Towards a better learning space…


YK Sindwani
Head, Lancers International School

Students learn best in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe. Only with conducive learning environments will students really thrive and achieve their fullest potentials.

An ideal school is where students discover and develop their academic, sporting and artistic talents, and the stimulating atmosphere continuously offers them new experiences that pique their curiosity and develop an inquiring mind. As educationists, it’s our duty to offer an environment that’s warm, appealing and intellectually fulfilling; a place that students look forward to going to every morning. Here, YK Sindwani, Head, Lancers International School, shares his views on the same.

TPS: Classical models of classroom designs have outlived their purpose. They seem to be only facilitating increased accommodation of pupils in a classroom rather than facilitating effective personal learning. What are the changing trends in classroom designs globally?

YK: The way we learn in classrooms has changed significantly in the last decade. Teaching methods have evolved drastically and teachers are no longer merely imparting knowledge, rather facilitating a whole new learning experience for their pupils. An experience wherein students learn to connect the dots and learn via doing as opposed to regurgitating what they’ve learned on an answer sheet.

YK Sindwani
YK Sindwani

As far as the learning spaces are concerned, classrooms layouts are more flexible, allowing for learning groups in pairs or small groups. Teachers and students make better use of the space now and maximize the space available as much as possible. Each corner of the classroom has a potential to extend the learning. Some students may be working on a laptop at the back of the room, while another group may be working using an interactive display in the front of the classroom. There can be an activity table, mathematics inquiry corners, art expression wall, reading corner and the likes all in the same classroom. Learning is becoming more fluid as learners have multiple ways to express what they know and can do.

With movable chairs and tables, we may find students sitting in a circle one day and in clusters on another; both design and layout play a huge role in learning. It isn’t only about aesthetics but also about feeling comfortable in a space, which makes way for deeper learning for students. Students learn in multiple ways and providing the learning space for such diverse learning styles should be embedded in every classroom.

Schools should also incorporate progress monitoring and allow for students to track their journey through a continuum. Usually, teachers report assessment results and then move on to new topics. Students should be allowed to see where else they can go and what else they can do to extend their understanding further. This will only be possible if the assessment results are shared with the students and an action plan is collaboratively decided upon and implemented.

TPS: Efforts have been made by certain architects to design bio-friendly schools by integrating plants both inside and outside classrooms and through effective water flow management. Do you think such attempts are exclusive or do you think such concepts can be enlarged to the benefit of others? How some cost-effective efforts can be integrated in the school design and architecture?

YK: Sustainable living and eco-friendly designs are definitely a wonderful way of teaching students about sustainability. There are schools both in India and abroad that are designed in such a way that they blend in with the natural environment and help their pupils understand the importance of sustainability in a more practical and hands-on way. Solar panels add to effective usage of natural energy.

Moreover, some schools have been designed with skylights that flood the classrooms and corridors with daylight, saving all that energy required to light classrooms; rainwater is collected and used for flushing toilets and some schools even have their own composting facilities and organic garden where most of their vegetables for school meals come from.

Some of the most inexpensive ways of making your school campus more eco-friendly are creating a small kitchen garden, which would not only inculcate healthier eating habits amongst students but also give them an opportunity to learn about growing their own vegetables and tending to a garden, along with getting plants for classrooms, which would not only improve the air quality but also make them aesthetically more pleasing.

At our school, Lancers International School, vertical gardens have been set up within its premises not only to curb pollution but to also to create a more bio friendly environment for all.

Schools are responsible in enthusing sustainable practices for our future generations. We should also involve the wider school community, with parents and local communities to this endeavour. We should also incorporate research-based practices and connect with universities or governing bodies that can assist our primary classrooms to provide sustainable environments within the school.

TPS: While mobility in a classroom is indeed a basic health requisite, it is also claimed that it promotes more distraction. In a changed environment where multi-layer learning and blended learning are being promoted, how classroom designs could help in empowering such ideas?

YK: Students learn best in an environment where they feel the most comfortable and safe. This allows them to ask questions and engage with their peers and teachers. When student inquire into a given concept, they should have all possible first-hand experiences and resources. If the teacher doesn’t have a definite purpose why he/she introduces a specific learning resource, chaos will ensue. Needless to say, it is equally important for the teacher to map out the course incorporating these important classroom elements.

Merely listening to lectures in class can seem dreary whereas children who are more active exhibit better focus, faster cognitive processing, and more successful memory retention than kids who spend the day sitting still. Teachers should also incorporate brain breaks or fitness regimen within the core subjects of literacy and numeracy. Encouraging periodic breaks, indulging in a sport activity between classes are some of the ways to empowering such ideas. There are numerous ways now that we can incorporate mindfulness sessions as well, to improve on concentration and higher-level of academic retention amongst learners. With the varied distractions not just at school, students also need time to reflect on what matters and set-aside time for the many tasks required of them

TPS: What are the normal unsafe conditions in classrooms in terms of structural and design perspectives for the young kids, and how these could be dealt with as a precaution?

YK: First and foremost, it’s important to keep the class tidy and neat so the younger students don’t tip over an object and fall. It’s also essential to organise the physical space of the classroom for movement and interaction. Remember to make it easy for students to pull their desks together when they’re doing group work. I also feel that when students are empowered to decide where things are and have essential classroom agreements to maintain it, students not only learn ownership, they also feel empowered to make decisions of their learning spaces.

Younger students should also be able to wash their hands in washbasins in the classroom after art class without having to get on a raised platform; same principle applies for their lockers. Of course, the desks and chairs shouldn’t have any sharp edges lest they hurt themselves.

For younger students, it’s also essential to have enough space in the classroom so they can walk around freely and lie down on the carpet/cushions during naptime or reading time. Make sure electrical cords are not running through classrooms, walkways, and doorways. Electrical outlets must also be properly covered.

Finally we need to ensure all classrooms do not have the doors that automatically close or open inwards. This could be an hinderance at the time of an emergency exit.

TPS: Do you think the air-conditioned classrooms are really supporting attributes to effective learning? How do they be in some way health hazards for the young ones? And what precautions the schools should take to ensure their safe operating environment?

YK: Air-conditioning in schools especially in Delhi NCR have become a necessity over the last few years as the temperatures have been rising phenomenally. Extreme temperatures can affect concentration in classrooms. For example, summers can cause exhaustion making children tired and sleepy hence their performance in class is hampered. Installing air conditioners in schools where climate warrants their need would help students be comfortable and promote positive learning.

We believe that in addition to air-conditioning, schools should also invest on air quality measures. With the excess levels of pollution, maintaining the air quality has become a necessity nowadays which poses a major health risk to the students. To ensure a safe and healthy environment, at Lancers International School, we have installed best in class air purifiers at the major exit and entry spots and the lobby areas in the school. We also have a central air purification system that provides real time AQI data which is also shared on the school’s website and with parents as well.

Only with conducive learning environments will students really thrive and achieve their fullest potentials.