Pictured in the photo are the students who submitted the two papers, one on Environment in Ashbourne
in 2070 and the second on Education and how it will change in the future. The students (in alphabetical
order) are: Niamh Battersby, Kate Beggy, Aoife Byrne, Aibhe Cronin, Rhianna Dolan, Leah Duffy,
Aimee Ennis, Neil Finnegan, Lisa Golden, Caolan Kearney, Eimear Monaghan, Killian O’Brien
and Diana Tudorache. Irene Hughes, Mentor-par-excellence to the Environment Team, can be
seen at the back of the Group.
Ashbourne 2070. The Environment.
We came together as a group of TY students in Ashbourne Community School, 2020, to work on environmental issues about which we all felt passionately. While engaged with this work we were invited to use our environmental awareness and skills to look at our hometown through a different lens. Here we bring you our vision for Ashbourne 2070.
We began this journey listening to our teacher/mentor recount her memories of fifty years ago. Stories of growing up 50 miles North of Ashbourne on a typical Irish farm both fascinate and horrify us. We try to imagine a home without a fridge or central heating, where a twin-tub washing machine run once a week and the only television was black and white, with only 2 channels that do not open until 5pm. The phone (singular!) is an extension from their Grandparents home and the phone number has 2 digits, 36! Bath time is on Saturday evenings, with clean clothes for Sunday. The weekly shop for a family of five, gets carried in in one bag. The bin (singular) gets carried (no wheels) to the gate once a fortnight for emptying. Along with these facts we are told, many of the neighbours and relations do not have electricity or running water in their homes.
We try to comprehend how we would cope, as we mentally walk through our average day. Beginning with our power shower, clean clothes daily, fresh foods, lifts to and from school, online communication, streaming of shows and availability of all types of information. Our addiction to our appliances defines us or so we think. We agree “choice” has become broader in almost every aspect of our lives and that is important to us.
We are now going to take you on a similar journey, but this time we are going to move fifty years ahead, to May 2070. Travel with us and try to imagine we are on an early morning walk along the Broadmeadow River, through Ashbourne.
Through the research we have carried out, we are making the following assumptions based on Met Eireann’s climate models (1). The following statements are believed to be beyond our control due to the levels of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere. The best we can hope for is to prevent them getting any worse from where we currently stand.
- Ireland will experience a 2°Centigrade increase in mean temperature. This will translate to summer having a 3°C increase in daily temperature.
- We will have more floods, droughts and extreme weather events, such as ice/snow storms. These storms will be more severe, with weather events we currently expect 1 in every 100 years, to be expected 1 in every 10 years.
- Generally, our weather will be wetter and warmer. However, summer droughts will be common, with intense heat waves and gorse fires becoming more frequent.
- Sea levels will have risen by 70cm making flood defences the norm in coastal areas.
Travel with us on our journey to Ashbourne in 2070.
Aibhe: What I see when I walk along the Broadmeadow river in 2070 is not a particularly pretty sight, in fact there is no river at all, it is all dried up. It hasn’t rained in Ireland for about two months, we are in a drought. It’s not like the world had an excessive amount of fresh water before it all dried up. There is no greenery, nothing will grow in the dried-up earth. The heat is nearly unbearable. I have to wear factor 150, this time of year really isn’t great for my natural Irish complexion.
Aibhe has focused on a key issue here, the availability of fresh water, even for Ireland, will become increasingly important. Even though 71% of the planet is covered in water, just over 2% of that water is fresh, and only 1% of that water is accessible, with the rest trapped mostly in glaciers. National Geographic has calculated, only 0.007% of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its seven billion people. As the population continues to grow, to an estimated 9.22 billion worldwide, with Ireland’s population predicted to be 5.7 million by 2070, pressures on water supplies for food production, agriculture, industry and domestic supplies will grow exponentially.
The Broadmeadow River will be of vital significance to the Ashbourne area. Water rationing will be a fact of daily life, especially in summer. The river banks will have to be reinforced for the frequent flooding events throughout the rest of the year. During the summer months wildlife will need protection due to the droughts. Due to sea levels rising by at least 70cm, brackish salt water will make its way through Swords but will not reach Ashbourne. This at least will protect aquatic wildlife from the hostile environment introduced by salt water.
