There can be no doubt that cities hold an alluring attraction for our youth, as can be seen by the increasingly wide difference between numbers living in rural and urban areas. But is education or culture a more influential factor?
On the one hand, it is commonly accepted that young people quite often live in the moment, and find it difficult to see beyond the immediate present. For this reason, there are those who would argue that the cultural trappings of a metropolitan area, in the form of theatre, cinema, art expositions, pubs and clubs, serve to motivate those who are aged between 15 and 25 more than mere education.
However, it is my considered opinion that underestimating the seriousness with which young people regard their future would be unwise. Although they may give the impression that they could care less about what the future holds, the majority take their own education very seriously indeed. Not only do they go to class regularly and on time, but they also study consistently for more exams that they should really have to do. If they had not worked so hard, perhaps they would not be so demanding when it comes to being able to choose what and where to study, but the more time they invest in their studies, the more options they want when they reach a crossroads.
In conclusion, it is my belief that education has more of a bearing on young people’s desire to live in cities than culture, because of the aforementioned investment of time that they make in their studies, and their subsequent desire to capitalise on this investment.
Never before have so many people flown away for the weekend on a whim, and done so at such an affordable price. Has the arrival of budget airlines led to making this jet-set lifestyle commonplace, or is it an indirect consequence of globalisation brought about by a compliant media? In this essay I shall consider which has had the biggest effect, without forgetting that both have been interdependent.
While ferries, boats and trains transport their fair share of travellers across international borders, the most popular and quickest way to get to far-off shores is undoubtedly by air. Less than two decades ago, taking advantage of a long weekend by taking a break in a resort in sunny Spain or further afield was unthinkable for the majority of blue-collar workers. With the explosion of low-cost airlines, this changed dramatically, and for the first time tickets for destinations that used to be unreachable were all of a sudden the same price as a slap-up meal in an expensive restaurant.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that without the interest generated in foreign shores by the press, movies, television and the internet, there would not have been a market for cut-price fares. Television programmes that celebrated the debauchery on offer in island paradises, commercials that trumpeted the variety of activities to be enjoyed, and blogs that regaled their readers with lavish accounts of once-in-a-lifetime escapades all played their part, according to the proponents of this viewpoint, in inspiring this phenomenon.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the affordability and increased availability of ways to get around the globe have a greater influence than the barrage of publicity that has been disseminated by every channel of communication since before Michael O’Leary came to prominence? Despite the compelling case for the Fourth Estate and its brethren, it is my contention that the erosion of borders would still be a pipe dream had it not been for the loss leader wars conducted by airlines and travel agencies in the nineties. Consumers responded in such numbers that the public’s perception of what was possible when choosing where to go for ‘a weekend away’ was transformed forever.
There have been passionate discussions recently about the merits of different possible facilities in our area. The age-old question of whether it is better to train the body or the mind has been posed again, transported from Plato’s world of forms to the worldly incarnation of a sports centre and a history museum.
The advocates for a place to get fit and play sports of various types believe it is absolutely essential for the well-being of our community. They contend that it would provide an outlet for youthful tension, and allow bonds between teammates and adversaries to strengthen in the heat of combat. Those who are fainter of heart would also be able to get in shape through aerobic or dance classes. Moreover, no longer would residents complain that there was nothing to do on cold, dark winter evenings.
Despite the undeniable benefits of having such a complex in our neighbourhood, it would be wilful in the extreme to forget the other half of our dichotomy, that of the mind. The proposal of a modern history museum that reflects the past but provides a space to debate its relevance to the present is engaging, and so is the idea that it could become a focal point for intellectual activity in our area. The judicious use of modern technology, coupled with a variety of regularly updated exhibits, would help it become the fulcrum that historians have been asking for.
Both of these potential facilities have their supporters, and it is easy to understand why. If truth were objective, not relative, one could choose with impunity, but I fear this is not the case. Both are necessary, but given that there is a history museum in a nearby town, but no sports centre, it is with no little regret that I have to conclude that the claims of the aforementioned sports complex are too powerful to ignore.
We live in a complex world that is dominated by superficial tendencies, a world where truth is less important than spin, where sound bites matter more that reasoned argument. It is in this context that we are asked to consider the most effective way to interest the youth of today in studying science, and while it is tempting to take the path of least resistance, I hope to show that it would be a mistake to choose style over substance.
There is a line of thought that states that in order to overcome adversity, one must fight fire with fire. If this is true, perhaps the most logical step would be to use the power of commercials and advertisements to motivate students, to entice them with Biology, dazzle them with Physics, confound them with Chemistry, and gain their allegiance with mathematical precision through advertising campaigns conducted in the mass media and whatever social network that happens to be flavour of the month.
However, it is my contention that to do so would be to do those of tender years a great disservice. You cannot inspire devotion to logical, ordered thinking by adding to the very malaise that is responsible for our shallow society. How can we expect impressionable minds to respect scientific rigour without implementing that same rigour in how the issue at hand is approached?
Therefore, rather than looking for a quick fix to an entrenched problem, I propose that the solution should be a realistic one, with clear, sustainable objectives. As scientists are essential to the country they work in, let that country provide financial support to ensure science can attract the best, most capable young minds available, by offering scholarships and research funding to high achievers and those who show the spark of invention.
It is with such concrete measures that science can regain its rightful position in the esteem of our brightest students, not though sleight of hand and moral emptiness. Just rewards for honest endeavour, on the other hand, would surely strike a chord with those who might one day follow in the footsteps of Curie, Einstein and Newton.