We need to better understand what makes a good physical learning environment. That means effective evaluation.
Education buildings are a waste of money, aren’t they? They cost a fortune to both construct and operate; they sit idle for much of the time, in spite of valiant efforts to persuade ‘the community’ to use more than just the odd room occasionally; and, anyway do they really suit the needs of a modern education system?
Education authorities, schools and colleges need to ask themselves three questions.
First, do the buildings and equipment they have support the needs of education, which is their primary role? Second, if so, are they doing it efficiently? Third, is there a better way?
But to what extent is there any meaningful evaluation system in place across educational authorities that would shed any real light on the answers to these questions? My guess is as good as yours.
For education authorities and schools, student outcomes are the primary indicator of success or failure, or at least it is the indicator that they turn to.
But where educational buildings are concerned the greatest difficulty lies in establishing the links between the physical environment and student outcomes. True, research evidence suggests there is a link between individual variables such as air quality and student test scores. However, at best evidence that there is a link is inconclusive when the myriad of variables that constitute the teaching and learning environment are considered.
A much more sophisticated way of looking at the problem is needed, and one that considers the building as an enabler or an environment that provides opportunity.
So, what should be on an evaluator’s checklist for say a school? Here is a suggestion: Educational outcomes, student and staff well-being, the curriculum, school leadership, school management, current teaching approaches, innovations in teaching and learning, role of the school in the community, and oh yes, the facilities themselves.
In truth, education buildings can be a waste of money, but it just depends.