School and Classroom Environment

Learning takes place within a web of social relationships as teachers and pupils interact both formally and informally. Schools are institutional spaces for communities of learners, including both students and teachers. Play and scuffle with one’s friends on the school grounds, free time to sit on the benches and chat with one’s friends during breaks, gathering tog ether for morning assembly and other festive and significant occasions in the school, studies carried out in the classroom, anxious turning of pages before a class test, and trips made with one’s classmates and teachers to places outside the school — all these are activities bringing the community together, giving it the character of a learning community. Behind the scenes, but still significant in giving the school its character, are the teachers and the headmaster, planning and carrying out daily routines, examinations and special events that mark the school calendar. How can we organise the environment in the school and classroom so that such interactions support and enhance both teaching and learning? How can the space of the school be nurtured as a context where children feel safe, happy and wanted, and which teachers find meaningful and professionally satisfying? The physical and psychological dimensions of the environment ar e important and ar e interrelated. In this chapter we examine these environments to understand how they significantly influence children’s learning.

The Physical Environment

Children are constantly interacting with the physical environment of their schools during structured or unstructured time, consciously or unconsciously. Yet not enough attention is paid to the importance of physical environment for learning. Often classrooms are overcrowded, with no alternative spaces to learn, nor are they attractive, inviting or sensitive towards children’s needs. Inappropriate school design may drastically affect the teacher’s productive output and classroom management. In fact, the role of this all - encompassing, physical environment has been restricted merely to shelter the educational activity.

When children are asked about the kinds of spaces they like, very often they want to be in a place that is colourful, friendly, and peaceful, with lots of open space offering with small nooks and corners, animals, plants, flowers, trees, and toys. In order to attract and retain children, the school environment must have all these elements in and around them.

Classrooms can be brightened up by first ensuring adequate natural light inside and then made lively by displaying children’s work on the classroom walls as well as in different parts of the school. Drawings, art and craftwork put up on the walls and shelves send out a powerful message to children and their parents that their work is appreciated. These must be displayed at locations and heights that are physically and visually comfortably accessible to children of various ages. Many of our schools continue to function in dilapidated and dingy buildings, presenting a dull, drab and 79unstimulating physical setting. This can be chang ed with simple innovations, with the combined efforts of schoolteachers, administrators and ar chitects.

Buildings are the most expensive physical assets of a school. Maximum educational value should be derived from them. Creative and practical solutions can be used to maximise this educational value while repairing or upgrading existing schools or making new buildings. The enhancement of the physical environment through this can bring about not just a cosmetic change but also an inherent transformation in the way that physical space connects with the pedagogy and the child. In many parts of the country, schools and classrooms have large permanent displays painted on the walls. Such visuals are over-stimulating, and with time they become monotonous and cease to enhance the quality of the space. Instead, smaller sized, judiciously chosen murals may be a better way of adding colour to the school. Most of the wall display area should be utilised for children’s own wor k, or charts made by the teacher, and these should be replaced every month. Preparing such wall displays, and participating in putting them up, can be also valuable learning activities for children. Many schools lack playgrounds for outdoor learning activities. This compromises the quality of learning provided through the curriculum.

