A sound environment
When designing classrooms, schools can get carried away with the aesthetics and cost of the build, which often makes key features such as acoustics an afterthought. While some schools go above and beyond in creating acoustically friendly environments for
“THE RESULTS OF SOCIAL SURVEYS HAVE SHOWN A CLEAR CORRELATION BETWEEN NOISE LEVELS AND PERFORMANCE IN SCHOOLS.”
THERE is a strong link between acoustics in educational facilities and the academic performance of students.
Put a student in a quiet environment and that student will generally excel; put that same student in a noisy environment and performance can often decline.
Various studies have proven that students who cannot hear clearly in the classroom – from internal or external noise pollution – struggle to keep up and miss vital pieces of information to help them with their schooling.
Teachers also feel the pressure; at times pushed to exhaustion after straining their voice and repeating instructions throughout the course of the day.
The peak body representing acoustic consultants in the country, the Association of Australasian Acoustical Consultants (AAAC), has been a proud advocate of acoustics in education for a number of years, calling on further Federal Government legislation to improve acoustics across the board.
“In teaching someone, you generally need to talk to them and communicate, so it’s really important to be able to hear clearly what is being said by the teachers. The room can play a big part in how clearly a teacher is heard,” AAAC chairman Matthew Stead said.
“Is the classroom too lively or reverberant, does the sound bounce off the room too much, and make the teacher’s voices a bit muddled and harder to hear?
“Perhaps there is a class of students walking down the corridor and noise from that activity might get into the classroom and disrupt the teaching process once again.”
In AAAC’S latest report on acoustics in education it stated it had been concerned for some time that there were no Australia-wide regulations or standards that encompassed all aspects of the acoustic qualities of education and training facilities.
“There is an Australian standard which does [address] acoustics to some extent but its only addresses part of the criteria,” Mr Stead said.
“For things like walls, noise intrusion from corridors and doors; there’s no national standard for that.
“Some States have reasonable guidelines that are addressed but it’s not universal in all States and locations. Some do it better than others, so there is room for improvement.”
AAAC said there were a number of areas schools could assess, including the amount of background noise from air conditioning; external noise from traffic, aircraft and industry; and noise transfer from classroom to classroom or corridor to corridor.
“Children, owing to their neurological immaturity and lack of experience in predicting a message from context, are inefficient listeners; they require optimal conditions in order to hear and understand,” AAAC stated.
“The results of social surveys have shown a clear correlation between noise levels and performance in schools.
“Students, in particular young children, require good listening conditions; this is known as having a high signal-to-noise ratio - the teacher’s voice needs to be loud and clear above the (unoccupied) background noise environment.”
AAAC said clear communication was especially important for students with a hearing impairment or those from non-english speaking backgrounds; two groups it said made up between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of students in primary school classes.
“I wrote a paper back in 2012 titled A cost benefit analysis of providing a ‘sound’ environment in educational facilities,” Mr Stead said.
“In 2012 we did a bit of a basic analysis of what you would do, what the standards generally might be, and then we made projections as to what effect that has on skill level.
There were some other papers that showed if you had a classroom with better acoustics the students got better academic scores.
“We then went on to look at the costs of actually doing the treatment, and then we also looked at the improved educational performance, and related that through some other research to salary in students’ future life.”
The study found for a standard 8 x 10 metre classroom in Adelaide in 2012, the estimated cost total was $9487 for the base classroom and $15,492 for the acoustically treated classroom.
This was a 63 per cent increase over the base construction cost to ensure good classroom acoustics, which meant for a standard classroom size of 24 students, it equated to a cost per student of $395 for the base classroom and $649 for the acoustically treated classroom.
“This can be taken to be the total cost per student for their entire schooling period,” it stated.
“This results in a cost difference of $254 per child to ensure good classroom acoustics.”
Luckily, today schools were spoilt for choice when it came to improving acoustics in the classroom.
“There is a very broad range of materials that work quite well; largely it’s up to the architect or design team which path they go down,” Mr Stead said.
“There are plenty of materials.
There are pin up boards that provide some absorption characteristics; plasterboard walls which will reduce the noise transmitting across the wall; acoustic seals which help the doors perform as they should; acoustically rated doors, panels and windows; and low noise air conditioning systems.
“All the technologies and materials exist.” Mr Stead said carpet also helped but if vinyl floors were required for a space, schools could offset this with a highly absorptive ceiling.
“Generally it is being considered more by design teams and I think there are also more materials available,” he said.
“Information about glazing systems has also improved over time so there is probably more choice for acoustic engineers and designers.”