A Call to Lighting Education
Sure, we have a wealth of lighting certificates and diplomas offered by colleges, universities, and various nonprofit lighting societies. But the lighting professionals who will enrich our industry 18-20 years from now are just starting primary school this year.
Most lighting designers and other industry professionals come to appreciate lighting and learn about the industry as adults. We almost exclusively educate professionals already employed in lighting or college students already set on a lighting career. Some do come to us through outreach and education efforts in allied disciplines; but by and large, we are preaching to the choir.
The number of today’s lighting professionals that grew up with an appreciation for lighting and its incredible impact on the built environment is extremely low, far less than 5%. Part of the reason is that lighting education is not a curriculum subject in primary and secondary schools. There are a few strands of lighting here and there, possibly in physics or biology. But sadly, most pupils leave school unaware of lighting as an industry or career; this is unlike related professions such as architecture; interior design, electrical engineering, etc.
Surely some time invested now in schools by the many and varied lighting professionals could go far to cure this lack of awareness. To capture and promote an interest in school children of all ages in light and lighting and its incredible influence on our lives…to inspire the best and the brightest and direct them to a career path in lighting…to receive them and their conceptual and innovative visual skills before they become blinkered by prescriptive rules, regulations, and standards.
I call on all lighting professionals, including educators in academia and industry, to place energy and time into schools. After all, it’s from there that the future of our industry will come.
Most schools actively encourage “industry” to come into schools to provide career and interest talks. I have been visiting schools in the UK for the past 20 years talking to pupils of all ages. These visits were supported by programs such as Opening Windows On Engineering (OWOE) – an Engineering Council program, now closed – and as a Science and Engineering Ambassador (SEA) for STEMNET, a national organization supporting the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). Surely similar programs are run by nonprofits and educational bureaus in many countries.
What lighting talks and activities can be given at schools will depend upon many factors (age, special needs, curriculum projects, interest clubs, etc.) and need to be approved by the school. Upper grades (ages 14-16) are generally interested in careers talks and presentations: basically, “this is what I do…” These need to be well illustrated, with lots of exciting interior and exterior project photos.
Middle school pupils (ages 11-14) seem to have more interest in lighting projects, such as guerrilla lighting around the school building. Lectures on lighting (examples include refraction, diurnal and seasonal changes, and even moon/earth/sun orbits and eclipses) should be highly interactive with lots of hands-on experiments. There’s nothing more disruptive than a bored middle-schooler!
Younger children (ages 5-7) cannot be expected to understand lighting. It is better to use interactive exercises and discussions about life experiences of light and lighting. I show photos of paintings by Great Masters (truly great lighting designers) and ask the children questions about what they see. Paintings that depict dynamic daylight or electric lighting, which can sometimes be modeled in the classroom, can be accurately interpreted by children as young as 6 years.
I also discuss dreams to illustrate the depth of their imaginative and creative skills. Animations that would test the skills of the Pixar animators….that the children are able to create such visions while sleeping always pleases them immensely. And yet not one single photon is incident upon a real surface, the basis of “seeing.”
The real world about us is seen courtesy of light and lighting, and it is essential that we encourage in young people the experiences of “seeing.” They must understand the visual response: the perception of form, texture, and color as delivered by light. We can do this from primary school and stay with them as they make decisions about education and employment. It is up to the lighting industry and its many peers and visionaries to put aside some time and invest in schools.
Why depend on fate and wait for a young person to someday be “bitten by the lighting bug?” If an understanding of light, lighting, and its influences began at 5 or 6 years old, just imagine how a student could excel and imaginatively contribute to some future lighted environment… There’s a dream!
Written by Barrie Wilde, CEng, MCIBSE, FSLL. Wilde is principal of MBW Lighting based in Milton Keynes UK. With a background in electrical engineering and lighting design, he is a highly inventive and creative lighting designer with over 50 years experience producing high-quality lighting schemes. He served as president of the CIBSE Society of Light and Lighting (SLL) 2002-03; he has been a professional member since 1968 and was awarded fellowship in 2008.
Wilde is known for his passion and enthusiasm, and lectures extensively on the response of the built form to light. Dedicated to encouraging young lighters, he teaches professionally and has been instrumental in setting up educational programs in UK and India. He is also a registered Science and Engineering Ambassador (SEA), giving lighting talks and demonstrations in UK schools for children aged 6-18.