Water storage will be key to maintaining availability of supply around the year. With recurring droughts and unpredictable flooding, food supplies will become highly unpredictable. Let’s see what Neil has to say about farming in the area.
Neil: Farming in Ashbourne these days is out of our hands. Gone are the days of rolling green pastures tended to by real-life farmers of yore. After the 4th Industrial Revolution in the late 2050s, the demand for human agricultural workers fell to practically zero. This has its upsides though, because there’s more people with college degrees to fill seats at the mega-complexes downtown. Flying robots pollinate crops due to the dying out of the bee population in 2032, and machines seed, weed and harvest crops.
Vegetables and herbs are grown along the banks of the river in the fertile, alluvial soil, and in the park among trees, where humus from fallen leaves is injected into the soil by robotic farmers and street cleaners. Space is at a premium in Ashbourne now, so the focus is on fitting as many crops as possible into a tight space. The only meat we eat is from chickens, rabbits, and micro sheep, a genetically modified livestock created by the Department of Agriculture in the 2060s when Ashbourne gained its city status and urban sprawl blotted out the possibility of large livestock farms. The old multi-storey car park, which was replaced thirty years ago by an electric car hub uptown, has been converted into a vegetable and herb farm, its solar powered lighting nourishing food to feed Ashbourne’s population.
Neil makes some valid points. Currently large cities have vertical farms, where vegetables are sustainably grown with yields 390 times as high as farming in fields. The largest, in Newark, New Jersey, as shown below, is a key example of the circular economy in action. Nutrients come from restaurant food waste, water is misted on the roots from below, saving 95% of what would be needed outdoors and pesticides are not used. Ashbourne is ideally located to sustainably raise such vegetables year-round to supply Dublin’s insatiable demand for local fresh produce.
The industrialisation of farming has been progressing steadily over the last fifty years. It is easy to imagine machines doing most of the work in 2070, mostly unmanned and preprogramed. Maintaining soil structure will become an even greater challenge with the weight of this machinery causing compaction, loss of aeration and drainage issues. Ideally, we hope farmers take an alternative approach, adopting regenerative agriculture which is currently making environmentalists and farmers increasingly optimistic regarding Ireland’s role in combating climate change. This alternative scenario would play out more like this.
Regenerative agriculture practises have made farmers into environmental heroes instead of villains. Innovative farmers have implemented regenerative land management practices to enhance biodiversity; nutrient cycling; carbon sequestration; productivity; water quality; and community and catchment health. These practises include; no-till/minimum tillage, which reduces the issues of soil compaction, release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and soil degradation. (14) Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures, which restore the plant/soil micro biome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients. This enabled farmers to not only stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere but to start pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, reducing the atmospheric carbon levels from 400ppm to a stable 350ppm. Planting mixed species in pastures have also the added benefit of holding more water in the soils, which reduces flooding during serious rainfall events. These farming practises have ideally suited the clay soils of the Ashbourne area, increased productivity and helped the recovery of wildlife in the Broadmeadow River.
Aoife. I walk along the Broadmeadow River, and I think back to 2020 when the future for rivers seemed very negative. I was told that by 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean, which would also affect rivers and its aquatic life. That there would be changes in the flow of rivers, affecting water quality. That change in climate and weather would lead to lack of rainfall and droughts. Also, as temperatures of rivers would increase, this has knock on effects on aquatic life.
As I walk along the river, these thoughts flooding my mind, I look at what is around me. Because of the ban of single use plastics, there is nowhere near the amount of plastic pollution in the river as expected. Of course, those plastics that remain aren’t biodegradable, therefore will stay for hundreds or thousands of years, but it isn’t an extreme amount. The water quality is very good, because of the lack of pollution. Luckily, it starts to rain. There is way more rainfall here than anyone had ever expected. The water temperature did rise but fell again when action was taken. The aquatic life here is thriving.
There was a much more positive outcome here than anyone had expected. There is still damage left from the past that will never be undone, like the plastic pollution. However, the way the river is now in 2070 would not be the way it is without the action that was taken by previous generations. If they sat back and didn’t act against climate change, there may not even be a river here today for me to enjoy.
