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December 17, 2020 Thursday 01:09:39 PM IST

Schools to go Phy-gital

Leadership Instincts

The concept of school education is undergoing a transformation with new curriculum and teaching methodologies to better equip students for the real world. The Covid-19 Pandemic has helped us realise the huge potential of remote and blended learning. Imagine a world where a teacher is able to identify the needs of every individual student and prepare a custom teaching model for each student. These may seem like fantasy but advanced Artificial Intelligence, Internet of things and Machine Learning paired with simple digital learning solutions and courses are able to achieve this with accuracy that is unparalleled by any human being.

Now gamification is being tried out in education which makes learning interactive and fun. Many early learning tools come in the form of games and interactive content. We are already seeing programming becoming a standard school curriculum. To take it a step further, we now have robots to teach young children how to code. These interactive systems operate on the principle of learning by doing and provide real time feedback to the child about the outcome of their code.

Infrastructure Changes

A paradigm shift in educational methodologies and technologies automatically mandate a shift in the infrastructure and learning spaces of the conventional school models that are still prevalent across the globe. The world has changed and with it our perspectives, our attitudes, our needs, our competencies, our job market, our economy, our buildings, the list is endless. However, the one thing that has not seen much of change is our school and classroom designs. Erudite scholars, radical thinkers, agents of change and most importantly educators need to heed the clarion call that resonates the Gandhian mantra of being the change we wish to see in the world by reinventing the learning spaces to keep pace with the rapid transformations that define not only the future of education but of the world at large.

Even though it is difficult to exactly predict the form and shape of our future educational buildings, it is evident from the advent of hand held learning gadgets, access to internet and abundance of free information, the future learning environments will be a mix of physical, digital and green environments.

Going Phy-gital

The future will be plenty of phy-gital architectural spaces with ecological and green technologies as part and parcel of the school building designs, where it would be difficult to differentiate between physical, digital and green learning spaces. The school building will probably be one of the first environments where this synergy will come true, and it will impact on every aspect of the learning experience: on teachers, students, parents, and learning methods. This is a new concept where the positive aspects of the physical experiences are integrated with the useful opportunities offered by technology, for example, the ability to communicate information quickly or record user data.

Augmented reality, virtual simulators and green technologies will become the nerve center of the classroom infrastructure. The existence of a phy-gital environment, where the real-world experiences become more engaging thanks to the interactive mobile technology, is made possible by the Internet of Things, connected objects that trigger physical reactions from digital actions or, vice versa, physical sensors that, when triggered, lead to digital outputs.

The impact of technology on the physical environments will open up new possibilities to architects, educators and designers to stretch the limits of creativity in architectural designs.

No Black Boards

In the school buildings of the future, partitions and vertical elements will no longer have a ‘dividing role’ but, on the contrary, will become the facilitators of interaction between students, teachers, parents, educational contents and nature. The removal of the blackboard has already begun, and the classroom of the future will demonstrate full interactive screens as its natural replacement. We will explore the possibilities of enhancing the interaction between the human sense organs and the pachabhutas (sky, fire, air, water and earth).

Not only vertical elements, even furniture will become part of the phy-gital revolution in the school of the future. Tables, storage's and screens will evolve into interactive devices, allowing them to submit all submissions from the classroom to their Cloud accounts, where teachers can access to guide them and provide feedback, wherever they are and whenever it is needed.

Interiors as Sensory Aids

All interior elements, doors, windows, staircases can function as learning aid by integrating concepts of mathematics, geometry, measurements, biology, ecology etc. during construction of the building. The entire school building and the campus will function as education aids to enhance the learning process. It will lead the way and become a place where students are educated in the importance of living in a sustainable way. Technology will help young people in understanding and following this path, starting immediately from their desks. Monitors and dashboards throughout the school will provide live data on the consumption of electricity, water and sewage disposal systems in the school. Installing solar windows in classrooms, for example, will help reduce the building’s carbon footprint while saving money that can be invested to buy new devices or learning materials.

Students often require to see,touch, and experience in a more authentic way what they learn at school. Holograms can help to make this happen,engaging learners’ attention and providing them the possibility to better explore the content, literally immersing themselves in it. A completely new sensory experience can be built using these futuristic learning environments.

Real life role-plays, do it yourself, project based learning will create multiple opportunities for innovations and creativity in the learning clusters instead of conventional classrooms. Students may get the option of completing the syllabus on their own at their own pace with support and guidance from the teachers. They may also get the option of competing their exams any time they feel they are ready for the review. Once the review is completed, the child may get the opportunity to pursue his creativity and skills for the remaining duration of the year.

The Ambience

We teach our children history, inventions and existing technologies in schools and evaluate them based on whether they have acquired the understanding of what we have thought them. These lessons should be integrated into the school environment and children should be able to experience, learn and improve these technologies. Humankind’s search for happiness has led him to discoveries and inventions, which make life easy and comfortable. Architecture and buildings are very critical elements in this search and are interconnected and dependent on other elements aspired by humans. We do have the expertise and technology to create climatic responsive buildings. Architecture which responds to the local climate and culture of the respective region adopts passive and active measures to keep the interior environment habitable. Human habitats and especially schools are designed by modern architects and engineers to maintain a range of comfort conditions inside the buildings – Temperature, Humidity, Airflow, Quality of air -- Odor & level of pollutants, Lighting levels – Natural & artificial, Noise levels, Color, texture & ambiance of the spaces, Balance of scale, proportion, harmony, and contrast.
Ecological Balance

Technological innovations have helped engineers and architects to design and build these habitats using passive and active technologies. The majority of modern-day architects and engineers keep the above criteria in view while creating innovative architecture. But there are ancient time tested building sciences like Vastu Shastra from the Indian subcontinent and Feng Shuei with Chinese origin which dwell into astrology, numerology, palmistry to create human habitations which also should be considered while designing school buildings. Throughout the civilizations, creators of human habitations had humans as the focal point and all design decisions were made to cater to his comfort and living requirements. We need to integrate the modern scientific approach and available ancient knowledge to create the future built environment. All aspects of human endeavor and creations should be aimed at making the human being, the society, and the environment happy. Creating a happy environment is a different approach that I intend to propose. We should add the response to create an ecological balance at the micro-level of the product & interior design to the ecological balance at the macro level of the architectural design and regional planning in the design thinking process. With the advent of contagious diseases, we have to rethink and reinterpret the way we design our future habitations. The way we design, build, and inhabit cities may never be the same.

School buildings should be the live examples for children to experience green building technologies. Concepts like rainwater collection, wind & solar power generation, green house, hydroponics, biogas from waste, vermiculture, aquaponics, organic farming, water catcher, motion operated fixtures, building management systems, stack ventilation, thermal insulation, orientation of building to gain benefits of sun and wind, basic weather observing instruments should be integrated in the building design and children, teachers and parents should be able to touch, feel, learn and experience these technologies on a daily basis.

This will revolutionize the methodology of education and will drive creation of innovative school buildings with the design becoming the soul of the building, which transcends beyond the physical, social, spiritual and geographical boundaries.

Pradeep P. Veetil

Dubai- based Architect and author of School Design- A Comprehensive Guide Read more articles..