This week’s review of the papers gave us articles which opened our eyes. Taking on board lessons from reflections on possible conflict between generations which were addressed at our Sheffield conference in September, here is concern for our younger people in the changing world.
Education and quality of life
Richard Adams and Caelainn Barr gave headline: ‘Many UK children feel their lives have no meaning’. They were drawing on data and comments from the latest Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Pisa assesses the educational attainment and quality of life of a sample of 15 year olds in 79 countries. The recent UK sample was 14,000 pupils drawn from 460 schools. Assessments cover reading, science and maths. The top performing country in this and in previous years was China in all subjects. The first five places in all subjects are taken by countries in Asia. We learn that the UK ranking in reading rose to 14th, having been 22nd three years ago. Ranking in science was 14th, having been 15th and maths 18th improving from 27th
It is sobering and revealing to see how our young people compare with their peers from around the world. All that hard work at school and in homework, supported by parents and grandparents, and often now with supplementary educational sessions. There have been changes in educational philosophies and ways of delivery and a multitude of new devices. Attainments must be a product of constitutional talent and educational opportunity, some of which can be varied by planning and investment.
There may or may not be a relationship between educational achievement and feelings of wellbeing. Measures of life satisfaction showed that the UK students are ‘more likely to be miserable and less likely to think that their lives have meaning compared with children in other countries’. More than half the UK children said they are regularly sad.
School work is an important part of life for young people, but determinants of mood are much wider. These findings are a challenge to us all – people of all ages want our youth to feel well, confident in their own worth now and for the future.
Ian Sample shares the tale of ultra-low-power microchips a few millimetres wide which might be used as ‘bionic neurons’ to replace functions lost to degenerative disorders of later life such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. These are astonishing claims. The brain and central nervous system have so many neurons, arranged and connected in a living network, that it is hard to imagine that a non-organic prosthesis can find a place in this. We shall watch and listen and wonder.
Old and living in poverty
Friday’s Manchester Evening News saw Annie Gouk reminding us that, though on average older people are now financially better off than they were in previous decades, and have fared better than many younger people in the years of austerity and benefit cuts, there are still some older people who are poor and struggling. She draws attention to a government report which focused on poverty among people aged 60 and older in the 32,844 neighbourhoods of England. Every person age 60+ living in one neighbourhood in Oldham is classified as living in poverty. In the neighbourhoods of Manchester, 50% of people over 60 are living in poverty. I have failed to locate the report she refers to, though there is comment on this from Age UK in March this year
Overall older people have better financial status now than in the past and there is more worry associated with poverty among people of working age. But we should learn more about the older people who are living financially deprived lives – Who are they? Where are they? How did they come to be in such difficulties? How can we help?
The best of my life
Once again dying and death make the biggest impact: Sian Cain writes about the death of Joe Hammond who has died, as he knew he would, of Motor Neurone disease. He had left 33 birthday cards to be given year by year to his two sons until they reach the milestone of 21 years. He wrote to share his feelings and understanding as his condition progressed. There is a wonderful book: ‘A short history of falling: everything I observed about love whilst dying.’
The quotes which Sian Cain gives us are powerfully helpful:
‘I had no previous facility for crying, no real experience of it, but after my diagnosis, this is what I did for the next five nights and five days.’
‘I have had conversations about the value of laughter but I no longer believe it to be the best medicine. At the end of my five days of crying, I felt calmer, more at ease and more content than at any time in my life.’
‘And I know that, despite all this, the end of my life is becoming the best of my life; not the worst.’
Commentary prepared by David Jolley