Modern building blocks

21st Century Learning Environments
OECD Observer

Many factors can influence the quality of education, from teaching and tools to size and comfort of classrooms. As with cleverly laid out books, good design of schools can also stimulate behaviour and responsiveness and facilitate learning.

Today schools are becoming less a place where kids sit in rows for several hours at a time, but multifunctional spaces enabling new kinds of learning.

21st Century Learning Environments captures the spirit of innovation and excellence in building design today, using case studies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, the UK and the US. Many of the facilities presented demonstrate how governments, architects, school managers, teachers, students, parents and communities can work together to enhance existing schools as well as creating new quality learning environments for a changing world.

Alfriston College in New Zealand, for instance, uses moveable partitions between learning spaces that can be configured for groups of 15-120 students, while at the Millennium High School in New York City each classroom includes an alcove that serves as a reading, conference and library area.

This school, housed in an office building in the Wall Street area, resembles a modern office with glass partitions. By way of contrast, there is the Montessori school in Minnesota, which is set on a 160-acre farm that teaches how to be “good stewards of the land”. Spatial design is one aspect; actual learning tools can be built into a school, such as an eco-garden.

However, the cost of bringing schools up to date is high. In the UK, updating many existing schools that were built after the Second World War would require an estimated £5 billion annually over the next 10 to 15 years. Still, as Professor Stephen Heppel, one of the contributors to the report, puts it, “there is no measure of how much learning has leaked out of a poorly designed school”.

ISBN: 9264006486. See for ordering details.

©OECD Observer No 256, July 2006

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