Building as learning aid

Reviewed by Ruksana Karaka

School is the first major external space a toddler steps into which ultimately is going to determine her tomorrow. It is therefore most crucial to build this space with care, in a manner that will contribute to moulding her into a fine individual. While today many schools are built with the child’s comfort in mind, a school that is “designed” for learning by the very fact of its design is perhaps something not many architects would think of. This is exactly what Vinyas an NGO that “reshapes” schools, aims to do. And this is what architect Kabir Vajpeyi of Vinyas, describes in the book Building as Learning Aid (BALA). School is, metaphorically, a place of learning, but why, as BALA describes, can it not become literally, a learning space as well?

Children are forever on the quest for learning –asking questions and probing for answers. For most people, to see is to believe and this certainly works with children. They tend to grasp the subject content with greater ease and intensity once it is presented before them, conveying its importance and connection in day-to-day life.

Building as Learning Aid emphasises the importance of the physical space of the school in making learning a constant and exciting journey. An innovative physical environment can introduce a new dimension to the educational experience beyond the black and white humdrum of textbooks, making the content of learning more vivid and enlivening. Children love to engage in physical activity, from pushing around furniture to scribbling excessively on walls. And why not? Children’s spaces should be built to accommodate such spontaneous activity.

Vajpeyi suggests inscribing the height and weight of the furniture on the furniture itself to sharpen their senses of measurement. Marking the weight of chairs and benches will mean that they can now know their potential to push and carry. Space can be provided up to a certain level on the walls for the children to exhibit their creativity – they suggest, for instance, a “Word Wall” on which children can write down new and difficult words they have learnt. In one of the schools “reshaped” by Vajpeyi and the Vinyas team, puzzles were painted on the floors and walls for children to scribble on.

Beyond the four walls, learning is further enhanced in a fun way on the playgrounds by utilising every nook and corner on educating them on subjects varying from conservation of water and gas to public etiquette. BALA provides examples of interesting ideas like a map of the school in a place where everyone has access, thereby increasing their sense of direction. The book provides a host of other eco-friendly ideas for schools to implement without too much expense or trouble, and just a bit of commitment. A sundial in the courtyard shows them how time is told as shadows grow across the school. The corridors can be efficiently used by laying down multiplication tables along the floor and a cosy corner can be constructed exclusively for book worms.

The Vinyas team has come up with some 150 design ideas based on an understanding of child psychology. These range from inexpensive playground equipment to use of common spaces in schools, to simply colouring up the walls and floors to make the school look exciting and inviting. Showcased in an attractive and simple layout in the book, these ideas can go a long way in turning our schools into spaces of joyful learning.

Ruksana Karaka is a student of architecture in Secunderabad.

Building as learning aid
Developing school space as learning resource
by Kabir Vajpeyi

For queries regarding this book, write to
Head, Bala Team, Vinyas, Centre for Architectural Research and Design,
C-60, Anupam CGHS, Plot B-13, Vasundhara Enclave, Delhi-110096.
Email: [email protected]

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