G .: Germany's economy needs immigrants. In: Klose, H.-U. (Ed.): Aging Society. Answers to demographic change. Cologne 1993, pp. 51-64

Bundestag (ed.): Interim report of the study commission "Demographic change" - challenge of our aging society to the individual and politics. Bonn 1994

Miegel, M., Wahl. S .: The end of individualism. The culture of the West is destroying itself. Munich 1993

Prognos AG: Prognos report 1995. Perspectives of the statutory pension insurance for the whole of Germany against the background of changed political and economic framework conditions. Published by the Association of German Pension Insurance Institutions (DRV Schriften, Volume 4). Frankfurt / Main 1995

Prognos AG / Infratest Burke Social Research: Delphi Survey 1996/1998 "Potentials and Dimensions of the Knowledge Society - Effects on Educational Processes and Structures". Integrated final report. Munich / Basel: self-published 1998

Sommer, B .: Development of the population until 2040. Result of the eighth coordinated population projection. Economy and Statistics 1994, Issue 7, pp. 497-503

Federal Statistical Office: Population in Transition. Assumptions and results of the 14th coordinated population projection. Wiesbaden: Self-published 2019

Textor, M.R .: Population Development: Consequences for Society and Politics. In: Martin R. Textor (coordination): Social policy. Current questions and problems. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag 1997, pp. 11-28

Supplementary literature tip

Textor, M.R .: Future-oriented pedagogy: Education and training for the world of tomorrow. How children in the family, day care center and school become sustainable. Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2nd ed. 2018


Dr. Martin R. Textor studied education, counseling and social work at the Universities of Würzburg, Albany, N.Y., and Cape Town. He worked for 20 years as a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education in Munich. From 2006 to 2018 he and his wife headed the Institute for Education and Future Research (IPZF) in Würzburg. He is the author or editor of 45 books and has published 770 specialist articles in magazines and on the Internet.
Autobiography at