How to Design for Quality Education for All?
Micène Fontaine, July 8, 2021
In "Now What?", I highlighted the importance of meaning-making in the age of information and knowledge overload. What matters is connecting the dots. Or, as author Rohit Bhargava, puts it, "transforming noise into meaning." This is especially true in an increasingly complex world. Learning and education are (or at least should be) at their core about taking myriad tidbits of knowledge and re-organize them in a way that helps us highlight what matters, how it matters, and how it is all interconnected.
Yet, our societies cannot reap the full benefits of quality education when, according to UNESCO, "263 million children and youth are out of school." Even those who have access to schools see their potential stifled by learning environments not designed to support student learning (or support the teachers who facilitate it).
Granted, it feels like a luxury to ponder the merits and higher purpose of quality education during a pandemic when parents struggle with the logistics of homeschooling while working remotely (for those lucky enough to be able to do that), and school districts are doing all they can to get millions of kids fed and connected to the internet. Yet, it illustrates the interconnectedness of it all and the importance of learning.
Learning is lifelong, and it is ongoing. Learning is not confined to formal learning in schools. I was reminded of that point when I came across an article about best practices in sustainable school architecture: “The Architecture of Ideal Learning Environments” and another one about "Redesigning the Office." What struck me was that the overarching best practices were - to a great extent - the same for both: access to/views of nature and natural light (biophilic design), access to fresh air (and ways to shut it down when outdoor air quality is low), modular/flexible design (spaces can be used for different purposes and designed to incentivize the occupants to be active), transparency (for safety), etc. It makes sense. People work and learn in both spaces.
The desired outcome for learning environments is to impact student achievement and increase teacher retention, while workplaces are more concerned with productivity, morale, collaboration, and retention. Both need to account for physical and psychological safety and well-being. The beauty of this is that lessons learned from case studies of high-performance school projects can be extrapolated and applied to a variety of environments in which live, learn, and work.
It's no coincidence that Quality Education is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (and the reason why we included a session on this topic as part of our Change by Design series). Quality education is the only path we have to tap into 100% of Humanity's potential to develop the innovative solutions we need to solve the 21st century's most significant challenges. And, if you have little ones at homes, here are games and resources to learn more about sustainable development goals, including education :-)
Here is to quality education - by design.