While the vertical school has made a big dent on the imaginations of developers, there is another future education trend that has not yet entered the lexicon: transparent classrooms.
These classrooms, with glass roofs that let in a lot more light, may well become a staple in schools around the world because of their usefulness in eliminating the scourge of myopia – or shortsightedness – that is sweeping the world.
In the last few decades there’s been a dramatic increase in the global rates of myopia, and especially childhood myopia. In South Korea, for example, 96 percent of 19-year-old males are nearsighted — up from just 18 percent in 1955. In China the figure is 80 per cent.
By some estimates, one-third of the world’s population will be nearsighted by the end of the decade and nearly half of the world's population will become myopic by 2050.
In the United States myopia has doubled in the last 30 years, while among Inuit (Eskimos), it increased in just one generation from 2 per cent to 60 per cent.
So what is driving this epidemic? In short, it is caused by a lack of bright light. Experts estimate that children need to spend at least three hours a day under light levels that are equivalent to sitting under a shady tree on a summer day, in order for their eyes to develop properly. That means a light level of 10,000 lux.
Unfortunately, even school rooms and homes that seem bright only have an average light level of 500-1000 lux and, as children spend more time in education and doing homework, they are spending less time outdoors in bright light.
The solution is to have children spend more time in natural light. However, imploring parents to send their kids outside for three hours per day has been proven not to work and in highly urbanised areas like Chinese cities it may well be impossible.
Instead, researchers are exploring how to increase a child’s exposure to bright light at school.
In China, they conducted a three-year trial, where 40 minutes a day was added to the school day by legislation and children spent the time in the playground.
This resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in new cases of myopia. In another trial in Taiwan, they were able to get 80 minutes a day extension and they got 50 per cent reduction.
Which brings us back to the transparent classroom. To increase the exposure of children to bright light while still allowing them to spend the time studying, researchers are working with the Yanxi Experimental School in Yangjiang, China to replace walls and ceiling with windows.
Students are rotated into the 50-seat classroom for several hours each day.
Early results are promising, so don’t be surprised if a requirement for much brighter light, or even a light room, becomes a part of school, childcare centre, and home design in the future.