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daylight classroom

Knowledge Center: Daylighting

Feb. 1, 2021
In the two decades since a study showed a clear correlation between effective daylighting and improved student performance, many education facilities have sought to maximize those benefits.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, schools and universities have been convinced that learning spacethey provide for students are enhanced by effectively capturing daylight.

The push to bring daylighting into classrooms and other education spaces gained momentum when the belief in the benefits of daylighting was substantiated by data from an academic study. The findings in the report by the Heschong Mahone Group followed the progress of 21,000 students in more than 2,000 classrooms and three school districts. Test data showed a statistically significant correlation between daylighting and students’ academic performance—specifically in math and reading.

The findings came at the right time for many education institutions who were dissatisfied with the facilities that had been built since the 1960s. To make heating and cooling more efficient and reduce noise from the outside, many schools were built with fewer windows. As those spaces aged, the lack of natural light made many of them unappealing learning environments.

In the two decades since the Heschong Mahone study found its way to administrators and architects, its findings, as well as the greater embrace of environmentally friendly facility design, have persuaded countless schools and universities to incorporate daylighting strategies into the projects.

The win-win of energy savings and academic gains have led to the construction of many education facilities that have been carefully designed to maximize the effective delivery of daylight—indirect and diffuse rather than the harsh glare of direct sunlight.

The Daylight Academy, which promotes international and interdisciplinary cooperation among scientists, architects and other professionals involved in daylight research, says that planners should try to optimize daylight in indoor spaces while limiting glare.

“In indoor settings where daylight is insufficiently available, we should mimic daylight characteristics (spectrum, color temperature, distribution, and its 24-hour dynamic cycle) with electric light as much as possible,” the Academy says. “We should not unnecessarily cut off natural light if it is there unless it produces glare.” A more recent study of daylighting conditions in schools has produced results similar to earlier research that points to the benefits of classroom daylighting.

Published in December 2020 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the study found evidence that European students in classrooms with good daylighting had better scores in math and logic tests.

The study, “Daylight and School Performance in European Schoolchildren,” looked at the relationships between lighting conditions and school performance for 2,670 students aged 8 to 13 in 155 classrooms and 53 elementary schools across 12 European countries.

“For the first time in Europe, we related several parameters associated with daylighting to mathematics and logical test results in a large sample of schoolchildren,” the study says.

The authors say that a major strength of their study is that “the data are drawn from the general population of primary schoolchildren, spanning more than 50 schools and 155 different classrooms in 12 countries across all regions of Europe,” the study says. “Compared to studies focused only on a handful of classrooms or schools, our study with a sample size of 2,670 students is able to observe daylighting effects that are more general and not specific to one location.”

The main objective of the study was “to investigate whether schoolchildren’s performance is affected by daylighting conditions in the classroom.

This was attained by estimating schoolchildren’s exposure to light through the assessment of various classroom characteristics, as well as through personal perception of light.”

The study controlled for other factors that could affect student learning, such as health, social status, and classroom and air quality.

The students’ performance was measured by a test at the beginning of the day—one section covered basic arithmetic, and a second section focused on logic and memory skills.

“Overall, our findings suggest that classroom characteristics associated with daylighting do significantly impact the performance of the schoolchildren and may account for more than 20% of the variation between performance test scores,” the study’s states.

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