Since the 1970s, the Earth has not been able to regenerate for itself the resources that humanity uses. Currently it takes a year and a half for the planet to regenerate what we use in a year and if the whole planet lived the lifestyle of the average Western nation, we would need five planets to provide the necessary resources. The number of people living on the planet and the way we develop into the future is critical to our survival. 

As world’s population grows and we strive for ever increasing advancement, we need to consider some of the scenarios that will play out in order that we can take action today. Change is a slow process, and education lies at the heart of it.

The global population today stands at approximately 7.3 billion, twice what it was in 1970, and still growing. The question is not only how quickly will it continue to grow but also what will the makeup be of this future population? Will it comprise a well-balanced society of educated humans with the requisite skills to operate in the 21st century, or perhaps instead, a heavily over-populated world with limited educational standards and wide inequality creating ever increasing political tension?

Interestingly, there is a strong correlation between education and birth rates; as education standards increase the birth rate falls. About half the world’s population live in countries where the birth rate is above the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman and although the general trend has been a decreasing fertility rate, there are areas where the decline has been much slower, such as sub-Saharan Africa. If you take Kenya as an example, the total fertility rate has decreased from over 8 in the 1970s to the current levels of approximately 4.4. Over the same period, the percentage of uneducated people in the country fell from 32% (1970) to 5% (2015) according to figures from the United Nations.

So the tantalising question is: if we can increase the rate of learning, what might the impact be on the world population? Here we turn to some impressive work done by the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital. They have modelled various education scenarios including: a scenario that assumes we maintain global student enrolment rates at current rates (Constant Enrolment Rates “CER”) and, an alternative optimistic scenario where countries expand their school systems at the fastest possible rate, comparable to the best performers in recent history, such as Singapore and South Korea (Fast Track “FT”).