As the world beckons in the fourth Industrial Revolution, a period of great technological expansion, it’s never been easier to feel disconnected with the first Industrial Revolution, a period in history that has served as a catalyst for the change today.
Despite the first Industrial Revolution ending so long ago, and the fourth industrial revolution marked by the growth of robotics and quantum computing, there are still many similarities between the two ages.
There are few better ways to identify the similarities and differences than by looking at three of the key areas of both ages: change, growth, and the future…
The Industrial Revolution was a time of great change for everyone in the UK, but this change has had perhaps one of the biggest impacts on children. Factories cropped up the length and breadth of the UK, bringing new technology and manufacturing techniques to transform various industries.
The iron, wool, cotton, and pottery industries exploded, creating a whole new culture of city-based employment that many children were involved in. It’s thought that the long hours worked by children in these brand-new factories is part of the reason behind the Factory Act 1833, which made education for two hours a day compulsory for working children – a stark contrast to the near complete absence of previous formal education opportunities.
Today, the third and fourth Industrial Revolutions have seen the development of technology that has also helped to make education more accessible to children and adults. Online courses have grown in popularity, allowing anyone to learn from home; computers have opened up a world of easily accessible information; and communication in and outside of the classroom has seen a mini revolution of its own.
Automation and invention during the first Industrial Revolution triggered one of the biggest changes to UK growth in history, sustained economic growth. Since 1750, there has been an average of 1.5% GDP growth each year for every person in the UK. While the first Industrial Revolution started this trend, the subsequent progress and more recent revolutions have continued it.
In the first Industrial Revolution, improvements to technology improved formal education access for children, living standards began to increase, and more opportunities emerged with an increased number of jobs working with the new technology.
Today, the growth of technology has also led to the emergence of an increasing number of technological opportunities. Tech jobs have grown year on year since 2010, with the US increasing its tech job count by around 200,000 each year. This puts an even bigger pressure on the school system to help children get the skills they need to excel in the growing tech industry.
One main similarity between the first Industrial Revolution and today is the promise of a very different future but achieved in different ways. In the first Industrial Revolution, changes to technology enlightened the UK to the need for education; it beckoned in a completely different age of education, making education accessible to the masses through organisations, like the Ragged Schools Union, which was established during the Industrial Revolution to provide schooling for poor children.
Technology today also promises a similar change to education in the future, improving teaching methods and access to learning. New technology like virtual reality and AI could completely transform the way that children learn, whilst online interactions could even reduce the dependence on physical classrooms.