Designing For Learning

By January 4, 2016

As we entered the New Year, GAJ received the exciting news that they had been awarded another exclusive project within the Education sector. Jason Burnside, Partner at GAJ joins Saint Gobain Gyproc to discuss what makes a good learning facility.


Providing the right acoustics in a school can go a long way towards improving a child’s education and allowing them to reach their full potential in the classroom was the major conclusion drawn during a roundtable meeting hosted by Middle East Architect.

Held in the Dubai office of Saint Gobain Gyproc the discussion group, which featured architects, engineers, school operators, teachers and experts in materials, looked at ways a good quality of sound in a room can enhance the entire experience of learning.

And it also examined how poor acoustics can inhibit the ability of a pupil to grasp subject matter – and significantly pose a health risk to teachers in the form of rising levels of stress.

Gyproc is manufacturer of modern lightweight, high performance dry-lining and ceiling systems that provide solutions in the areas of acoustics, fire and indoor air quality.

The panel included the company’s senior technical development manager Jason Hird and sector manager Marloes Meer.

From the field of education they were joined by Pete Stapley senior client manager and specialist in design and infrastructure for GEMS Education, Kapil Kapoor chief finance officer for school operators Taaleem and Andrew Turner senior project manager from Hepher who has worked closely with the Swiss International Scientific School.

Representing the design and build industry were Salim Hussain from architect firm Atkins, who has overseen educational projects across the Middle East and in the UK,MaramSherif, who has been involved in working on schools in Palestine for Lacasa, along with two other experienced school designers, Jason Burnside of Godwin Austen Johnson and Ahmed Abdul Hameed of Dubai based architcet firm National Engineering Bureau.

The question “Why do children go to school?” was the first subject to be raised in the debate.

The panel agreed that, of course, to obtain an education was the major reason but other factors also needed to taken into account.

Burnside said: “For me it’s not just about the issue of education – children go to school to socialise and I think this aspect is missing in many cases when it comes to design. It’s not just about sitting in a classroom, kinds want to go and play as well.

“You have to be able to facilitate that. Yes, you have this structured learning but children being engaged with each other is equally important.”

Sherif agreed as she pointed out that the whole field was evolving at a faster speed than ever before as technology brings added ways of learning to the classroom.

She said: “Education is now totally different than it was before – it’s about how the children interact, how they get ideas from the atmosphere around. The way they move in the corridors is important and the way they go outside. It’s not about classroom being totally separate from another it’s about the total experience of learning.”

From the field of education Stapley said the design of a school room can help or hinder the teacher and his or her ability to communicate effectively.

He said: “You can teach actually in a barn if you have to.

“But beyond that you want the building to complement the education you are trying to provide. You don’t want to fight your environment you want to work alongside it and the more you can do so the more successful you will be.”

Across the board teachers, operators and design professionals all agreed that clients detailed brief is important for architects and engineers. And all stated that this includes the field of acoustic, from general noise in the classroom and the rest of the school to specialist areas such as music rooms.

When it comes to classrooms again the panel agreed that the design needs to be different now to that which was accepted as the norm just a few years ago. Members said this was because of greater flexibility in teaching methods becoming the norm.

Stapley said: “It is not about rows of desks in a classroom any more. It is much more about smaller groups and a teacher who can move around the room.

“Children are seated in a classroom maybe in groups of four or eight, They might then go to a more formal seated row environment but then they will break out into smaller groups again.

“I want my classroom to be put together in such a way that I can have a different learning environment and I want my teacher to be mobile. As well I want to be able to change my learning environment by changing my seating arrangements so I can give my teacher different focus points throughout the room.

“They could be teaching from the front and then from one of the walls and this means you can manage the acoustics in a room to a certain extent. But that is not to say we shouldn’t be getting the acoustics right in the first place.”

Leclercq asked: “But is that moving around because eth attention span of kids has lessened through the years? We are very much in a you tube-style environment with one and a half or two minute clips otherwise they will just lose interest.”

Stapley replied ”I don’t know whether the attention span has reduced appreciable But we are more cogniscent that attention spans can be shorter so lessons now – even though they might be an hour long – are broken down into manageable bite-sized chunks and activities changed so that you re-awaken wats going on.

“And the more your environment – in terms of design – can help you do that the more effective the learning is. You can use your building as another teacher. It is part and parcel of the whole thing – it is one of your learning tools.”

Godwin Austen Johnson

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