Ensuring that minimum requirements of infrastructure and materials are available, and supporting flexible planning that will help achieve curricular aims are important features that heads of school, cluster and block functionaries should focus on in their support to teachers. This applies to almost all aspects of school life. The many new pedagogies that have been promoted through efforts such as the one suggested by DPEP — that the physical layout of the classroom could be altered so that children can sit together in small groups, or gather in a large circle for story telling, 80 or sit on their own for carrying out some individual reading or writing tasks, or assemble in a group near the radio or TV for a broadcast. For this, the arrangement of desks and chairs, benches and daris could be altered. Many schools have begun to acquire simple furniture that is suitable for such flexible organisation. Single small chowkis, or desks and chairs for individual or pairs of children, and daris are well suited for such classrooms, and could be adapted or altered to suit the needs of children with disabilities. But still many schools invest in heavy metal benches and long desks, which can only be placed in rows, and which reinforce the teacher and blackboard-centred system of learning. Worse still, many of these do not have adequate place for children to keep their books and belongings, nor are they wide enough or with back support suitable for the physical comfort of the child. Such furniture should be banned from school spaces. The maximum use can be made of available school and classroom spaces as pedagogic resources. In some areas, the walls of primary school classrooms till the height of about 4 feet have been painted black so that they serve as a free slate and drawing board for children. In some schools geometric designs that can be used for activities are painted on the floor. A corner of the room may be used to organise learning materials, to keep some appropriate story books, puzzle or riddle cards, and other self-access learning materials. When some children finish their assigned lessons befor the allotted time, they should feel free to come and pick up something from this corner to occupy themselves. Children can be encouraged to participate in activities to make the school and classroom attractive for study, work and play. Most g overnment schools have the healthy practice of giving children the charge of cleaning, thereby encouraging the inclusion of work into the routine of the school. But it is also distressing to note that there are schools where it is the girls or children from the lower the castes who are expected to do this work. In elite schools, children do not take on any such responsibilities, and cleaning activities are often meted out as ‘punishments’ for misdemeanours. Such practices stem from and reinforce cultural norms of the division of labour, and the association of distasteful jobs with traditional hereditary occupations of lower – caste groups. As schools are public spaces that must be informed by the values of equality as well as respect for labour/work of all kinds, it is important that teachers consciously avoid distributing tasks on the basis of cultural notions. On the other hand, keeping the classroom clean and putting things in place are important curricular experiences through which children learn to take individual and collective responsibility and to keep their classrooms and schools as attractive as possible. The understanding of being part of a larger collective, and the abilities needed to work within a collective, can be internalised in children in a variety of ways as they interact in groups within the classroom and the school.
In fact, the structuring of infrastructural facilities is essential for paving the way for creating a learner - friendly and activity-centric context. Setting nor ms and standards, especially relating to space, building and furniture, would help in fostering a discerning sense of quality.
• Space Norms are related to age, to group size, the teacher – child ratio, and to the nature of activities to be carried out.
• Building Building materials, architectural styles and craftsmanship are also location-specific and culture-specific in relation to climate, ecology, and availability, while safety and hygiene are non-negotiable. Low-cost designs for toilets are plentiful, and the same standardised school building need not be found across India.
• Furniture Norms must be related to age and the nature of the activities, with preference given to the easily relocated, except in case of laboratories and other specialised spaces.
• Equipment Lists of essential and desirable equipment (including books) should be specified, emphasising the use of local materials and products, which may be culture specific, low cost, and easily available.
• Time The need for location and age-specific norms also apply to time tables and seasonal calendars.

Nurturing An Enabling Environment

As public spaces, schools must be marked by the values of equality, social justice and respect for diversity, as well as of the dignity and rights of children. These values must be consciously made part of the perspective of the school and form the foundation of school practice. An enabling learning environment is one wherechildren feel secure, where there is absence of fear, and which is governed by relationships of equality and equity. Often this does not require any special effort on the part of the teacher, except to practise equality and not discriminate among children. Teachers should also nurture their classroom spaces as places where children can ask questions freely, engaging in a dialogue with the teacher as well as their peers, during an ongoing lesson. Unless they can share their related experiences, clarify their doubts and ask questions, they will not engage with learning. If, instead of ignoring children’s comments or sealing their tongues with strict rules of silence and restrictions on the language to be used, teachers encourage children to talk, they would find that the classroom is a more lively place and that teaching is not predictable and boring, but rather an adventure of interacting minds. Such an environment will facilitate the self-confidence and self-esteem of learners of all ages; it will also go a long way in improving the quality of learning itself.

Teachers and children are part of the larger society where identities based on membership of caste, gender, religious and linguistic group, as well as economic sta tus infor m social interaction, though this v aries in differ ent social, cultural and regional contexts. SC and ST communities, members of minority groups, and women are usually placed in situations of disadvantage because of their identities, and are denied equal access to valued resources in society and participation in different institutions. Research on school processes suggests tha t identities of children contin ue to influence their treatment within schools, thereby denying them meaningful and equal opportunities to learn. As part of the experience of schooling, children also receive implicit messages through interpersonal relations, teacher attitudes, and norms and values that are part of the culture of the school. These often reinforce notions of purity and pollution in relation to social hierarchies, desirable qualities of ‘masculinity’ and ‘feminity’, and privilege in certain ways of living, mainly that of the urban middle class, while rendering all others invisible. Children belonging to SC and ST groups, and other socially discriminated against groups such as sex workers and parents with HIV, are often subjected to demeaning treatment in the classroom, not only by teachers but also by their peers. Girls are often subject to stereotypical expectations based on notions of their future roles as wives and mothers rather than enabling them to develop their capabilities and claim their rights. Children with disability often confront insensitive environments where their needs are completely ignored. Schools must be conscious of the importance of creating equitable classroom environments in which students are not subjected to unfair treatment and denied opportunities on the basis of their sex or membership of a caste, tribe or minority group. On the other hand, the culture of the school must be one that highlights the students, identities as ‘learners’ and creates an environment that enhances the potential and interests of each child.
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Clear CTET - Coaching Institute for CTET, DSSSB and KVS: Other Pedagogy Notes - School and Classroom Environment
Other Pedagogy Notes - School and Classroom Environment
Clear CTET - Coaching Institute for CTET, DSSSB and KVS
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