Let’s hope Aoife will be proven correct and we chose to act and protect this threatened waterway. The current indicators are not good for aquatic life in the Broadmeadow. According to Paddy Morris from the EPA Catchments Unit, our river has “poor ecological status and elevated orthophosphate throughout as well as elevated ammonia and low dissolved oxygen levels.” This is due to “significant pressures from agriculture, septic tanks, diffuse urban run-off, combined sewer overflows and channellisation”. Catchments.ie provide lots of data that all point towards poor prospects for our freshwater species. (8).
There are however some reasons to be optimistic. There are a number of programmes aimed at involving and educating the public to respect and protect our local waterways. For example; Dragonfly Ireland 2019 – 2024 is an all-Ireland survey of dragonflies and damselflies, and their habitats. The survey is coordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre in the Republic of Ireland and by the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording in Northern Ireland. Dragonfly Ireland 2019-2024 is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a citizen science project focusing on aquatic species and their potential as bioindicators.
Dragonflies and damselflies are beautiful creatures. Their presence near freshwater can provide a useful indicator of water quality. These colourful insects spend their days flying up and down rivers, catching smaller insects on the wing. Otters, kingfishers, grey herons, the dipper, mallard, moorhen and little grebe are all species we can all expect to currently enjoy on a river walk in 2020, providing calm relief and quiet pleasure for people of all ages. (11).
In order for future generations to enjoy similar simple pleasures, we must do all we can to protect biodiversity and work with all stakeholders to reduce the pressures on our local river. Water quality could improve dramatically if farmers were encouraged to stop “improving” agricultural grassland for intensive livestock farming in immediate proximity to the river. The extensive drainage and addition of chemical fertilisers and slurry means the catchment experiences increased nutrient input as is currently the case for the Broadmeadow River.
More sensitive agricultural techniques, such as organic livestock grazing, regenerative agriculture and the provision of incentives which allow river wetlands to flood in winter would help support native biodiversity. Reversal of this trend would allow rewilding and provide an opportunity for saving the unique ecosystem we are in danger of losing for ever. Such practises have successfully been implemented returning British and Irish wildlife to balance. (9).
Diana: When I look around me I see many people everywhere wearing air purifying masks. Ashbourne has become a very busy and populous town. The masks filter out pollutants when you breathe through them. This is because vehicles release significant amounts of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. As I continue walking along the Broadmeadow River in Ashbourne in 2070 I can’t help but think how all of this could have been prevented if we had done something sooner.
Ashbourne’s current population is estimated to be 14,385, as of May 2020. The predictions for 2070 scale up to 32,568, which would be more than double the current population. (See appendix 1 for further details). Ashbourne will be comparable in size to Swords currently and needs to plan the infrastructure necessary for such an influx. Parks, public transport, schools and public amenities need planning in a sustainable manner.
A significant percentage of this population increase will be climate refugees. Using Climate Change, the U.N. projections estimate between 200 million and a billion people (depending on temperature increase) will be forced to become climate refugees, largely due to water scarcity and sea level rise. The entire nations of the Maldives and the Marshall Islands; most of Bangladesh, 2.4 million properties in the U.S., large parts of India, and Southeast Asia to name but a few will be under water. Logically, a percentage of these vulnerable people will move to Ireland and in turn Ashbourne. With the predicted increase in our indigenous population, our proximity to Dublin and the influx of climate refugees, pressures on resources will grow sharply.
A park with public amenities has become the stand out facility lacking in Ashbourne. Never has this issue been more of a problem than during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. As the weeks of good weather passed by and people were limited to 2km travel, Ashbourne’s lack of open spaces for exercise highlighted a gross inadequacy in the locality. This issue needs immediate attention.
Leah: In 2020 the Ashbourne Tidy Towns planted 200 different native trees along with 40 fruit trees along the Broadmeadow. In 2070, walking along the river I will see the blooms of the grown apple lough tree and apple peach melba, but I’ll also see the new non-native trees planted in response to our changing climate. Trees such as the holm oak or the shumard oak may be found as they are often grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage or drought are common.
