School buildings that teach …
By Vivek Ramchandani
The Building as Learning Aid (BaLA) concept, developed by the VINYÃS Centre for Architectural Research & Design aims at maximising the educational utility of school buildings, while enhancing environmental aesthetics, facility utilisation and the overall education experience, by innovatively integrating a variety of curriculum-linked materials into the existing built environment of primary schools, at a surprisingly low cost.
In order to facilitate BaLA implementation in schools, UNICEF supported the development of a BaLA portfolio of 150, easily implementable design ideas.
In 2007, UNICEF entered into an agreement with the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to pilot the implementation of BaLA at 10 NDMC schools in Delhi.
These school campuses offered the basic facilities, amenities and infrastructure necessary to conduct education programmes, but the physical environment in these schools was not generally appealing or stimulating to the children who attend them, contributing to student apathy, low motivation and a marked disinclination to attend school.
BaLA implementation is expected to result in cost-effective enhancement of the physical learning environment, heightened pupil and teacher motivation and an overall improvement in the quality of teaching and learning.
The implementation process also involved the training of civil engineers and artisans, who, as trained resource persons, are now installing BaLA features independently at the identified pilot schools.
Indeed, at the Sangli Mess School, where BaLA features were put in place during the summer holidays, the wonder and joy evident in the faces of the children when they returned to find their school transformed was ample reward in itself.
In fact, initial reports from this school as well as the NDMC school at Mandir Marg indicate that there have already been positive attitudinal changes amongst both children and teachers, as a direct result of BaLA, so much so that attendance figures have, reportedly, shown a distinctly upward trend.
The results emanating from the first two pilot schools were startling enough to convince the Delhi Department of Education that every school should be retrofitted to manifest BaLA features.
A series of workshops were promptly held to familiarise all concerned, at both policy and field levels, with the BaLA concepts and design portfolio.
The response was so positive that the Delhi government chose to embed BaLA planning and implementation guidelines in a handbook it published to guide the operations of Vidyalaya Kalyan Samitis (VKS) and backed this up by providing them with a handsome budget specifically for community driven BaLA implementation.
Hopefully, as a result, many more Delhi schools will soon have a more vibrant, aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating environment and boast buildings that teach.