The Importance of School Environment


Annie Murphy Paul posted more research supporting our premise that school environment has a significant impact on student learning.

Researchers examined the academic achievement of 751 pupils, studying in 34 classrooms across seven schools. Their observations found that 73 per cent of the variation in pupils’ performance could be explained by environmental factors. (Bold added)

73 percent? I’d say that’s pretty darn significant. It’s strange that classroom and school design is largely ignored by school reformers (except by Finland, of course).

The environmental factors that contribute to student learning are listed as follows:
  • Classrooms that received natural light from more than one direction, and with high-quality electric lighting, benefited pupils.
  • Design features that allowed pupils to feel a sense of ownership towards their classroom also helped them to learn.
  • Comfortable—and larger—desks and chairs were an aid to progress.
  • Pupils benefited from a range of activity zones within a single classroom, allowing different types of learning to take place at the same time.
  • Other factors were found to have such a detrimental effect on learning—for instance, noise and temperature levels—that they rendered all other factors insignificant.
  • While stimulation was important, so was a sense of order. ‘Young children may like exciting spaces, but to learn it would seem they need relatively ordered spaces, with a reasonable degree of interest,’ the researchers conclude.” (Bold added)

We have been advocating here for building or retrofitting school infrastructure to design for increased natural light, access to greenery and fresh air, considerations of acoustics, and variegated spaces for learning, with nooks and crannies and open spaces. As Annie Murphy Paul states in her post, “much of this is common sense.” Yet little attention–let alone dinero–has been put towards this critical factor in student learning.

Perhaps this is because much of our education policy simply doesn’t follow common sense–it doggedly follows economic austerity.

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