As Leah points out, we look forward to seeing how the sterling work done by Ashbourne’s tidy town’s committee matures and adds to the biodiversity of the area. Colin Keheller, from the National Botanic Gardens, assures us, although climate change will present many challenges to our indigenous plant species it also creates new niches for species to move into, as suggested by Leah. For example our traditional oak may struggle as temperatures rise but the holm oak (Quercus ilex), known from warmer climates is moving northwards and thriving in new areas in response to climate change. Exact species in danger are difficult to predict but are believed to be those termed peripheral or marginal. In Ireland this would be the artic-alpine plants on mountain tops being outcompeted as warmer milder weather favours other species, or plants in coastal area subject to flooding or wetlands, liable to dry out. This does not directly affect Ashbourne but all changes in flora have consequences for the fauna and biodiversity beyond which we can predict.
There was also study in 2006 on bud-burst in trees over a 30 year period. It showed our spring is coming earlier and our summers are getting longer, so plant growth is likely to be better, but at what cost, we do not yet know. This area is difficult to predict and there have been very few studies in it. On the other hand bees have been the focus of much research. (6).
Aimee: As I walk around Ashbourne in 2070, I see plants and flowers flourishing. Flowers of every variety thriving and growing to their fullest ability, bee’s life span replenished as enough pollen has been produced for them to live. The people of Ashbourne have taken the initiative to help save plants and flowers the best that they could, using methods such as switching to natural pesticides. Families started building vegetable patches or mini gardens in their own back yard. This has had many benefits, such as helping the wildlife, insects and helping plants and flowers grow and thrive, as well as increasing our respect for nature.
If Aimee is correct, Ashbourne will retain its “Garden city” culture far into the future. Bees are vital as pollinators and depend on plants for survival. There are 101 bee species in Ireland. Nineteen of these species are bumblebees, and more than half of these bumblebee species are in decline. Ireland has one native honeybee species. Most of the other 81 bee species in Ireland are solitary. Nearly half of these solitary species are in decline.
A regional Red Data List of bees has been produced and tells us which bee species are in most danger in Ireland. Six species are critically endangered (CR), 7 are endangered (EN), 16 are vulnerable (VU) and 13 are near threatened (NT). Sadly, three bee species have become extinct in Ireland within the last 80 years. Despite lots of species being in serious decline, there are no protected bee species here. The Marsh Fritillary butterfly is the only insect that is protected by law in the Irish Republic. The Marsh Fritillary and five other butterfly species are the only insects protected by law in Northern Ireland.
Bees are declining because we are making them homeless by using most of the landscape for farming, forestry and housing and not leaving enough natural habitats for them to live. Climate change threatens many species but is a worse threat for those species that are habitat specialists, as the habitats they rely on may disappear or shift position too rapidly for the bees to adapt to the change. This is where loss of indigenous species may have far reaching consequences. (7).
The back garden vegetable patches has seen a huge surge in popularity during the Covid-19 lockdown, Let us hope this trend continues and families get to enjoy home grown produce for many years ahead. Allotments could make this possible for the increasing number of apartment dwellers who do not have private gardens to tend. Food lots on roofs and urban food farms in disused parking lots are the focus of urban community food projects into the future. The predicted rise of the autonomous electric vehicle will increase the car-share market, reducing the need for individual ownership and wasteful car parking spaces.
Kate: My senses will be consumed. I will hear the rushing of the water, flowing endlessly and constant, riveting its way over bumps and grooves, relentlessly resilient. I will smell the freshness that surrounds the water, let it fill and rejuvenate my lungs. I will hear the swaying and brushing of the leaves, crashing soundlessly against each other in the wind, but the volumes dependent on the strength of the gust. I will smell the earthly odours rise from the grass, the smell so inherently green.
Let’s hope Kate is right. However, current research would suggest in the world we are creating, the first thing that will hit you is the air. In summer, it is hot, heavy and depending on the day, clogged with particulate pollution. Your eyes often water. You can no longer simply walk out your front door and breathe fresh air; there might not be any. Instead, before opening doors or windows, you check your phone to see what the air quality will be. Everything might look fine- sunny and clear- but you know better. When storms and heat waves overlap and cluster, the air pollution and intensified ozone levels can make it dangerous to go outside without a specifically designed face mask (which only some will be able to afford). (2).
Cloud seeding can power wash the air when the Government has been informed lives are at risk, but is too expensive and unsustainable a process to carry out frequently. People simply plan their days around when they can go outside. Their phones register the NO2 and particulate matter levels in real time. Rush hours are avoided if possible particularly for people with young children or those who are vulnerable to respiratory problems.
