In 2017 the NSW Government committed to spend $4.2 billion over the coming four years on education infrastructure to create more student places in schools. This was in response to increasing student enrolments and reported overcrowding in our public school system. The Department of Education estimates it will have to find room for an extra 164,000 students by 2031. In the nominated four year horizon, the state government spending translates to the creation of 32,000 additional student places, 1500 new classrooms and the building or upgrading of 120 schools. A substantial job in anyone’s language and the time for planning the not-so-distant future is now!
The Government’s program for new education infrastructure creates both challenges and opportunities to the teaching and architectural professions alike. Teachers focus on facilitating learning for students but also setting the agenda for learning methods (pedagogies) that will be required to give today’s children an approach to learning to take them through a lifetime of evolving careers and technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence. The emphasis then, is on the transition from “old school” passive learning involving teacher-centred learning, reliant on information delivery by “chalk and talk” methods, to “new school” active-learning focused on experimentation and problem solving as a part of a student-centred approach.
For architects this raises a challenge to rethink the types of spaces required to enable the transition in evolving pedagogies. Architects then, are the enablers who are to interpret the teaching profession’s changed methods of learning and provide environments that respond to these demands. This translates to the design of flexible learning spaces catering for different modes of learning. Examples include different zones within the teaching spaces for teacher-centred, student-centred and informal learning, using movable walls to link interconnected spaces and a range of furniture solutions to encourage different modes of student-to-student and teacher-to-student interaction. Important too, and a significant driver for new learning space design, is an emphasis on the health and well-being of students and staff, promoted by the use of natural light, improved air quality and a connection with the outdoor environment.
Where does all this leave us? As a community we need to ensure that the Government’s school infrastructure spend provides an environment that sets our students up for a life of learning into the future. For Edmiston Jones, there is a continued commitment to create environments that foster and encourage optimal outcomes in education through good design.