In 1860, Henry David Thoreau asked the question, “What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?” His question was prescient then, it is fundamental now.
The latest data from the International Energy Agency tells us that 80% of the world’s primary energy comes from coal, oil and gas. It is estimated that half of global energy resources are used in buildings.
Data from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland tells us that 94% of our energy is generated by burning fossil fuels and that housing is responsible for 30% of Ireland’s energy consumption and carbon emissions.
The problem is clear; building homes that require lots of energy to maintain a comfortable indoor environment is not sustainable. Why? Because these energy hungry homes are responsible for the carbon emissions that are causing climate change and global warming.
As teachers of Construction Studies we have both a unique opportunity and a profound responsibility to ensure that the next generation does not make the same mistakes as previous generations. No subject in the Leaving Certificate curriculum is as well placed as our’s to make a difference in the lives of our students.
The change occurring in the Irish education system is clear to see; change in school patronage, change in the Junior Cycle, change in how technology is used in the classroom; change in the very nature of what it means to be employed as a teacher. There can be no doubt that there is going to be change in the Leaving Certificate curriculum. It is hard to see how a small country can continue to offer over thirty Leaving Certificate subjects. I expect rationalisation; I expect the question is going to be asked: what does this subject contribute to the curriculum?
It is my opinion that the typical civil servant/ policy maker probably hasn’t studied Construction Studies - he/she probably chose the more traditional subjects (e.g. Geography/ History). I also think that Construction Studies isn’t very well understood outside of the group of teachers who teach it. I would guess that many people have a very limited idea of what the subject might be about. My fear is that they think it’s a primarily ‘hands-on’ subject where students learn about the trades (e.g. block-laying, plumbing).
My concern is that a future review of the Leaving Certificate might conclude that the subject no longer merits a place in the curriculum as a discreet subject; at best it might be amalgamated with another subject (e.g. graphics, home economics), at worst abolished. After all, it is hard to argue against the point that trades are best learned at the post leaving certificate stage.
Thus, it is clear to me that there are two compelling reasons why the subject content and philosophy of Construction Studies must continue to change; the homes we build today and in the future must be sustainable (low energy, low emissions) and the subject must make an invaluable contribution to the education of our pupils.
If we continue to teach the ‘old stuff’ the subject is on the way out. If however, we continue along the path that has been shown to us through the introduction of new topics (e.g. sustainable urban design, passive house design) in the Leaving Certificate exam we will have a subject that will bear scrutiny and of which we can be proud.