The Air Quality Index, which has long been in use, will be a metric familiar to everyone. The scale tabulates the presence of a variety of pollutants; with warning beginning at 51—100. The index tops out at 301—500, warning of “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly” and at that level everyone should avoid outdoor exertion. (The reading was 10 in Ashbourne at time of writing).
In 2013 the Chinese “airpocalypse” reached a peak of 993, with scientists studying the phenomenon suggesting China had inadvertently invented an entirely new and unstudied kind of smog. That year, smog was responsible for 1.37 million deaths in the country. (2)
Before the pandemic air pollution was estimated to cause 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK. This is about the same number as the official UK coronavirus death toll to date. (June 2020) (14).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates show that more than 400,000 premature deaths are attributable to poor air quality in Europe annually at present. In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution is estimated at 1,180 people per year and is mainly due to cardiovascular disease. The WHO has described air pollution as the ‘single biggest environmental health risk’ in 2020. Let us hope we heed these warnings and do everything possible to prevent our own airpocalypse in the future.
Rhianna: After the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, people began to treasure their environment and surroundings and they took care of their rivers. What I see walking by the Broadmeadow River in 2070 is an area full of new tourist opportunities. During the Covid-19 crisis some wild animals and birds began to change their behaviour in response to altered human activity. Foxes took advantage of the absence of people in public parks to move around in daylight. Also, sightings of river animals such as kingfisher and swans increased.
When life went back to normal after the crisis, the people of Ashbourne encouraged the wildlife to remain by protecting and preserving their habitats. I see wildlife enthusiasts taking pictures of the animals reintroduced during rewilding projects in the 2040s.
Throughout most of the year, increased rainfall benefits river tourism as the Broadmeadow River floods. After improved flooding defences had been implemented, the larger river gave opportunity to new forms of river tourism and transport such as river barges.
On mild days tourists and have enjoyed hopping onto to a riverboat to enjoy the scenery of Ashbourne. Riverboat transportation does not use fossil fuels so they are completely harmless to the ecosystem. The new technology of 2070 helped to make riverboats more eco-friendly, for example using solar energy, eliminating single use plastics, waste treatments, water filtration, roof herb gardens etc.
We hope Rhianna’s optimism is visible to all in 2070. Fishing, boating, bird watching, wildlife photography, water activities and ecotourism could all proliferate in the years ahead with careful nurturing. Bord Failte’s handbook; “Ecotourism for Ireland” provides a valuable roadmap as to how this might be achieved. (13).
If we protect our river by shifting the focus away from intensive agricultural practises towards regenerative farming and wetlands protection, agricultural incomes could be supplemented by increased visitor demand to walk the “Broadmeadow Greenway”. This walkway/cycle path could be constructed to facilitate the large numbers of visitors arriving from the city on a daily basis, via ART (Ashbourne Rapid Transport). Demand is largely focused around connecting with nature and enjoying the biodiversity visible around the protected river ecosystem. School trips are incredibly popular, as predicted by Kate, who has the final say;
“I hear the exclamations of joy bursting from children as they adjust their microscopic glasses, explaining the exact shade of the fish’s scales submerged beneath them.”
Future generations will most likely look back at this moment as the single most significant turning point for action. The Covid-19 induced pause has given us the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate and begin making the right choices about our role as guardians of this perfect planet. Let us finish with the inspirational words from The Future We Choose (2).
When the eyes of our children and grandchildren, look straight into ours, and they ask us “What did you do?” our answer cannot just be that we did everything we could. It has to be more than that. There is really only one answer.
We did everything that was necessary.
Let us move towards 2070, having made the choice to pull away from the brink of peril, of how we took our responsibilities seriously and did everything necessary to emerge from the crisis while rekindling our relationships with each other and with all the natural systems that enable human life on Earth.
Let’s do this together.
- Met Eireann on Climate Change.
- The Future we choose. Surviving the Climate Crisis. By Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett- Carnac.
- The Uninhabitable Earth. A story of the Future. By David Wallace-Wells.
- Will Ireland Survive 2050? RTE documentary.
- National Geographic
- Colin Kelleher. BSc MSc PhD. National Botanic Gardens.
- The state of Ireland’s bees. Biodiversity Ireland.
