Barriers to Good Learning

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
Greg Whitby is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.

Large innovative corporations like Google, Telstra, Apple and even Commonwealth Bank have recognised that good working environments can lead to happier, healthier and more productive employees. If you do a search for these workplaces, you’ll see very modern flexible spaces that are very open and use lots of natural light.

Like workplaces, school environments should be designed around the health and comfort of students and teachers. We’ve all experienced those classrooms where they’ve been iceboxes in winter and saunas in summer. How can learning happen effectively in conditions like that? No doubt it is just as uncomfortable for teachers.

We know from research over the past twenty years that the classroom environment has an impact on student performance – and that impact can be positive or negative. Good lighting has been shown to significantly influence scores on reading and science tests. Designers, architects, builders and education systems are placing greater importance on things like lighting, sound and temperature.

In the past, it was a case of build the school and the students will come. However, too often, what we ended up with was industrial-style classrooms that were anything but inviting or inspiring. Even though today we have better technology and furniture, too many students are still being educated in spaces that were built for another time and place.

While we can’t do a lot to many school buildings, we can significantly improve classrooms by upgrading lighting, sound and ventilation. There are devices available now that allow teachers to test light and noise levels as well as air temperature with the aim of ensuring optimal learning environments throughout the school day. And when we improve the learning environments, we improve the learning!

It’s interesting that while the debate on school innovation and improvement has focused on what happens within the classrooms between students and teachers, not enough attention has been given to what happens between the built environment and the learning. If we want Australian students to be world-class learners, then we need world-class learning spaces from pre-school to post-school.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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