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Designers and Teachers Need to Establish Dialogue

When a classroom is well-organized, children not only feel comfortable, but also learn more effectively. Ways to create such a space were discussed at the research seminar ‘Design of educational spaces’, which was held at the Center of Leadership Development in Education at HSE’s Institute of Education on July 12-13.

This is the first event to take place as part of an agreement on the joint development of new school projects. The agreement was signed by HSE, Moscow State University of Civil Engineering and the ‘Enlightenment’ group of companies (Ru: «Просвещение») at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in May this year. The seminar was attended by staff from the Institute of Education and the HSE Art and Design School, the Municipal Education Institution of Moscow State University and ‘Enlightenment’, as well as representatives of other organizations, including experts in the field of design of educational spaces. School principals and employees of educational management bodies in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, the Perm and Krasnoyarsk regions and Belarus also took part in the webinar.

Two thousand new schools will be built in Russia by 2024 and major repairs will be carried out in five thousand buildings. However, this isn’t all that needs to be done in order to ensure that the minimum conditions for learning are met. A modern school should be suitable not only for lessons, but also lectures, independent work, collective projects, and activities for children of different ages. Therefore, a new educational space is needed, and all participants in the learning process should be involved in its design.


Source: 'Requests for changing the environment at Moscow schools. Study outcomes', HSE Art and Design School

How Should Educational Spaces be Reorganized?
Four examples

Example 1. Corridors for communication and other useful activities

‘The school space should engage all the participants in the educational process — both in pairs and in groups,’ explains Pavel Sergomanov, Director of the Center of Leadership Development in Education. ‘In order to solve educational issues, it is possible to use school corridors. For example, at "Horoshkola" (Ru: «Хорошкола»), children and teachers draw a timeline on the walls showing important events that have occurred in the school year or that are coming up. This gives the student the ‘bigger picture’ of the school year. It’s easier for them to manage their time and to organize their activities. Easy and effective communication is no less important than studying.’

Source: Kirill Cheburashkin's presentation

Example 2. Beanbags to create order among the chaos

One design solution for a primary school was proposed by the department of furniture design, Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry. The experts put forward the idea of beanbags on wheels which can be attached to each other. Children can sit on them and move along specially marked paths in the classroom. This helps to avoid chaos and children can get rid of pent-up energy and enhance their motor skills at the same time. The teacher can even organize team competitions where they children have to move around quickly and accurately.

Designers have also developed private areas for children — ‘houses’ designed for 1 or 2 people, made from noise-absorbing materials, where they can concentrate and relax.

Source: Kirill Cheburashkin's presentation

Example 3. A new workplace for teachers

Another question is how to organize a teacher's workplace in the classroom. The head of the department of furniture design at Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry, Kirill Cheburashkin, likened it to a kitchen space. There is a single benchtop and all kitchen appliances (stove, sink, cabinets, etc.) are located ergonomically and conveniently. The same can be achieved in a teacher's workplace by combining a desktop, whiteboard markers and an interactive whiteboard in one place with a projector, a flipchart and other technical equipment. This is a modern and convenient solution that is already being tested in schools.

Example 4. Talking pictures

A modern school space should be interactive, that is, the environment should respond to the activities. ‘By this, we mean not only in the classroom or in the library,’ Pavel Sergomanov emphasizes. ‘In every school, there are visual teaching aids — portraits of writers hang on the walls of every Russian literature classroom,’ he says. ‘But these portraits mean little to the children — they can’t talk to them, they can’t even draw a moustache on them because they hang so high. With the help of modern technologies, these portraits can ‘come alive’ and create opportunities for communication with the literature greats — for example, using special interactive tables. A child asks a portrait a question, and the portrait answers it!’

What's Around the Corner?

Maria Ustinova, an expert in the field of design of educational spaces from the World Bank, spoke about the results of a study on children's well-being, which was conducted in Russian and foreign schools. A map of the school and school territory was downloaded onto smartphones, and the children were able to record their emotions (like/dislike or various emoji — joy, fear, fun, anger, boredom) in various places, such as in the classroom, at the cafeteria, and on the sports ground. The results showed that there are places in a school where children experience fear (not only in the toilets, but also places in the schoolyard where they cannot see what or who is around the corner). Clearly, the architects did not take this into account when designing the buildings.

We Can’t Do Without Design

The seminar showed that Russian architects, designers, equipment manufacturers and service providers have created many modern spatial solutions for schools. Schools have access to new visual aids, coworking opportunities, complex solutions for science labs, interfaces for educational applications and digital tools, and much more.

According to Pavel Sergomanov, the problem is that designers have still not been able to establish a dialogue with teachers on more complex issues — for example, how to equip spaces for developing critical thinking and understanding nonverbal communication. Teachers tend to be more concerned about the curriculum. They do not articulate clear design requests and rarely get involved in the design process.

Another issue is the design and equipping of spaces for lessons in mathematics, history and other subjects. Complex symbolic solutions are necessary (for example, in order to create educational games). We can do more than simply organize the space in a special way and apply visual electronic aids — it is also possible to use technologies such as augmented and virtual reality.

‘When designing and equipping educational spaces, it is necessary to take into account the needs of residents of specific regions and municipalities,’ says Olga Kotlyar, Deputy Managing Director of the publishing house ‘Prosveshchenie’. In some republics of the North Caucasus, there is a cultural tradition of separating boys and girls in school, and it is important to take this into account when organizing physical education lessons. Spaces should be designed in a particular way (there is a well-known case where a school had to relocate the exits from the girls’ and boys’ changing rooms). If the school is located in a city which is home to a large enterprise such as a plant or factory, and the majority of high-school graduates go there to work, then design of educational spaces should take into account the specific requirements for professional training.

‘Of course, schools should be attractive, and children and teachers should be comfortable there, but this is not all,’ said Olga Kotlyar. ‘Spatial and design solutions, furniture and technology contribute not only to traditional, but also new educational results — results of the XXI century.’

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