The mod­ern learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment is ex­pand­ing be­yond the class­room walls. Seam­lessly in­te­grat­ing the lat­est de­signs and tech­nolo­gies, these flex­i­ble workspaces spill out to the school grounds and in­cor­po­rate sus­tain­able de­sign to drive down costs and re­duc

The Australian Education Reporter - - CONTENTS - EL­IZ­A­BETH FABRI

SCHOOL in­fra­struc­ture is a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar for a stu­dent’s success in school­ing.

“We are all im­pacted by our en­vi­ron­ment,” As­so­ci­a­tion for Learn­ing En­vi­ron­ments Aus­tralia past-chair and ar­chi­tect Richard Leonard said.

“Churchill’s oft-quoted re­mark that ‘we shape our build­ings and there­after they shape us’, holds true.

“In con­tem­po­rary ed­u­ca­tion mod­els, we of­ten see the older style school build­ings – es­pe­cially the ‘cells and bells’ mod­els – get­ting in the way or even pre­vent­ing more in­no­va­tive teach­ing and learn­ing ap­proaches.”

The Aus­tralian school sys­tem is evolv­ing, steer­ing fur­ther from the 18th cen­tury “in­dus­trial model of ed­u­ca­tion”, and re­spond­ing to the needs of a chang­ing cur­ricu­lum in which tech­nol­ogy and col­lab­o­ra­tion are at the fore.

“Re­cently, more pro­gres­sive ap­proaches to ed­u­ca­tion have led to a very sig­nif­i­cant re-think­ing of the en­vi­ron­ments that sup­port them, es­pe­cially in the Aus­tralian con­text,” Mr Leonard said.

“In the last 10 years or so, we have re­ally wit­nessed a dra­matic shift in many learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments to­wards more pur­pose­ful learn­ing set­tings, sup­port­ing the more con­tem­po­rary teach­ing and learn­ing ped­a­go­gies.

“These en­vi­ron­ments are typ­i­fied by pro­vid­ing a rich va­ri­ety of seam­lessly in­ter-con­nected spa­ces for small groups, large groups, one-on-ones, col­lab­o­ra­tive ac­tiv­i­ties, multi-me­dia func­tions and are both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal – a far cry from the ‘cells and bells’ ap­proach of tra­di­tional class­room set­tings.”

Elec­tronic white­boards are start­ing to re­place the static black­boards and white­boards of the past, acous­tic par­ti­tion walls and mov­able fur­ni­ture are cre­at­ing more flex­i­ble work spa­ces, wire­less net­work in­te­gra­tion and a ‘bring your own de­vice’ model al­low stu­dents and teach­ers to be con­nected at all times, and new fa­cil­i­ties such as STEM fo­cused build­ings and well­ness cen­tres are sprout­ing up across a num­ber of schools.

Learn­ing is not con­fined to the class­room, sprawl­ing out to all ar­eas of the school, in­cor­po­rat­ing in­tel­li­gent de­sign to pro­mote crit­i­cal think­ing.

In­ter­est­ingly, the Pro­gramme for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent As­sess­ment (PISA) PISA

2015: Re­port­ing Aus­tralia’s re­sults pub­lished by the Aus­tralian Coun­cil for Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search high­lighted the im­por­tance of school build­ings to learn­ing, stat­ing many prin­ci­pals be­lieved in­ad­e­quate or poor qual­ity phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture to have hin­dered their ca­pac­ity to pro­vide in­struc­tion.

“34 per cent of prin­ci­pals of stu­dents from dis­ad­van­taged schools com­pared with

12 per cent of prin­cip­tals of stu­dents from ad­van­taged schools iden­ti­fied this as an is­sue,” it stated.

The statis­tic also il­lus­trated the di­vi­sion be­tween in­de­pen­dent schools with flow­ing funds and lower so­cio eco­nomic schools re­ly­ing on gov­ern­ment sup­port; an is­sue that had be­come even more height­ened with the rapid pace tech­nol­ogy was ad­vanc­ing.


Sus­tain­able de­sign was un­doubt­edly a trend schools were get­ting be­hind.