- Broadmeadow Subcatchment Assessment: https://www.catchments.ie/wp-content/files/subcatchmentassessments/08_3%20Broadmeadow_SC_010%20Subcatchment%20Assessment%20WFD%20Cycle%202.pdf
This lists the water bodies in the area and the significant pressure likely to be causing the problems for each section of the Broadmeadow River. https://www.catchments.ie/data/#/waterbody/IE_EA_08B020600?_k=j6d116
- REWILDING. Real life stories of returning British and Irish wildlife to balance. Edited by David Woodfall.
- Simon Bradshaw from Meath County Council’s planning division. (Population data. See Appendix 1.).
- Sylvia Thompson. Irish Times.
- Sunday Times · http://ashbournehistoricalsociety.com/killegland-castle/ · http://bestriverboatcr
- Bord Failte’s Ecotourism handbook for Ireland.
- The Guardian.
- Australian environmentalist and film maker Damon Gameau’s documentary.
Population predictions for Ashbourne courtesy of Simon Bradshaw of Meath County Councils’ planning division.
The scenarios are outlined below in 10 year increments.
Scenario 1 would be based on a high inward migration rate (c.30, 000 per year nationally), assuming a high rate of internal migration towards the Dublin area and assuming that the total fertility rate is approximately 1.8.
Scenarios 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 would then assume that some or all of these rates are lower for example the lowest rate of growth would assume that inward migration is c.10,000 nationally, that there is a declining fertility rate and less than expected migration towards Dublin.
“As noted above I have used the CSO projections up to 2050 (https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-plfp/populationandlabourforceprojections2017-2051/populationprojectionsresults/) as a guide and this explains the scenarios better. I have applied these to Ashbourne up to 2050 with an assumed uplift due to Ashbourne’s location. I have also assumed that above average growth rates would continue to 2070 for Ashbourne due to its location, proximate to Dublin. To put it in context It is assumed in these scenarios that the national population would be anywhere from 6 million to 7.5 million.” Simon Bradshaw.
Thanks for your company. We hope you enjoyed our environmental visit to Ashbourne 2070. Look forward to seeing you there!
Irene Hughes. (Mentor).
ASH 2070 – Education
In the next 50 years, the education system will most likely undergo significant changes and may not be recognizable to today’s system. However, many of the key goals of education will likely remain in place. In this part we explore the differences between education today and the future of education and discuss whether these changes are beneficial or pose a risk to the purpose of education.
Accessibility of Education
‘’He who opens a school door closes a prison’’. The words of Victor Hugo highlight the importance of education in society. It has been referred to as ‘The Great Equalizer’ and viewed as the way to provide everyone with equal opportunities. Although this usually refers to social class and race, in the future, it could also refer to age and employment. It is likely that the quality of education in the future will be greater, but will everyone stand to benefit from these improvements? The difference between state funded schools and private institutions is evident, and when discussing the future of education, the issue of who this new education will be available to also needs to be discussed.
As more services in society are privatized and sold off, will the future of education lie in government schools or private for-profit businesses? The recent rise of grinds and private tuition also raises issues about whether a ‘have and have not’ culture is emerging in the education system. Ireland also now has one of the highest university tuition fees in the EU, at €3,000 per year. The notion that certain colleges have a reputation of being superior to others also presents a challenge to making education more equal. What steps can be taken to ensure that education provides everyone an equal opportunity to progress in life?
Another matter to consider is whether education will be a lifelong experience and whether workplaces will play a part in providing education to their employees. The UK government has noted that the literacy skills of current school students is poor in comparison to other countries and that many young people are entering jobs lacking skills that employers would prefer them to have. It is also noted that the population is rapidly aging, and that in the future a smaller number of young workers would have the burden of providing for the larger older population.
This graph shows the employment of people in the UK by age group. Is it possible that in the future that people could work into their 70s and 80s, by receiving education in the workplace on how to perform new tasks and develop new skills?
Because of these two issues, the government has considered the introduction of education training courses for employees in the workplace to improve their performance. A survey of 4,239 employers whose employees took basic training in literacy and numeracy funded by the government found that 64% percent of respondents found an increase in the employees’ ability to perform and complete tasks. They have also identified skill training in the workplace as a way of keeping people in work for longer. Is the future of education to be about learning skills throughout your lifetime to adapt to changes in technology and society in order to stay at work longer? Or rather will it be concentrating on education to be complete before adulthood, and teaching skills to students that could be rendered useless by the time they are ready to enter the workforce.
