What Does Ideal School Look Like?
The school environment, from the colour of the walls to furniture design, can affect student learning and academic performance. While radically changing the interiors of standard school buildings may be impossible, there are several improvements designers can bring to schools.
Experts of the HSE Art and Design School examined the standard design of general schools in Russia and identified a few things which students, parents and teachers are missing now and would like to see in order to improve their school experience.*
Students Want Pretty and Modern Schools
In addition to classes, most children spend time at school doing homework, mingling with their peers and participating in various activities, often similar to those they practice at home, such as using computers, playing outside, working on creative projects and taking naps. Yet nearly half of all students do not feel comfortable in classrooms, hallways, library and cafeteria, i.e. areas where they spend the most time while at school.
What many students find missing includes:
- play and recreational areas with specifically designed furniture, such as sofas, ottomans, tables and shelves. In absence of such areas, students have to spend their breaks in the hallways, which, according to students, could benefit from a few lounge seats, as well as better heating and lighting ("hallway windows let in cold air"; "it's dark in the hallway");
- storage spaces for personal items. Most schools are not equipped with student storage systems;
- school grounds with pavilions, gardens, play spaces and parking lots for bikes and scooters;
- overall visual appeal (students would like their school’s interior design to be nice, modern and consistent).
In addition to this, students would love to have classes in spacious rooms with walls painted in bright colours, creating an informal environment. School interior decoration could benefit from using materials such as wood, ceramic tiles and metal; furniture should preferably be modular and easily transformable, and lighting mostly natural, e.g. via skylights or panoramic windows, according the survey respondents.
Comfortable Spaces According to Students
Customisable. Functional. Mobile.
Separation between the dining area and a snack bar. Tables for several people.
Zones for work and relaxation. Interactive. Reading room.
Lots of space. Minimalism.
Student storage area
Individual lockers. Minimal furniture.
Parents Value Convenience and Parking Spaces
According to parents, schools are about teaching and learning but also about creating opportunities for youngsters to mix and mingle, relax and play in the fresh air. Parental perspectives on what is missing in school environment are similar to those of the children. In addition to this, parents would like to see more parking spaces outside the school building and better indoor navigation, as some mums and dads reported problems with finding the principal's office.
What is missing from their child’s school, % of parents surveyed
In addition to the above, parents feel that their children's school needs:
- several areas for recreation and play (so that a child could choose to join a group of peers or retreat to a quiet place);
- multifunctional spaces in recreation areas ("relaxation zones" with hanging chairs and bean bags, a mini-library and an equipped exercise area);
- good ventilation in classrooms and hallways;
- more soft furnishings and tables in the hallways;
- TVs broadcasting educational programmes;
- multi-level lighting;
- upgraded overall design (nicer wall colours, friendly space, comfort, stylish and creative decoration).
Teachers Seek to Combine Business with Pleasure
Just like students, teachers would like to work and relax in a comfortable environment, but only half of them (56%) have this opportunity.
Some of the things teachers are missing include:
- facilities for project work ("we need equipped laboratories, as what we have now are not really labs, but ordinary classrooms");
- storage spaces for personal items;
- modern and practical design with bright colours, zoning and areas for creative work ("add colour," "provide walls on which one can write in markers or chalk");
- a separate space for teachers in the cafeteria;
- a teachers' lounge;
- separate restrooms for teachers;
- protected (fenced) school grounds for use by students and staff.
Teachers spend most of their time in the classrooms and teachers' room. In the former, they would like to see moveable furniture, interactive whiteboards and the internet. In the latter, they’d prefer separate areas for work and recreation as well as “enough shelves and cabinets and sufficient space for work, rest and for having a snack.”
Modular vs. Standardised Schools
Studies confirm that school environment can affect student performance. In particular, such factors as the height of ceilings (higher ceilings work better in secondary school and lower ceilings are preferable in primary school), air quality, furniture, noise, and others can all make a difference. It would therefore be unwise to consider investment in school building design as extravagance and waste of resources, the experts argue, while emphasising the current trend to replace the old-fashioned, standardised "assembly-line schools" by customisable high-tech school buildings consisting of multiple modules, such as
- teaching and learning spaces (from preschool to high school) and
- common spaces, including the atrium (hall), cafeteria, swimming pool, gym, facilities for extracurricular activities and hobby clubs, and a space for leisure and recreation, e.g. an internet cafe.
At the moment, such modular solutions are in short supply. Yet the school environment can and should be made engaging and attractive. Let it be a challenge for designers.
*The study was conducted between March 31 and September 25, 2016, in Moscow, using methods such as briefing and questionnaires with the target audiences of students, parents, teachers and school administrators (212 respondents), and interviews with educational experts.
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