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The Effect of A School’s Physical Design on Academic Success

What do you think is the key to academic success? Good teachers, a stable family? Maybe even school location or size? All these play a significant role, but, there is another factor that has long been ignored when analyzing success in school. A school’s physical design (especially classroom layout).

A study conducted by the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment and British architecture firm Nightingale Associates examined 751 students in 34 classrooms across seven primary schools. Students were assessed at the beginning and end of the year for academic performance in math, reading and writing, and classrooms were rated on environmental qualities like classroom orientation, natural light, acoustics, temperature, air quality and colour. The researchers found that physical design can improve or worsen children’s academic performance by as much as 25 percent.

To many, these findings will not be surprising. We all know that our physical environment plays a big role in the way we feel, and the way we feel affects our performance, academically or otherwise. As a general example, consider working at an old, run-down building, with small rooms and poor lighting. Or, going to work every day at a new building, with plenty of light, space and greenery. It is quite obvious which one would generate more productivity and creativity.

The same holds true for children in schools. Children tend to be stimulated by positive stimuli in their environment and this encourages them to learn better and faster. Another study has highlighted five factors of classroom design that have a significant effect on students’ academic progress:

  1. Colour – Providing enough visual stimulation around the classroom.
  1. Choice – The quality of furniture in the classroom and interesting and ergonomic tables and chairs.
  1. Complexity – Providing enough visual stimulation around the classroom to keep students’ minds occupied and focused on relevant information.
  1. Flexibility – Can the classroom space be manipulated to fit the instructional needs? Classrooms need to be flexible to cater to different situations and settings.
  1. Light – This concerns the amount of natural light in a classroom and the quality of the electrical lights

When the classroom is bright, airy and flexible, learning becomes fun and we all know that human beings learn more when they have fun. Now that the evidence is clear, reviewing classroom design and layout should be a top priority for all teachers in all schools.

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