The learning environment constitutes the structures, tools, and communities that affect both the educator’s ability to inculcate necessary knowledge and skills in the learner required to excel in the 21st Century and the students ability to apply such skills beyond the four-walls of the classroom. The attributes of a physical environment (lighting, size, acoustics, safety, comfort, access to technology etc) have a profound effect on the learner’s ability to engage with what he or she is being taught.
In the developing world, challenges in the designing of the physical element of a learning environment continue to afflict the continent’s different education systems. With the increased population growth in Africa, the number of school-age children has increased, which has further put pressure on existing resources and facilities. The following challenges are faced by many countries: makeshift classrooms, dilapidated buildings, learning spaces with no place to sit or write and open-air pit latrines. These have demanded for re-evaluation on how best to provide sustainable solutions to this problem.
Examples of successfully implemented pilot building projects have shown that blending modern technology with traditional designs, forms and materials in building school facilities is possible and cost effective. The success rate of such projects has largely depended on implementing innovative ideas and community participation. Makoko floating school in Nigeria and the Primary School in Gando, Burkina Faso are some good examples of integrating modern architectural design and practice with locally available solutions and with community participation to deliver innovations in the learning environment.
In brief, the environment consists of those conditions that promote, or hinder, stimulate or inhibit, the characteristic activities of a living being. ~John Dewey
Adequate infrastructure is essential for creating a learner-friendly and activity-centric setting. Such buildings do not have to be capital intensive. The use of local materials coupled with application of modern architectural solutions can help minimise the cost of classrooms built in Africa. A good example is the primary School in Gando, Burkina Faso that was built using earthen bricks.
Use of Color
Color communicates different expectations to a learner depending upon his or her cultural background. In architecture, color has multiple aesthetic and functional uses. Warm colors can reduce the scale and size of large spaces, making them intimate. Cool colors visually enlarge a space, making it less enclosed. Color can be used to differentiate, equalize, contain, unite and emphasize the design elements of a space.
Light, Airflow and Temperature
In the classroom setting, the correct balance of light, air and temperature is important in the learning environment. It is important to have a well-lit classroom. Many building designs are incorporating the use of more natural lighting, which compensates especially in areas without access to electricity or the cost of lighting is prohibitive.
In Africa where the number of actual classrooms is low, the emphasis is more on providing the buildings. Focus is rarely on providing the basic physical factors crucial in creating a proper learning environment. However, as more studies begin to prove the importance of creating the ideal physical learning environment, architectural designs and solutions are being integrated in new structures more than ever before.