I recently asked Teddy to write a little about what good education meant to him. Although we do a lot more than run a school, learning and personal development is at the heart of it all. Below, Teddy explains how he interprets the relationship between school learning, the school environment, and the role of the wider community at large in learning. Teddy writes:
1/ KEY POINTS FOR A GOOD LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
When I was young, I wanted to be an architect…
The message delivered by my parents was clear : if you want to fulfill your dreams, you have to work well at school ! Which parents don’t say that to their kids ?! In a good proportion, it is a necessary pressure : Not enough, kids could take it too easy; too much, the pressure becomes insupportable.
Although, and it is the case anywhere, education has two origins : the one learnt at school and the one taught by parents. Both are complementary. One missing, and it is the all system of schooling that becomes unbalanced, and the chance to have kids « uneducated » or « bad educated » as we say, is higher. So, the transmission of knowledge from school and the transmission of values from families are the 2 main issues of children education to me.
Well, once we said that, the question could be : what is a good learning environment ? As an architect, I could simply and truly say that a good architecture made a good learning environment, especially true in remote area. Everybody is agree to say that a comfortable space to learn make kids more focus or more happy to learn, at school or at home. As adult, that’s what we think, and WE think like that for kids as well…
Concretely, let’see how it is going at Hunar Ghar :
Recently, and I would start by that because it is a wonderful progress, the Women Group is born. To me, it is the beginning of what it was missing at Hunar Ghar : parents education, to re-balance the system of schooling.
It is to me the first condition of a good learning condition : a school that teaches well and in a clever way like Hunar Ghar does and families aware of the work they ALSO have to do in term of education.
The first equation is simple :
GOOD school teaching + family responsibilities = GOOD learning SPIRITUAL environment
After this point, we could naturally say that it is enough, we could finally say that it is all what kids need to try to reach the « good education ».
Some people would say that a classroom is a classroom and there is no way it can contribute to kid better education. The other like me and EFL think that a well designed classroom and by extension a school is already a future success in term of education.
Our kids have the right to have nice schools, with all facilities such as cafeteria, library, playground, and so more to create a perfect environment of individual and collective mind development. So why every kid around the world wouldn’t have the chance to use this types of facilities? I mean, do the kids of Hunar Ghar deserve less good learning accommodation than the other small westerners ??
The second equation is as simple as the first one :
GOOD school teaching + GOOD INFRASTRUCTURE = GOOD learning PHYSICAL environment
2/ A SCHOOL NOT LIKE A SCHOOL
Since ever, architects design « beautiful », « interesting », « new » buildings in the hope that it gonna make users ( and themselves ) happy : happy that the construction is finally completes after a so long time and so much effort put into it; happy to get a beautiful building seen and liked by everybody, happy to use it comfortably like expected;…
The user is the structural key of the entire process, so building an architecture for kids force to a complete rethinking of the space. It is a basic return to the origins of a building, to its interior and exterior environment, which may be defined a places of total learning for young people. The perception of space that kids have vs the one adults have is totally different due to their mind ( not mature yet ) and their physical ( still small ).
Finally, what we try to create at Hunar Ghar is not a feeling of school ( adult perception of this institution ) but more a feeling of community ( kid perception of a living area ). That’s why it is a successful place to learn because kids don’t have the pressure of « to be at school » : the landscape, the school planning and the architecture make easier the sens of sharing : kids are not at school but in a place of exchange, a place of learning the life, a place of interaction as complex as it can be in an develop urban context. It is not because the situation takes place in a remote area that things cannot be complex ( in a good meaning ) : the classroom units spray on the site generate a flow of kid circulation very important to make alive the site : they use the existing stairways but they are also free to experiments other ways that their imagination can create. They are the actors of their own site.
In the theory of architecture, a circular space has always been seen as a very spiritual space, almost holy because of its heaven connotation; a space where everything is possible; a space of the imaginary rather than the real. On earth, people prefer straight walls with angles because it is more easy to furnished and live in. Which is understandable. But for Hunar Ghar, EFL tried to make circular space as a chance for kids to share a common education and be involved as the main caracters ( circular feelings : kids have the middle position so the most important ) rather than square spaces where kids look on the teacher on the same direction ( square feeling : kids are spectators and not actors ).
So the architectural choice of having round classrooms rather than square has also an impact on the learning environment : it can be interpreted as a space where the kid’s interaction is the most developed because the room has no corner and they face each other rather than look the teacher on the same direction, ignoring each other.
kids-students are the most important entity in the process of creation of a school. If they don’t have the central position, the design cannot be relevant.
How many kids hate going to school ? They rarely say that it is because the corridors are too wild, or the ceiling is too low, or that walls are too dirty. But we all get these impressions when we were young. As an architect, I cannot stop thinking that the quality of the concept and the quality of the construction have their own part of responsibility in the kid education…
3/ LEARNING FROM THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE SCHOOL
At Bakhel, the school is located in a place where climate leads to a very free use of space, one does not require intrusive technologies, but rather clear acts, which can be summarised in the protection from sunlight and in the attempt to convey air within certain limits.
