Innovation in education

School Buildings and Student Performance in Developing Countries


Is school building quality a luxury in places where merely finding learning spaces for children is a challenge in itself? In a context where the usual priority is simply to provide basic schooling, should one be concerned with how buildings look, function and are used by students and teachers? These questions were addressed at the “12th Architecture & Behaviour Colloquium” which focused on the relevance of buildings to students’ learning performance in developing countries.

The participants expressed contrasting views over the factors which are essential to ensure a successful school and learning programme:

  • School buildings are of secondary importance. Success depends on the headmaster, teachers and their relation to students. (A recent OECD report also took this view.)*
  • School buildings and schoolyards that are well-designed, taking into account the local cultural and environment, enhance learning.
  • Involving the stakeholders – teachers, parents and students pupils - in planning and building schools and schoolyards improve the potential for success.

The Colloquium offered three days of short presentations and intensive debates between people from four sectors: representatives from funding agencies, government administrators involved in school construction programmes in Middle Eastern countries, academic researchers and architects. Funding agencies compared the various difficulties they encounter. Administrators explained the basic pedagogical aims of their educational programmes. Researchers provided results of student performance evaluations in various physical school environments and presented evidence that the built environment is an important factor in enhancing learning. Architects pointed to their experience with projects that took quality into account and often led to exciting pedagogical changes. Yet the social realities of the different country contexts forced participants to question the sense of giving priority to such matters in school construction. The pressure to simply offer basic education to the largest possible number of children prevails.

The “12th Architecture & Behaviour Colloquium” originated with the idea of assessing school construction programmes in developing countries. The aim was to share current information about the relationship between school architecture and student achievement so that informed decisions are taken and good choices made when allocating funds and implementing projects. The issue is particularly relevant in developing countries, where scarce resources need to be spent carefully.

The colloquium took place in Monte Verita, Switzerland, from 29 March to 1 April 2006. The proceedings are being prepared for publication.

For further information, contact:
Kaj Noschis
Architecture & Behaviour Colloquiums
Colloquia sàrl
1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

* The latest report by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Education at a Glance: 2006 Edition, indicates that schools’ physical infrastructure has a negligible net effect on student performance. The Programme on Educational Building has decided to study this relationship in greater depth.


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