December 28, 2011


                                                                              Subhas Chandra Basu.

                 Environment is the best book,  from which children learn most of the basic lessons of life. Environment in its broader sense that incorporates :
Natural Environment with water, mud, sand, rock, plants,trees, hills,insects, birds and animals. 

Social Environment includes family, friends and community and man-made environment.
Built-Environment made out of combinations of inert building materials, product of a design process.

                   Let us take the example of a regular urban school, where most of the urban  kids spent most of their time for formal education. This is where a designed built-environment is created to insulate the children from community and away from family to bring them in contact with a select group of trained transmitters of knowledge.
                   The school, a stage for transfer of knowledge to pupils often designed as a secured place from wild nature and violent society. The  school is a store house of knowledge and variety of life skills trapped in books and computers, charts and games, prayers and songs. Real life experiences and community realities are shared here through reciting poems or active enactment of a social drama, laboratory experiments mimics’ natural phenomenon. This creates the  discipline behavior and conducts of the kids are regulated to conforms them to society and maintain certain cultural ethos. So the schools built-environment can be defined as a cleverly designed sequence of spaces to fulfill ‘a mission of molding the body and mind’ of a group of children with social and commercial viability.

                      But here and there, every time and everywhere one comes across some alternative concepts and attempts to offer children a different environment for learning.
                      In Tagore’s Santiniketan out door Mango grove was welcomed as a unique learning environment. In England, Satish kumar in his ‘Small school’ extends the school to the local community spaces as a workshop for learning.
                     Likewise, Today some of the educators  wants the school to be there in a natural settings like in Vedic ashram. Some educators  feel a smart corporate set-up with glass and concrete school is a practically ideal environment for the future citizen. 

                    Author, as a designer of built-environment have some clear observations in designing environment for learning. The modern school design deliberately underplay the role of nature and community from school premises. Since, these buildings  are accepted as unsafe, hazardous and violent, so the children are nurtured in a protected and often sterile environment.
Creativity of the designer here gets restricted in  throwing colors and textural patterns to make the otherwise gloomy place little more cheerful.

                  The most important environment that a school child misses is the discovery of their self or inner environment. Creation of quality time and space are the pre-requisite for the same. And, this  can definitely ignite the inner spirit on the basis of true education. It is not necessarily be confused with introduction of religious sacred place or through rituals. This can be a very mundane space, where a child can feel just comfortable and happy  with one self, to talk to oneself or to hide their emotions. It is desirable  to discover and create such spaces.

                    To summarize these observations, the built-up spaces for a school should be as minimum as possible. It is a fact that,  most of the spaces are often underutilized in time span, and  it serves as a better shelter from rain and sun, flexible in incorporating various activities for the students, teachers and the community. The School should be embedded in existing nature and the community to share the benefits and responsibility of nurturing the growing child. This embedding of community is possible by sharing certain community spaces by the school or by inviting the community to conduct certain social activities in the school campus. The precious elements of nature in the form of open spaces, trees, shrubs, earth, rocks or ponds should be conserved as much as possible as open laboratory for learning for the benefit of the children.
                    Let us learn to appreciate some of these simple ideas in planning of  a environment friendly school. The use of alternative materials, construction methods and renewable energy resources will then fall in the line to support our sincere endeavour to create a better environment for learning.  


Prof Basu, is an Architect, presently working as a Professor in University of Mysore, is one of my best friends, he has commitment on designing low cost buildings by using alternative technology. It is one of his articles on alternative ideas on schools.
Your comments are welcome.

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