Depressing classrooms? Attending schools that make learning a less engaging experience? Like any complete building, the design and construction of schools and their classrooms has a significant impact on learning. A poorly built school will not foster an attitude of learning, whereas a school environment having well-lit and well-ventilated classrooms will boost the students’ engagement.
First, however, let us clarify what is meant by a well-constructed school. No, it has nothing to do with the quality of construction – though that too is significant – but rather consider the pedagogic perspective, where architectural concepts such as air quality, natural light, temperature, and personalised classroom characteristics translate into a better classroom environment for students. So how do these four central concepts translate into a better learning experience?
Having the right air quality affects learning, as a well-oxygenated classroom enhances cognitive functions and improves learning. However, this has become problematic in recent times due to the widespread prevalence of air conditioning and the polluted outside air. Poor air quality is characterised chiefly by parts per million (PPM) of carbon dioxide; if adequate ventilation is not provided, then students feel very drowsy and cannot concentrate for extended durations, hampering their cognitive development.
Natural light does not disrupt the circadian rhythm of the children. Conversely, artificial lighting disrupts the sleep-wake cycle, production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), and core body temperature cycles. In short, greater sense of both mental and physical comfort develops with extensive benefits beyond aiding sight. The diffused and soft quality of light, along with subtle changes in colour, does not compare with electric lighting.
In tropical climates, high temperatures and humidity create environments inconducive to learning and, therefore, require regulation; in such conditions, students experience greater discomfort with their attention spans, mental performance, and productivity decreasing considerably. A slightly cool classroom is, in fact, better for thinking.
Personalised classrooms significantly aid in fostering an environment geared towards learning. Acoustics and a link to nature are two key characteristics that help in doing so; controlling the noise, the echoes, and increasing the acoustic quality of classrooms enable information to be registered cerebrally, independent of background noise, and promotes effectiveness in academic learning and working. Sound absorbing materials are best in preventing sound echoes, such as carpeted areas, curtains, and rubber feet on chairs and desks that cushion the noise.
Nature provides children with an enhanced learning experience; from outdoor space for their expending of energy to plants kept indoors for oxygenating the room and improving the visual aesthetics of the classroom, nature encourages, among children, the development of problem solving, social interaction, and stimulating empathy for the physical world.
The best classrooms produce the brightest and most enthusiastic learners. As adults, we have a responsibility to provide young children with the best environment for their cognitive and physical development. The design of schools – being second homes – need to be tailored in a manner that truly unleashes their potential.