Constructing the Future
ask predicts performance. You’ll often hear this phrase when speaking to Prakash Nair, the Founding President and CEO of Fielding Nair International, an educational architecture firm that has earned accolades around the world for its innovative school facilities projects. His approach is unique among architects, reflecting a strong belief that space within schools tells a story to that community about learning and the impact that learning has. Does space convey student agency? Does it encourage autonomy? In Prakash’s experience, the answers are all too often no. In 2012 the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) in the United States published a history of school design, tracing the changes in design and form over the past 150 years. Spurred by calls for standardization of schools, those built through the first half of the 20th century were frequently “utilitarian spaces that were designed to house as many students as possible, maximizing classroom space”. Interestingly, though later research began to demonstrate the importance of environment on student learning, few innovations occurred in the decades that followed, with most changes occurring in minor improvements in lighting, ventilation and acoustics. What did not change was the design. Prakash describes the blueprint of most existing schools as a structure made
32 ScandAsia • April 2018
for control, with a single teacher set as the focal point of a row of desks, reminiscent of a factory, and long corridors of empty space that served only to funnel students from one point to another. This model served a singular purpose: encouraging compliancy and respect for authority, while also drowning creativity and disconformity. Those of us who spent our formative years in schools such as this can easily recall the weariness and frustration felt when sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a stuffy classroom, listening to a teacher lecture before robotically shifting to the next class at the sound of a bell. The reality is that learning has long since escaped the walls of those classrooms, and often of schools themselves, which are woefully unequipped to prepare students for the future. Two years ago, the World Economic Forum suggested that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist”, a staggering figure that highlights just how much work traditional schools have to do. Students graduating from high school and university frequently do not have the transferable skills being sought by employers, who cite communication, critical thinking, innovation and similar areas as being crucial for new hires. Clearly, a disconnect exists between these expectations and the way in which schools continue to shape their facilities and learning. In The Atlantic article Reimagining the
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