Recog­nis­ing that fund­ing is of­ten lim­ited, ar­chi­tects and builders looked at in­no­va­tive ways to cut costs for schools in the long term and re­duce emis­sions, while en­hanc­ing the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

De­vices such as so­lar pan­els, wa­ter col­lec­tion and air qual­ity con­trol sys­tems played a dual role as a sus­tain­able de­sign fea­ture, while act­ing as a learn­ing tool for stu­dents.

At Cathe­dral Col­lege Wan­garatta in Vic­to­ria for ex­am­ple, a fea­ture trombe wall took up the role of heater in the En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory, giv­ing stu­dents the prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing kept com­fort­able by the build­ing it­self, rather than solely re­ly­ing on air con­di­tion­ing.

“Across the col­lege, so­lar pan­els feed back into the grid and storm wa­ter feeds the school’s toi­lets,” Cathe­dral Col­lege prin­ci­pal Adrian Far­rer said.

“A Sci­ence Gar­den yields veg­eta­bles, herbs and eggs for the kitchens, but also fea­tures a wind­mill and many other projects con­structed by stu­dents in our Ma­te­ri­als Tech­nol­ogy area.

“The prac­ti­cal skills prac­tised in these en­vi­ron­ments com­ple­ment the in­te­grated tech­nolo­gies each room has ac­cess to; some­thing vi­tally im­por­tant in the dig­i­tally rich world in which our stu­dents ex­ist.”

At Hill­brook Angli­can School in Queens­land, the school re­cently un­der­took a re­fur­bish­ment to en­sure the en­tire school was wire­less to al­low for any­place, any­time learn­ing, and in­tro­duced two Aus­tralian na­tive stin­g­less bee hives to em­bed sus­tain­abil­ity into learn­ing.

En­ergy ef­fi­ciency also came un­der the sus­tain­abil­ity um­brella, with schools in­cor­po­rat­ing strate­gies such as build­ing ori­en­ta­tion to cap­ture nat­u­ral light and the win­ter sun; cross ven­ti­la­tion to pro­mote sum­mer cool­ing; dou­ble glaz­ing; and ap­pro­pri­ate in­su­la­tion to the walls, ceil­ing and floor­ing.

“The first step is cer­tainly to in­cor­po­rate these ini­tia­tives into build­ings – in­deed it’s the en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble thing to do – but then we should in­te­grate them into the learn­ing for them to be truly ef­fec­tive,” Mr Leonard said.

Sus­tain­abil­ity was also sup­ported by the Fed­eral and State Gov­ern­ments, such as South Aus­tralia, where a Sus­tain­able Schools Pro­gram (SSP) was launched to im­prove the eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity of school build­ings.

This year, the South Aus­tralia Gov­ern­ment in­vested $15 mil­lion to im­prove fa­cil­i­ties at 240 State schools, with works sched­uled to be com­plete at the end of 2018.

Schools were also tak­ing dis­abil­ity fa­cil­i­ties into ac­count, en­sur­ing the school en­vi­ron­ment was in­clu­sive for all stu­dents.

By­ford Secondary Col­lege in WA was one school that fol­lowed this ap­proach, and took it one step fur­ther in March with the in­tro­duc­tion of a new hy­drother­apy pool for stu­dents with high-needs dis­abil­i­ties.

Statewide Plan­ning and De­liv­ery ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Stephen Bax­ter said the school build­ing was planned and built with a range of fa­cil­i­ties for dis­abled stu­dents from the lo­cal and wider Ar­madale area.

“The school cur­rently has about 30 stu­dents with dis­abil­ity out of about 1000 stu­dents, and we ex­pect these num­bers to grow,” Mr Bax­ter said.

A hand­ful of elite pri­vate schools across the coun­try, such as Mel­bourne Girls Gram­mar School, Gee­long Gram­mar and Pres­by­te­rian Ladies Col­lege in Perth, were also build­ing multi-mil­lion dol­lar well­ness cen­tres, which in­cor­po­rated fa­cil­i­ties such as yoga stu­dios, re­flec­tion and med­i­ta­tion zones, and con­sult­ing rooms for coun­selling and nu­tri­tional sup­port.


