Classroom Design

What does an Emergency Education Centre look like?

Amongst the organisations which have got in touch with us recently have been some architects who wanted to talk about designs for Emergency Education centres. We have always taken the line that as teachers we prefer to leave building to others so that we can focus on teaching.

But issues of design are intimately related to classroom practice, as certain designs facilitate certain classroom practices and other types of design rule out classroom strategies. We have seen classrooms that are so small that it is actually impossible to change the desk layout from rows to a horse shoe for debates. Now a teacher might be quite content to keep the desks in rows, but choosing to put the desks into a certain layout is a very different position than being constrained and unable to put them in any other layout.

Some rooms are so tiny that they prevent the storing of materials in the room. Other constructions have doors or windows placed in less felicitous locations so that there are constraints on what can be displayed.

The physical dimensions of classrooms are important, but so also is the recognition that there needs to be different sizes of classrooms. Subjects which involve practical components need more space. This is obvious in mainstream schools, but we rarely see it recognised in camp contexts.

Examination issues are another factor which are important when it comes to classrooms. Pupils taking exams have to sit with specific sized gaps between them. International exams specify 1.5m, UK exams specify 1.2m. It is not cost effectively to make a classroom so that an entire class of pupils can be spaced out into exam gaps within the same room, but it is useful for a school if a single class could be spread across a maximum of 2 other classrooms; as this limits the potential disruption of examinations.

Another issue which we have found needs thinking about in emergency education contexts is the issue of ‘cover.’ In developed world countries, if a teacher is ill or otherwise unavailable to take a lesson, then a ‘cover’ or ‘substitute’ teacher can often be arranged to come into school and take the class. There are different rates of teacher absence around the world, but assuming an average absence rate of around 5% means that the average teacher will be absent once a month (ie 1 day out of 20 working days).

In the places where Emergency Education centres are needed, it cannot be assumed that ‘extra’ teachers will be available to cover an absent teacher. The practice which we have seen in the field seems too often involve sending pupils away, if there is no alternative teacher available to cover an absent teacher. We think that sending pupils home should be an absolute last resort.

If classrooms are built with a little extra space and if pupils are using individual desks, then it is possible to accommodate instances of one-off teacher absence by merging classes. 4 classes of 30 can temporarily become 3 classes of 40

We have noticed that stylistically quite a few Emergency schools are designed as sets of portable buildings around a central quadrangle, which is covered. This provides a covered PE and assembly space, and also a space which can be used for large scale examinations (along as the classrooms are noise insulated and have an additional outside door to avoid a need to walk through the hall during exams).

On the specifics of what actual classrooms might look like, we have had some interesting ideas put to us. Much discussion has focused on the idea of a square classroom, as a square is a useful size for when it comes to putting classrooms together into blocks or structures. The examples illustrated here show a standard (square) classroom and one which is elongated by a third for practical subjects such as Science.

One of the issues about this model, however is that it assumes a ‘space’ around desks of 80cm, giving classroom dimension of 7.2m and making it 51 metres square. If the space around desks was 60 cm, this reduces the overall dimensions to 6.6m and reduces it to 45 square metres. That’s a 10% reduction in size which represents a significant reduction in construction cost, but it makes the classroom very tight for accommodating pupils with special needs. Many wheelchairs for example would struggle to fit through a 60cm width.

The other very important consideration around structures is the model of how individual classrooms can be grouped together in the most effective way. One of the ideas which we have found particularly interesting is the model below, which is the outline of an Emergency Education centre which can be erected as a ¼ centre, a ½ centre or a “full” centre.

In an emergency education context where 3 shifts of education are being run, each classroom represents almost 100 children per day (ie 3 x a class of about 32). So, in that scenario, even the smallest model of a centre above, could be working with almost 400 children in a day.

We remain very much open to ideas about classrooms and models for centres.

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