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July 07, 2021 Wednesday 01:09:33 PM IST

Phygital Schools: Mirror the World

Cover Story

Alan Smithson in his popular TED X talk on the Marriage of Technology and Education said that our schools look the same as 100 years ago.  A popular Instagram post compares the analogue telephone of the 1970s and the digital era of the 2020s and wonders why our schools have not changed a bit.

Pradeep P Veetil, a leading architect based in Dubai said that the advent of telecommunications and computers in the last four decades have slowly transformed our work and learning spaces into phygital environments. The author of the book School Design A Comprehensive Guide, he said, "We cannot detach our life from technologies and we have to take a relook at what we mean by education."

Modern education is about-

 Connecting minds, creating the future

 Opportunity

 Sustainability

 Mobility

 Hands-on learning and Experimentation

 Creativity

Many people when asked to recall their memories of the school have only the playgrounds, a tree or a corner in the campus to talk about and classrooms don’t figure at all. Isn’t it time to reimagine our school campuses?

The Phygital School

The Phygital schools of the future will have to be an ideal blend of the physical and virtual environments where vertical walls, empty corridors and corner spaces can become live with learning experiences. When case studies, project work, problem-solving, collaboration and building competencies become the norm, the learning will be taken out of the classrooms, in the open with room for interactivity and team play. We also have the Shantinikethan model of learning in the open and close to nature doing away with the need to make heavy investments in brick and mortar.

Why do children dislike school? Eric Sheninger, award-winning Principal of New Milford School (New Jersey) and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) has the answer he said in a TED Talk. Our schools kill creativity and innovation and do not reflect the real world.  “We don’t have spots in schools where children can go because they want to - to invent, tinker, make and create to learn. Maker spaces are an incredible way to bring play back into the picture and for kids to follow their passions.”  He has talked about how his own experience of converting a library where no student bothered to go, into a maker space where students began to flock. “We can learn about good design from success stories in the industry.  Starbucks sells coffee but people go there for conversations, they can freely access the Wifi or look at Google- It creates spaces where children can go and play. We can turn school environments into places that reflect the real world, that treats students with respect,” he added.

Sustainable Eco-system

The concept of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and green buildings, use of recycled materials in construction, using renewable energy, free internet and flow of knowledge and information, recycled materials and rainwater harvesting, farming and other ways of sustainability has to be built into the school eco-system.  There will be a seamless integration of the physical, digital and green spaces, according to Pradeep Veetil.  The walls will not have a dividing role but facilitate interaction between teachers, educational contents and nature.

Eric Sheninger has put it succinctly-“if schools are not able to provide real-world environments which children are set to go in the future- with access to free internet, have coffee, create and invent and also play, we are setting them up for failure."

The Morning Drill
Asha Iyer Kumar, Dubai based author, Life-Writing Coach, Columnist

To me, school was not about classrooms. It was about the outdoors. What is school after all without its open spaces? It is where my memory is delightfully stuck. The two images that are clearly etched are of the morning assembly and the day of pookkalam competition.

Morning assembly at Kanikkamatha School in Palakkad district in Kerala was generally a boring ritual, but not on the day when the rank holders’ names were announced and by fluke, I had sneaked into the list. Such occasions were few and far between, which is what makes them so memorable. How I would dart to the head mistresses’ room to get the badge pinned to my pinafore!

Then there was the day when sitting on our haunches, we laid the floral carpet out under the trees that kept the sun at bay. The thigh muscles would ache by the end of the day, but the fun of it all is incomparable.

The Hollow Tree
Khyrunnisa A, Author of  best selling Butterfingers series

School is not as much about academics as it is about going outdoors to play. Holy Angels' Convent in Trivandrum, the school in which I studied, had an 'up playground', and 'a down' playground. And we used to wait for the lunch interval to rush to one of these playgrounds to play all sorts of games. It could be seven tiles, it could be robber and police, it could be something we invented.

And when we got our timetable at the beginning of the academic year, what we'd look for would be how many games periods we'd have in a week. We weren't too enthusiastic about drill periods, but liked them better than Maths periods, and often drill periods would get converted, with some cajoling into  games periods, and that was attractive. We were also fascinated by an enormous tree in the 'up playground', which had a sort of hollow to it, and, fed on Enid Blyton's books, we'd imagine we could hear the sound of the sea  when we put our ears to it. And we kept imagining all sorts of exciting things. Those were the days!

A Class of Its Own
Diyah Sreekumar, Class  VII, Rajagiri Public School

As Totto Chan entered the school premises excited to see a train, she grabbed her mother’s hand and shouted at her “A train! A train! This school has trains!” Wouldn’t we all feel excited and curious at the same time seeing a train at our school? How interesting it would be to sit on an old train to study? Here seats were converted into desks and benches. The school had a flexible timetable where the children could choose the subject they wanted to start their day with.

We never like to start our day with a subject we dislike and it often happens to be so!

At Totto Chan’s school, the students go out with the teacher and she would explain what they saw- maybe a flower, a bird or a tree. This kind of learning helps students understand better than some diagrams in the textbook.

If I were to ask you, what you remember about your school? The answer would probably be the park, playgrounds and the sports equipment rooms. Would anyone remember the dull classrooms or assembly halls?  What if we studied in a school where we get to interact with nature and learn from our surroundings? (Read more about Totto Chan in The Little Girl At The Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi)