The need for a holistic approach to education is becoming increasingly relevant in the contemporary age. The school environment should be a space that nurtures values and allows children to adapt, reinvent and constantly evolve with the fast-paced world instead of focusing on grades alone. Schools should cultivate children to become thinkers, not just learners, fostering a sense of curiosity and inventiveness. To address students’ emotional, social, ethical, and academic needs, holistic models ensure that children’s academic and non-academic needs are met. Such interactive, communication-based models teach children to reflect on how their actions impact the global and local community. Hence, they are raised with an awareness of and consideration for the world around them.
Design as a mediator
A holistic approach to education involves classroom-based learning as well as learning through doing and interacting with other students. To aid this, design can act as a tool by creating spaces where students learn outside the classroom, allowing them to think outside the boxed rooms of a conventional school. For instance, outdoor-based models of learning bring out children’s innate curiosity, encouraging them to explore the environment they’re a part of.
A change in the objectives of schooling has led to teaching methodologies becoming more collaborative. Learning is not just a top-down process; children tend to learn from each other more effectively. Therefore, spaces that facilitate collaboration among students and teachers should be considered vital to school design. A school should be planned to ensure all its spaces are conducive to learning and interaction. School layouts can foster environments where students can move freely without inhibition through the design of free-flowing spaces that facilitate indoor-outdoor connections and govern the interaction between the different levels of the building.
By maximising mobility and openness within a campus setting, children’s learning experiences can be enriched. For instance, niches and activity spaces interspersed throughout the school allow students the freedom to express themselves and communicate with each other in multiple settings. Corridors can be planned as extensions to classrooms by using glazed walls, enabling a sense of transparency. Thus, incorporating activity spaces and visual connectivity in planning can make them feel like cohesive environments where self-learning can occur alongside classroom learning in any setting at any time.
Shaping a sustainable future
Sustainability is an intrinsic aspect when building holistic models of education. Schools are the ideal place where such values can be taught and children encouraged to look at their choices from a sustainable perspective from an early age. An educational space that provides for outdoor learning and application-based learning models can showcase how such values are practised. By designing schools that create a connection to Nature and treat the built and the natural environments as mutual entities, students can be encouraged to question their surroundings and foster respect for the natural world. Moreover, being around Nature also enhances a sense of mental well-being.
One way to ensure that sustainability becomes an integral part of the education system is by working with outdoor-based learning models. Balancing outdoor time with time spent in classrooms allows children to interact with their surroundings, highlighting the intrinsic role of nature in students’ day-to-day lives. To ensure this, schools should be planned with ample open spaces which encourage children to spend time exploring nature. Outdoor classrooms and kitchen gardens where children can directly learn with Nature, by tending to the plants around them and the vegetables they eat can also facilitate a growing understanding of respect for the natural world from a young age.
Our built environments shape our day-to-day activities and the larger society and culture. Planning strategies that enhance a sense of openness and interaction create environments where children are excited to learn and be. A balance of outdoor learning opportunities and traditional school set-ups encourages students to question their surroundings and develops an understanding of nature as intrinsic to our habitat. Design and education must therefore work in tandem to provide holistic learning experiences for children – preparing them for the future, a future which can be nothing but sustainable in today’s age.
The authors are Partners at Vijay Gupta Architects.