What makes a school special? What is innovative in a school? Is it worthwhile to innovate? In the past we have spoken of the need for innovation in teaching methodology, pedagogy, project based, experience based curricula and so on. What we have not discussed at length is the infrastructure that supports it. Should parents care if their child’s classroom has a grid ceiling with 0.9 NRC tiles?
The goal post of what is a hygiene item in city based school shifts with each innovation as it must. Perhaps 40 years ago computers would not have been visible in most schools worldwide. At some point of time they gained greater acceptance, and now some pre-schools also have them in their student brain development programs. The debate of whether ipad based education of preschoolers actually benefits the child’s development is still open but it does not raise any eyebrows when one hears of ipads in play schools or kindergarten.
A centrally air-conditioned school some twenty years ago would have come across as an elitist private school. If we comes across a school promoting itself as one now, it does not raise an eyebrow whatsoever. In fact, with air conditioning, there must be an air purification unit, a constant air flow and temperature monitoring system. If we must stay in cities to maintain our lifestyles we must control the in-room PM 2.5 levels and other such pollutants. Soon, this will become a norm.
Often times when we reach for a bottle of mineral water, we reminisce the days from our childhood, while walking home from school we would happily drink water from public taps and the earthen jars placed in the shade. But times have changed, our cities are not the same anymore, likewise our schools, too, must change.
Most items we consume daily come with a brand promise. The brand promise of quality, purity, process all related to the product or service experience. We do not expect the end users to be concerned with the intangibles such as status in the context of schools. So for example we will not care about the logo across our running T-shirts but how well it wicks away the perspiration when we run, ensures that when we seek a running T-shirt, we shall confidently seek the same brand again. Based on what we seek, we are willing to shell out the extra rupee.
Perhaps school architects need to go the extra mile to help schools relook at infrastructure from the perspective of a brand promise and help their clients understand that.
Most designers will agree that some of the fundamentals of good design are that it is functional, accessible, emotionally resonant, enduring, ergonomic, sustainable and affordable.
What good is a storage space if it cannot be used by the students? What good is a reading shelf full of books if the children cannot reach it? What is a classroom designed with wooden floors and stained glass if the children cannot associate with it? Or for that matter if the teacher needs to carry a cushion to support her back, then her chair is inappropriate.
Our world is full of distractions, the information overload that each of us goes through each day is quite phenomenal. Classrooms can have a lot of echo, acoustic panels and ceiling tiles can help reduce that and make classroom discussions easier to follow. Light fixtures that do not glare into a student’s eyes make better classrooms. Doors with secure guards that prevent them from shutting abruptly make better and safer classrooms. The window blinds that are effective in keeping the summer glare out are items that make students comfortable in their classrooms. Children, are in the learning phase and everything we do to make their school experience smoother is something we are doing to improve their learning.
In addition to reducing distractions, innovative schools also convert their classrooms into comfort zones that emotionally resonate with them. In a classroom writing walls to express themselves is a space we provide them to relate to their classrooms. A vinyl floor with vibrant colours not only creates a lively classroom but also a safer, cleaner classroom. Providing a magnetic ceramic writing board that also allows projection is a tool we offer teachers to effectively deliver their lessons. These design elements make more interesting classrooms.
“Chalkboards and good teachers are all that one needs”, is no longer a winning argument.
When a designer proposes a complex seeming design, it is a reflex action of clients to pull up their guards. If a design element is unobtrusive at the same time it performs its function, then it is a worthwhile investment. An ergonomically designed chair! If the design makes for a better, safer classroom or a better school, our recommendation would be to implement it.
The dominant fear factor associated with brands is the cost. The easiest solution is to look for cheaper alternatives. It is here that the brand promise comes into play. Cheaper alternatives should not mean a compromise in the purity, longevity, quality etc. A set of blinds that stops functioning within the first few months of installation and requires a replacement within the year is a bad investment. However, installing a brand recommended by the architect that is then functioning well for multiple years and is serviced by the brand, is a worthwhile investment.
It is the duty of the designers to help the client see value in the functionality and the durability of their designs. It is the role of the executing partners and the architects to bring the costs into a range that it is acceptable and worthwhile for the client.
We held off talking about affordable for the end because we do not believe using brands means stretching one’s budgets. In our experience, the best brands are willing to help schools deliver on the quality. There is intense competition in the market and by planning it right it is possible to get the right brands at affordable prices. Besides, the additional benefits one gets by using the right brands in terms of longevity and functionality makes all the difference.
While parents may not notice the 0.9 NRC ceiling tiles, they will certainly notice the combined effect on the classroom ambience by the 0.9 NRC tiles, the blinds, the lighting fixtures and the other details put in to make it a comfortable, beautiful and safe classroom. A space where the children enjoy being. And that, in the long run, also create a brand promise of the school, that it is conscious of every action it takes and every investment it makes in the child’s learning.