Building new schools can go far beyond fixing old buildings: they can create dynamic learning environments that not only better prepare students for today’s needs, but also nurture and strengthen the community as a whole. Here are a few common principles we’ve observed in examples of great 21st century school environments.
Not throwing good money after bad. There comes a point where it simply makes better economic sense to develop new, sustainable buildings as it can ultimately cost less than continuing to patch up old, inefficient ones – especially when you factor in potential health risks from ‘sick’, aging infrastructure. The financial case becomes even stronger when factoring in needs from the community at large, where shared resources solving multiple aging infrastructure problems might provide a stronger economic solution for all parties – while at the same time creating superior, vibrant and engaging spaces that work better for everyone.
Living the lessons. There are also the ‘hidden messages’ that architecture signals to our learners. Are we teaching them that integration with our environments is important? That collaboration with others is an integral part of learning and finding solutions? That sustainable and healthy environments matter? Our learning environments need to model and support the principles we want to teach.
Form following function. Our last article talked to the principles of 21st century learning and how our youth need this kind of training to truly be set up to succeed – and ultimately power the next wave of economic revitalization. Modern learning approaches need modern environments in which to thrive. The old classroom model, with schools full of isolated rooms with rows of desks facing front, echoed the needs of industrial economies, with heavily directed and task-minded workforce expectations.
There comes a point where it simply makes better economic sense to develop new, sustainable buildings as it can ultimately cost less than continuing to patch up old, inefficient ones – especially when you factor in potential health risks from ‘sick’, aging infrastructure.
Today our future workforce needs to develop nimble, creative, and self-driven yet highly collaborative thinking skills. There are also many studies by environmental scientists showing that space design impacts human productivity, and that students and teachers perform better in environments with variety, flexibility and comfort – qualities hard to find in the traditional school model. 21st century school environments set up students and teachers to succeed, and often include many if not all of these elements:
- Customized design to best reflect the assets and spirit of the surrounding community and environment
- Safe and secure buildings yet also with indoor-outdoor learning and living spaces, lots of natural light and fresh air, and potentially shared use spaces with the community
- Experiential and hands-on learning environments and opportunities, often in partnership the local business and/or post-secondary education communities
- Variety of environments supporting different teaching and learning needs and team-teaching opportunities, with group learning spaces but also smaller breakout/collaborative areas and individual study retreat areas
- Equipped to meet modern workforce requirements, replicating modern trades and technology environments
- Supportive wellness environments fostering active living, healthy eating (and growing of food), interaction with nature etc.
We all want to set up our children to succeed. 21st century learning environments can help achieve this, and at the same time create better solutions for the community as a whole: financially, environmentally, and socially.