The tra­di­tional class­room blue­print was also trans­form­ing, with ar­chi­tects pay­ing close at­ten­tion to how schools could be de­signed to sup­port the teach­ing meth­ods of to­day and to­mor­row.

“I think the in­ter­est­ing is­sue that the emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies have brought is a shift from the “hard” sys­tems – the phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture sup­port­ing tech­nol­ogy, to more em­pha­sis on the “soft” sys­tems – the meth­ods of teach­ing and learn­ing,” Mr Leonard said.

“For ex­am­ple, as re­cent as about a decade ago, IT Class­rooms were be­ing pro­moted as the pri­mary build­ing re­sponse to tech­nol­ogy; that is, pro­vid­ing a class­room for stu­dents to learn how to work with the tech­nol­ogy.

“But now, we don’t see those rooms be­ing re­quired any­more.

“Com­puter rooms are now ‘white ele­phants’ – all the in­for­ma­tion can now be stored and ac­cessed on per­sonal mo­bile de­vices.

“Sim­i­larly, the in­fra­struc­ture of the green screen fa­cil­i­ties is re­quired even less; although the fa­cil­i­ties ded­i­cated to video record­ing re­main use­ful, stu­dents can also pro­duce a video us­ing their smart ‘phone.”

Schools were also in­stalling tech­nolo­gies that fa­cil­i­tated video­con­fer­enc­ing with other cam­puses or schools and in­sti­tu­tions, both na­tion­ally and in other coun­tries.

“These in­stal­la­tions rep­re­sent a vir­tual re­shap­ing of schools, and a vir­tual dis­in­te­gra­tion of the bricks and mor­tar that tra­di­tion­ally de­fine schools,” As­so­ci­a­tion of Heads of In­de­pen­dent Schools of Aus­tralia (AHISA) chief ex­ec­u­tive Beth Black­wood said.

Now school class­room de­sign typ­i­cally in­volved smaller hubs with break out spa­ces for group ac­tiv­i­ties, fur­ni­ture that could be re­or­gan­ised into dif­fer­ent shapes and class­room walls which could open up to oth­ers.

“Ar­chi­tects are now in­cor­po­rat­ing walls and glass that can be used as writ­ing sur­faces, in­ter­est­ing use of space such as oc­cu­pied stair cases and walls and fur­ni­ture that can be re­con­fig­ured to suit the class needs,” Peter Carn­ley Angli­can Com­mu­nity School prin­ci­pal Felic­ity House said.

At Kings Chris­tian Col­lege in Queens­land, the early learn­ing spa­ces also com­prised mo­bile fur­ni­ture on large colour­ful wheels, sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance to a train, in which chil­dren were en­cour­aged to move them­selves to cre­ate dif­fer­ent spa­ces, where at Swan View Se­nior High School in WA, the school had wel­comed colour­ful kid­ney-shaped mov­able desks and wob­bly seats that mim­icked fit balls.

“Our teach­ers have no­ticed an im­me­di­ate change in stu­dents’ be­hav­iour, the amount of work they get through in class, and their con­cen­tra­tion lev­els since us­ing the new fur­ni­ture,” Swan View Se­nior High School prin­ci­pal Me­le­sha Sands said.

“The mov­ing stools - akin to a swing­ing chair - keep our stu­dents on task, es­pe­cially our boys.”


In the big pic­ture, schools needed to con­sider the Gov­ern­ment’s push to­wards car­bon neu­tral­ity when buildng new in­fra­struc­ture, Mr Leonard said.

“In 2015, the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment and the Ade­laide Coun­cil com­mit­ted to make the city the world’s first car­bon neu­tral city by 2050, and ear­lier this year, the Vic­to­rian State Gov­ern­ment suc­cess­fully passed the Cli­mate Change Act which, among other as­pi­ra­tions, tar­gets net zero car­bon emis­sions also by 2050,” he said.

“What does this mean for schools? “Well, for a start, 2050 is not far away – es­pe­cially in build­ing terms.

“Any build­ing be­ing planned to­day will be due for a half-life re­fit by around 2050.