School Structure/Purpose of education
While the effects of education on a person is overwhelmingly positive, there are also issues that arise with the way that education is delivered, such as stress, mental health concerns, and teaching. Does the school setting not only need to provide a safe place for students to learn, but also consider the students’ well-being? Finland is an example of where this concept is currently being implemented, and results have been remarkably positive. The content being delivered in schools also needs to change and become more relevant to the present day. What subjects or topics will be relevant to students in 2070?
The fact that teenagers have a different body clock to other age groups has been well documented, and there have been proposals for schools to alter their schedules to accommodate for this difference. In 2014 a private school in England introduced a new timetable to assess whether a ‘no morning’ policy would improve teenagers’ performance in class. By making students come in from the afternoon to the evening, the principal has said that there is a notable improvement in the students’ mood and mental health. He described seeing a line of bleary-eyed teenagers staggering along the path to another school while driving to work, in stark contrast to his students who arrived prepared and well-rested.
The success of the Finnish education system proves that we need to make the school environment a place that promotes teamwork, creativity and well-being. One of the most important elements of the system is teachers and students treating each other as equals, with teachers assuming the role of mentors for kids rather than authoritative figures. This creates a more relaxed atmosphere and promotes teamwork amongst the students, reducing the pressure of competing with classmates. Another crucial factor is the lack of excessive homework or stress of exams. The separation of education and home life and the system of class assessment allows students to focus on their own interests.
So should the future education system focus not only on the students’ learning, but also their self-development and well-being?
While society has rapidly developed in the past century, most of the curriculum in schools has stayed the same, and is now struggling to catch up to the modern day. Reform is being slowly implemented, but it still has a long way to go. A study by MIT examined the school policies of western countries in the 1980s and 90s. One of the crucial aspects of the curriculum was a concept known as ‘factory schooling’, where by the curriculum of the education system was designed to meet the demands of the economy.
By preparing students to enter low-skill industrial jobs, it ensured a continuous supply of labor for factories. However, even as the economy transformed to one dependent on high-skilled workers and specialized industry, the education system remained the same. Since the 1980s, teachers have slowly lost control of education planning, and the responsibility has fallen to government officials, who often lack expertise in the areas that they are charged with improving for students. In the future, education should be based on a curriculum that is designed by teachers, who have experience in working with students and can contribute to improving the content that they teach.
Role of technology
Perhaps the biggest difference that will occur in the education system in 50 years is the role of technology in education. Although the use of online resources is already a significant part of learning in schools, it is still in its infancy. The COVID-19 lockdown and closing of schools has resulted in education being transformed into livestream classes and online assignments. It has also proven that online teaching is a viable alternative for classroom learning. Is it possible that school will not be a physical location, but rather a digital experience?
One suggestion from teachers is that the school campus will cease to exist in the future, and will be replaced with home learning with online sessions, and location specific learning. Public libraries, laboratories, and sports arenas may host classes for students delivered by experts in the field and using equipment not available in schools. Would this be a better system for students or would it lack the structure needed to deliver education properly?
The almost infinite amount of learning resources online has opened up a world of possibilities for learning outside the classroom and is available for people of all ages. According to Mike Silagadze, CEO of Top Hat, an education steaming company, the future of learning will be much more interactive, with videos, online worksheets, and virtual simulation becoming the norm. The teaching of digital skills will also be essential in future education, as it is predicted that 85% of jobs in 2030, mostly involving technology, haven’t been invented yet. Technology also allows students in remote areas to have the same access to learning as urban students enjoy.
The contribution of technology to education also raises the issue of the role of teachers in future education. Like many jobs, the threat of automation poses a risk to the livelihoods of teachers, and they may have to adapt in order to stay relevant in classroom learning. Their role may be reduced to assisting with creating content for online classes, or assisting students with digital learning. Is this an argument against the use of technology in education?
Teachers and government officials should examine the effectiveness of E-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and note areas that need to be improved before it can become part of the mainstream education system. Do students need to be able to use their initiative and think independently? Will it take 50 years before we are ready to switch to digital world of learning available for all?
Killian O’Brien and Caolan Kearney