Remember the physiological and safety needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy? Those needs parallel the basic needs that teachers and students have in their learning environments. Without safe, clean, and functional school buildings, education suffers. The physical environment has a significant impact on educators and learners. Policy makers, school leaders, and designers must all consider this clear evidence as they plan to upgrade or create learning spaces. Our diagram here gives a small glimpse at some of the impacts that architecture can have on learning.
The evidence is clear – poor school building conditions result in negative outcomes on student and teachers. Recent studies also demonstrate how nicer facilities can have a positive effect. For instance, student engagement and motivation are increased in newer, well-designed buildings. But how important is it that school architecture satisfy the basic needs of teachers and students? So important that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) argues that governments have a responsibility to invest in quality educational spaces because of the important role that quality spaces play in increasing access and equity for all in education, improving educational effectiveness, and promoting the acquisition of key competencies.
While the United States may be further along than many countries in teaching practices and pedagogical development, the provision of adequate facilities is still a pressing challenge. An estimated 25,000 schools throughout America need major repair or outright replacement, and 60% of all schools report at least one major building feature that needs replacement or extensive repairs. Nearly half of all schools lack the basic electrical wiring to support computers, modems, and other modern communication technology.
What does this mean for education reform? It means that both educators and designers must share the responsibility of delivering a quality education. School leaders and architects must work together to assess if basic needs are being met in each and every classroom across campus. As Maslow reminds us, to reach self actualization we have to begin with the basics. Is your school facility meeting the basic needs of students and teachers?