“We can’t wait un­til 2050 to de­sign car­bon neu­tral schools, we need to start now and schools should be at the fore­front of this ini­tia­tive.”

Mr Leonard said the chal­lenges for schools to­day were “enor­mous”, from age­ing fa­cil­i­ties to en­trenched tra­di­tional at­ti­tudes of what a school should be by con­ser­va­tive par­ents.

“All too of­ten, all the par­ents want is sim­ply a slightly bet­ter ver­sion of their own school – but very much the same model be­cause ‘it was good enough for me’,” he said.

“Yet these old-world views will not serve our stu­dents well and will not ad­e­quately pre­pare them for their fu­tures.

“So, the big­gest im­pact we can have is the shift in mind­set; to agree that change needs to be made and that such change needs to be sig­nif­i­cant.”

At an in­sti­tu­tional level, the emer­gence of ver­ti­cal schools in high rise build­ings, was a mod­ern so­lu­tion for schools in high-den­sity ar­eas.

“In the in­ner-ur­ban ar­eas we are re­spond­ing with schools on smaller sites, that form com­mu­nity hubs, that co-share with mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­ture (li­braries, ovals etc) and that are re-imag­in­ing the model of a

21st cen­tury school,” Mr Leonard said.

“If done well, it’s a pos­i­tive out­come for both stu­dents and the com­mu­nity.”

The Fed­eral and State Gov­ern­ments re­mained com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing in­fra­struc­ture across both gov­ern­ment and in­de­pen­dent schools, through a string of cap­i­tal grant ini­tia­tives.

The Turn­bull Gov­ern­ment’s Cap­i­tal Grants Pro­gram (CAP) pro­vided funds for non-gov­ern­ment schools, in ac­cor­dance with its guide­lines, to pur­chase land with build­ings, as­sist with plan­ning, erec­tion of build­ings, al­ter­ation ex­ten­sion, re­fur­bish­ment or de­mo­li­tion of a build­ing, and up­grade of fa­cil­i­ties.

In Vic­to­ria, the State Gov­ern­ment also heav­ily in­vested in new schools, school build­ings and more than 1000 school up­grade projects through a $2.4 bil­lion in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture, while in South Aus­tralia, the depart­ment re­cently in­vested

$250 mil­lion to re­fur­bish and re­de­velop school fa­cil­i­ties to pro­vide STEM learn­ing hubs.

Re­flect­ing on the fund­ing avail­able, Mr Leonard said while the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem could never say enough was be­ing done, Aus­tralia like all coun­tries lived in a world of fi­nite re­sources, po­lit­i­cal change and nec­es­sary com­pro­mise.

“The re­cent pro­jec­tions of the Grat­tan In­sti­tute pre­dict enor­mous in­crease in stu­dent num­bers in the next decade across Aus­tralia,” he said.

“The Grat­tan In­sti­tute pro­jec­tions trans­late to the re­quire­ment for 765 new schools within a decade.

“So, the real is­sue here is to en­sure this mas­sive roll-out of new school in­fra­struc­ture across Aus­trala­sia pro­vides the very best foun­da­tion for teach­ing and learn­ing into the 22nd cen­tury.”

Mr Leonard said the fig­ures, as as­tound­ing as they were, only re­lated to new schools and it was ex­ist­ing age­ing in­fra­struc­ture that also re­quired at­ten­tion.

He said Aus­tralia had to think smart to strike a balance be­tween build­ing new schools to ac­com­mo­date the growth and en­sure ex­ist­ing schools were not fall­ing be­hind.

“While recog­nis­ing that we’ll prob­a­bly never, ever have enough money, at least we can en­sure that what we do has max­imise im­pact and is the most cost-ef­fec­tive,” he said.

“To de­sign and op­er­ate con­tem­po­rary schools, we sim­ply must know what works and what doesn’t so that the money we spend in de­vel­op­ing in­no­va­tion ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties is well tar­geted.”

Im­age: Hill­brook Angli­can School.

Im­age: Saint Stephens Col­lege.

Im­age: Dianna Snape.

Caulfield Gram­mar Learn­ing Precinct.

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