Early childhood

The Issue

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Resources on Early Childhood Development


Physical learning environment

© UNICEF/McConnico/2011

The quality of the physical environment is strongly linked to the quality of the learning that can take place in an ECE facility.

In the CEECIS region, ECE facilities are often not appropriate for young children, with poor isolation and maintenance, poor sanitation and heating systems and poor infrastruture.

Rehabilitation of buildings is under way in several countries, however there is a lack of public budget for construction, rehabilitation and maintenance, and costs are often passed on to parents and the communities. This means that in poorer communities, facilities and general learning environment are often of poorer quality because of the lack of resources in the community.Thus, assessments of physical environment should be a priority for equity, safety, efficiency, and pedagogical reasons.

Defining the physical environment
The physical environment comprises the environment inside and outside an ECE facility. Key characteristics of physical environment of an education setting are location, accessibility, safety, flexibility, scale, and visibility (OECD, 2010a). ‘The role of the physical environment is to support the activities and needs of the users. The characteristics of the physical environment include the location, accessibility, safety, flexibility, scale and visibility. Buildings should enable the teachers and care[givers] to carry out their work with as little stress placed on them by the environment as possible. Implications on policy level are related to spacing standards, maintenance and the use of facilities outside school hours (OECD, 2010b).’

Thus a quality early physical learning environment is: ‘a physical space that supports multiple and diverse teaching and learning programmes and pedagogies, including current technologiesA quality early learning physical environment is: 'a physical space that supports multiple and diverse teaching and learning programmes and pedagogies, including current technologies; it is a space that demonstrates optimal, cost-effective building performance and operation over time; one that respects and is in harmony with the environment; and one that encourages social participation, providing a healthy, comfortable, safe, secure and stimulating setting for its occupants (CELE, Undated).”

Recommended Tools for monitoring the physical environment
When assessing the state of the physical environment, a country should start with a status report to obtain the baseline and the right data on the situation of physical environment of ECE centers (public, nonpublic and community based centers), in regional and international safety standards, often developed in the country emergency plans. The following tools may guide countries in monitoring ECE physical environments or in developing local tools for monitoring the physical environment.




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