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SHAUN FUCHS | Transforming learning spaces to optimise quality and inclusive education

Traditional school classrooms do not help pupils learn

Stock photo.
Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Paylessimages

This year’s theme of International Literacy Day is focussed on transforming literacy learning spaces and challenges in the education sector to really rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces. It encourages the industry to look at how better to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all.

One way we can do that is by developing our classrooms into active learning spaces through the integration of technology and learning environments.

SA’s educational system faces many challenges. Technology, innovation and youth culture has advanced to the stage that children now have access to smart devices that can aid them immeasurably, although they’re subject to the practices and systems of education that were designed for a different era.

For much of 2020 and 2021, students had to conduct their studies remotely, causing traditional models to be broken and highlighting that online learning cannot only empower students, but instil in them the desire to take charge of their own education. The need has arrived to provide students with a holistic education that uses technological advancements, enhances learning spaces, encourages lateral thinking and teaches skills they can take forward into the ever changing future.

It’s in this spirit that as an entrepreneur and long-time educationalist, I launched Centennial Schools in the height of the pandemic. The aim is to address the needs of modern school students in this new era of educational change.

One of the core elements that needed to be addressed was the spaces that students learn in.

Traditional school classrooms all look the same: rows of desks and chairs facing the blackboard, a teacher’s desk and chair at the front. But do these spaces actually help students learn?

The short answer is no. Experts around the world have studied classroom set-ups and concluded that the traditional classroom is actually a passive space where students listen without interacting.

Simple things, like allowing students to stand while working or face their peers in a classroom, already increase their active learning.

Setting up your classroom for active learning is actually quite easy and does not require expensive, integrated technology.

By arranging the desks in a circle so that students can make eye contact with each other; using whiteboards and moveable chairs; grouping tables instead of placing them in rows, teachers are then able to move around freely to answer students’ questions during class.

Studies show that students in active-learning spaces outperformed those in traditional-style classrooms when the same course was taught in both settings.

We’ve established learning hubs that are fluid, active and collaborative. We have seamlessly integrated technology into spaces that are designed around teaching and learning, giving teachers and students the tools they need to succeed in a physical setting that promotes collaboration and supports multiple learning styles.

While connected devices are an important part of modern learning environments, even classroom furniture is essential to creating spaces that are conducive to teaching. Perhaps the simplest example of this is the standing desk, which heightens alertness and helps burn calories.

And the Learning Hubs have paid off, in a survey conducted by our school:

  • Up to 70% of the students reported better grades, better attendance, or improved creativity.
  • Students who use standing desks reported a 17% increase in calorie expenditure.
  • 70% of parents say standing in the classroom has a positive effect on their child’s behaviour.

Additionally, we have also integrated other components into our learning spaces:

  • Weight training, where complex reasoning skills are developed
  • Meditation and practice in our Yoga studio.
  • An eSoprts arena, which teaches skills such as strategic thinking and planning, time management, and social skills.
  • Aerobic training classes in our Fitness Centre help promote problem solving skills and maintain physical fitness.

Classrooms should always be attractive, inviting environments that children want to spend time in. Not only do they change the way children learn, but they also prepare them to leave as qualified and well-rounded adults.

Fuchs is CEO and founder of Centennials schools.

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