Here at Hunar Ghar, the architecture presented itself primarily through the search of shadow and wind, primitive materials that, because of their essentiality, can become didactic media for children.
The engagement of the local population is an extraordinary method of connection with the territory in its institutions, such as school : in this way, the children learn the link between study and emancipation, between manual building and design, and cultures, efforts leading them to imagine a better world; the self-building, the dialogue with the population, the contact with apparently different worlds, contribute to a solid education for the kids, who are thus encouraged to see the school as a living space, as a physical manifestation of its students and teachers. Le Corbusier said : our task ( the one of architects ) requires the participation of everyone, in an orderly way, and not topsy-turvy : hierarchically and not denatured by artificial doctrines ( when the Cathedrals were white : a journey to the country of timid people )
Concretely, when we built the 3 last classrooms with a new way of construction ( bamboo for the roof or multi-windows for the walls ) the idea was obviously to show to people that another way was possible. Because in the local area, everything that people learn is mostly based on personal experience, get involved local villagers into the process of construction made then directly and concretely learn different methods. Then, having kids watching the job-site and sometimes helping for tiny tasks made them understand why the system of schooling is important. Also, seeing me, a foreigner, everyday at school, could give to kids this energy and desire to explore areas further than the one hour close-by city…
Finally, the best learning environment is the one that give hope and dreams to students. These dreams that can become true thank to the education. Having kids happy to come everyday at school with a strong open-mind and independence is definitely due to the quality of the learning environment : what it is taught ( education ) in a good environment ( architecture ) with the support of the local communities ( integration )
I just came across this article on the Unicef website, about a programme launched in partnership with the Bihar government for providing a chance to children to work through the primary education curriculum in a verticalised way, that allows the kids to work at their own pace.
We do something similar at Hunar Ghar in the afternoons, when we set the more integrated projects aside and focus on subject based learning, so it would be interesting to have a look at the materials the UNICEF have put together and see how applicable it is for us.
More that this though, it’s heartening to see other organisations around India working to produce higher quality materials in Hindi and local languages to meet the learning needs of rural kids and sharing their work online through blogs etc. There doesn’t seem to be enough monitoring, evaluation & sharing of experiences from experimental educational establishments around India, something that is crucial reforming rural education to make it child and community centred.
Ash and I got to chatting about electricity in the village today. As i said in an earlier post, if we as a school try and get a connection straight from the government it is going to cost something like £1000. But if we get together 10 families, because of subsidies available to tribal people, of which everyone in our village is, we can get it for £80 instead, and the cost of the wire from one person’s house to another.
The option is self generation, hopefully by renewable sources. We applied to the local government before for micro solar panels for Hunar Ghar, but the guy of that ran off with our, and other people’s, money and the gov. refused to admit any knowledge about the scheme. Another option which I’m exploring now is finding a charity that deals specifically with solar energy for poor people to give/subsidise some solar panels to/for us. That’s the problem, solar panels are expensive unless subsidised.
As Ash said though, we don’t want to tax the people in Bakhel, either financially or morally, by dissuading mains power in deference to expensive solar lights. By a quick back of the envelop calculation I’d say they use less energy in year than we do in a few days, and that’s not even taking account of the vast amounts of waste westerns put out, and all the energy and plastic and shipping that has gone into the menagerie of appliances and gizmos and bits-and-bobs that we all have. They then are among the last people on earth that should have any reason to change thier life-styles energy-wise; it is us that should be working in far more feverish ways to get our consumption down.
That taken into account, we don’t want to unnecessarily encourage dependency on a mains grid that is designed by incredibly bad policy; 50 million people in India are refugees as a result of dam projects for power and irrigation. Mains power is also not cheaper if you take into account the debt taken on by the country to finance such projects. Add to that that mains electricity distribution is only 40% efficient in India, plus the fact that solar lights once fitted don’t have bills to paid makes them increasing attractive. We also want to set a precedent that development doesn’t need to, indeed shouldn’t follow the model of the past 100 years that has got us all in this environmental and social mess in the first place. It is incredibly important to challenge the norms to discover and establish new, better ways of doing things. There is another way forward, another way to be healthy, happy and comfortable, and we’re going to do everything we can to establish ourselves at the forefront of that movement.
Most people thinking of solar lights think of the photovoltaic type. That is, the ones that turn light directly into electricity to charge a battery. What you can also do however is use solar-thermal technology; light is reflected to heat water or similar to drive a turbine. A heat sink is used to make the energy continue at night. I don’t know if this can be done on a small scale, but I’ll find out. There is a charity community in a nearby town called the Brahma Kumaris who are building a massive unit to power 1000s of homes with an array or something like 120 60 foot high mirrors. Perhaps they know, or perhaps there is a way of buying electricity off them. I shall find out!