Have you talked lately with a teacher, administrator, colleague or an architect involved in school design about the topic of 21st-century education? The discussion might begin with reference to the learner or teaching/learning process, or that classrooms need to look different.
We refer to 21st-century education and suggest dramatic changes are needed in what we do and how we design. However, when pressed, are we really sure what that means? We need to grasp the meaning of what 21st-century education really looks like.
We need a meaningful discussion about what it is and what it means for the teaching/learning process, and how it can be supported and enhanced through facility design. School design must differ dramatically from the previous century’s model.
Research related to 21st-century education indicates a consensus has formed about skill sets and experiences that children need in order to be successful. Historically, the requirements of education have been to instill in children the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Today’s education might best be defined by five C’s: competence, communication, collaboration, creativity and choice. This article begins a series that explores education trends and how facilities support and enhance this direction.
Let’s begin with the fifth C: choice. The idea that education is consumer-driven has been a foreign concept or an idea with low priority; perhaps moreso with public education (private schools have understood the significance out of necessity). So, why do we want to talk about it first?
Simply, today’s education and the process of learning is full of choices—choices that may be competing, sometimes complementary, and oftentimes different. Society expects and demands choices. An example of this can be found in any supermarket: the choices in ice cream flavors and producers.
We are surrounded with a plethora of choices, so why should education be void of choice, selection and opportunity? It shouldn’t be, and the reality is that it is no longer. There has been a wakeup call for creating learning experiences and environments that support and promote educational options that today’s consumers expect. So, recognizing that choices (accepting parents/children as customers) are woven throughout the teaching/learning process enables us to move forward and define what attributes our children will need, and what parents and communities are looking for.
Descriptors of the attributes that should be developed within our children may include words such as creativity, inventiveness, ingenuity, critical thinking and collaboration. All of this is to be embedded within a curriculum of basic skills that are summed up by the word “rigor.”
Steven Kenning, in a 2011 study, “The Essential Design Principles of the 21st Century School,” describes these attributes and suggests that learning is maximized when students are engaged in what they do. Engagement is what every teacher hopes to achieve in the classroom.
School designers’ objective should be to create spaces that support and enhance the learning process. Design does play an important role in how “customers” choose a school. What should designers be planning in 21st-century learning spaces that promote zones of engagement and help “customers” choose a school?
Distinctive entrances, daylighting, large/medium/small group learning spaces, student display areas, thoughtful color palettes, flexible/mobile walls, spaces of solitude, creativity spaces, multimedia studios, performance areas, flexible/mobile furniture variations, student-accessible teacher work areas, technology anywhere-anytime, portable writing surfaces, and private, personalized spaces are some of the characteristics that signal to a customer that engagement and choice are a top priority in delivering 21st-century education.