Tomorrow's world revisited

Stephanie Northen

The family of 2025 reads newspapers on flexi-paper computers and grows orchids in the warm winter sun. Stephanie Northen meets a generation where teachers retire at 72 and pupils learn three languages

UK 2025

Population: 65 million. Increase mainly fuelled by young migrants from developing world needed to counterbalance ageing population, and provide relatively cheap labour in public services. Over-65s make up 22 per cent of population compared to 15 per cent in 1995.

Workforce: largely service sector: banking, insurance, computing, leisure, music, fashion, and tourism. Other big employment areas: care industry and education of overseas students. Some hi-tech sectors, such as nano-technology applications, bio-sensors, genetic engineering, including research into Alzheimer's. Farming marginal, manufacturing has died out in South East.

Energy: country still relies on dwindling and expensive fossil fuels; sustainable technologies, including undersea turbines, are on the increase.

Demographics: urbanisation of South East continues, mirroring global patterns where 80 per cent of people now live in cities compared to 50 per cent in 2000.


Susi spends her spare time growing orchids on her balcony in Kent.

She takes the more exotic specimens in to show her pupils at a suburban primary in the city of Gillingham. She says it helps them to feel at home.

Susi's school has many young immigrants, the children of the tens of thousands of workers who arrive in the UK every year. They are tempted by jobs in the booming care-home industry of the South East, a service that Susi, aged 67, hopes she will never need to use.

Susi, a deputy head, is now working part-time in preparation for retirement at 72. Her job description, which she wrote herself, gives her special responsibility for extended-hours provision, including the school's three small family-centre "pods", and for building up the local e-network.

Prescott Parks, the vast estate the school serves, is 10 years old, but there is little sense of community yet. Susi enjoys her work and agreed to spend her four-week summer holiday on study leave in Brazil, visiting Prescott's twinned school and consolidating video links and language teaching.

Susi works four long days. Her digital coffee-maker wakes her every morning at 6.30am so she can avoid the very highest congestion charge - the Teachers Union is still fighting to win members exemption from transport fees. Only heads qualify for a Bush Freedom car, powered by a hydrogen-fuel cell. On Fridays, Susi is paid to look after her grand-daughter, part of her plan to keep busy since losing her husband in the Kent malaria epidemic three years ago. She is determined to avoid the loneliness and depression that afflicts many older women. Her school has guaranteed her one day a week after she retires, and she has signed up for voluntary work at the local eco centre. She refuses to consider joining the Government's third-age friendship scheme.


Susi's daughter, Eleanor, has worked for LEA Ltd since leaving university with a degree in family studies. Recently she was made assistant director of Gillingham's children's services with responsibility for special needs. The 37-year-old works mainly from home, though with many visits to schools and early years centres. She devotes a morning a week to "face time" in head office, touching base with colleagues, and an afternoon online to her university tutor who is helping with her PhD in multiple special needs.

Thursdays are spent with her three-year-old son Tod. They often explore the nature reserves scattered between the flood barriers of the Thames Gateway estates, occasionally spotting herons and flamingos. It only takes an hour or so to travel the 10 miles from their home, a new mixed housing high-rise with unreliable solar power but a decent swimming pool. All the flat's digital kit is washable, essential with a toddler, says Eleanor.

On the 25th floor of the high-rise is the cafe where Eleanor met Harry, Tod's dad, for their first date. They were paired up by a cyber-love service after the usual psychological compatibility tests and so far they have no complaints. The cafe is still a favourite spot for dinner as Tod likes watching the planes flying into Gatwick's six terminals. Eleanor suffered a bad dose of "choice fatigue" the previous year, when trying to resolve her childcare-career-life options, but a course of bio-resonance therapy and NHS gym membership put her right.


Three-year-old Tod attends the local children's centre in the basement of his high-rise home, three days a week from 8am till 6pm. The cost is subsidised by the Government and his mother is helped with the rest of the fees by her employer. Tod's key worker is Lee Huang, a graduate from Shanghai university. She is a Mandarin speaker whose engineer husband is on secondment to an English business school. Hopefully, Lee will be with him until he goes to school at six, the new starting age laid down by the European Union.

Tod has picked up many words in line with the Government's Bilingual Babies, Trilingual Toddlers language scheme. His mother would prefer him to be learning Arabic as his step-brother and sister are half Iranian, but the centre has no native Arabic speaker.

At home Tod enjoys playing with the robot mini-astronauts that inhabit his toy space station (they speak three languages), and tricking the fridge into ordering more low-fat cranberry icecream.


Harry, Eleanor's partner, is a newly-qualified teacher working in a secondary specialising in technology, robotics and art. He dropped out of school in 2007, when he was 18, the same year that the world's oil markets went crazy. He wanted to be a multimedia artist, but was unable to cope with the constant testing at his city academy. Two years later, many exams, including A-levels, were finally reformed by the Liberal-Democrat government alarmed by the increased drop-out rate among the 30 per cent of teenagers without hope of a university place.

Harry, like many other drop-outs, got a job with Kent Geriatrics, a big local private care-home firm. There he met Ava who had fled civil unrest in Iran. The birth of their children, Tariq and Zara, persuaded Harry to go to college where access courses got him back on track to qualify as a teacher in 2024. The continued shortage of teachers means the 36-year-old has no trouble getting a job, although his student debts contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Ava.

Harry now lives in a terraced two-bed house subsidised by the government which also pays for a cleaner. It's one of the few Victorian houses left in Gillingham and has a mini wind-turbine on the roof, but the children would prefer a Prescott Parks bungalow. They resent sharing a room - not least because 14-year-old Zara is a Muslim like her mother, whereas 11-year-old Tariq shares his father's atheism. When Harry is not stopping them bickering he escapes to read 'The TES' on his mini flexi-paper computer.


Tariq, aged 11, is in his transition year, spending half his time at Susi's primary school and half at its partner secondary. The two schools share a site, although Tariq needs his biometric ID card to travel between the two and the security scanning can make him late for lessons. Psychological profiling reveals that he has a logical, organising mind and good concentration. His brain development is being sparked by his interest in model making, although he also enjoys reading, downloading a new book from the CVL (children's virtual library) almost daily. He says he wants to be a mechanical engineer, like his grandad, but his father would prefer him to go into software design so he could stay in the UK.

Tariq's teachers worry that he has a withdrawn personality and is missing his mother who returned to Iran when the civil war that followed the US occupation ended. Their only contact is a weekly video-conferencing link.

With his agreement, the teachers have drawn up a programme of social activities and have encouraged him to apply to be one of the school's child governors. His online learning journal, updated weekly by the school, now makes happier reading for himself and his dad.


Zara, aged 14, is a gifted girl, but has some problems at school. She attends the local specialist secondary, with one-day-a-week flexi-schooling at the nearest Islamic academy, sponsored by the Iraqi state oil company.

Zara is interested in history, literature and RE, but feels these subjects are marginalised in her school which concentrates on entertainment studies and sustainable development.

Her teachers sympathise and have personalised her timetable as far as they can to play to the girl's strengths.

They have encouraged her research into the history of the Middle East in the hope that it will form the basis of the dissertation she should start at 16. However, Zara refused to take tests at 14 to indicate the shape of her future learning and still works to a general timetable.

Her behaviour is also erratic, with outbursts in class, although she has earned many credits for her citizenship work helping immigrant youngsters with their reading. Her half of the bedroom she shares with Tariq is decorated with a revolving digital photoframe, showing pictures of her family and her favourite possession is an old PlayStation 16.

Next week: Off to school

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Stephanie Northen

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