The World Bank has identified the world trends it expects to have profound consequences for education across the globe over the next 25 years.
The key factors are expected to be democratisation, the swing to market economies, globalisation, partnerships between the state, parents and communities and technological innovation.
"Education will determine who has the keys to unlock the treasures that these changes will generate and who does not," an internal strategy paper says.
Maris O'Rourke, World Bank education director with responsibility for handing out pound;3 billion a year in education loans, says democratisation is having a huge impact on education in Africa and in the former Communist states of eastern Europe, where the move towards a market economy isdriving curriculum change.
For countries which belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a big question has been how much control the state should retain in running education. Governments are moving towards a minimalist role while keeping control of funding, the curriculum and accountability systems.
"We are seeing it in its extreme in the UK, New Zealand, Victoria state in Australia and Sweden," Ms O'Rourke said.
Another key issue is how schools will keep up with the rapid technological change and the new demands from industry.
"People will be looking at having 6-10 jobs in a career. Or even if they stay in one job, there are going to be dramatic changes on the job," she added.
Secondary schools will have to work closely with employers. Teachers will need to go into factories to use the latest technology in order to be able to create a curriculum that will prepare school-leavers for work.
While many countries are striving to provide education earlier and for longer, in developing countries the priority is enrolling all children in primary school - and keeping them there for at least four years.
The World Bank warns : "Countries that respond astutely to the challenges and opportunities will see major social and economic benefits, including large gains for the poor and marginalised. Countries that fail to respond risk stagnating or slipping backwards, widening the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' and sowing the seeds of social unrest."