2018 is Scotland’s Year of Young People. Young People, wellbeing and creating better learning outcomes will be part of this year’s Education Buildings Scotland Conference in 2018. In the months leading up to the conference we will post a series of blogs and articles around the issue of wellbeing, design and young people at the heart of designing our learning spaces. In this blog Member of Scottish Youth Parliament, Jack Dudgeon MSYP for Eastwood and Vice Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament , asks designers to be radical when they create learning spaces.
We spend a third of our lifetime – just under 230,000 hours – in education.
9am – 4pm 5 days a week, 39 weeks a year until the age of 16, and in some cases a further five or ten years beyond that at college or uni. In fact, the average person spends the same amount of time in education as they do sleeping.
They say that your school days are the best days of your life – you make friends and forge bonds that can remain unbroken long into adulthood; you develop interests in the subjects you want to take forward which can eventually shape your future career; but, perhaps most importantly, educational environments help you to discover who you really are at a formative stage in your development.
Involve learners in design
We are not the gangly, spotty, socially awkward 13-year olds furiously scribbling down notes on photosynthesis and long division that we were during our school days (if you are, don’t worry – it gets better). What do you think we have to thank for that? Put simply, if not for the learning environments we grew up in, we wouldn’t be the people we are today.
“why is it that we don’t actively involve learners in the design of learning spaces?”
We expect young people to spend an enormous chunk of their time in learning environments, whether that’s primary school, secondary school, college, university or otherwise. They are clearly critically important to our development as people and as human beings. So why is it that we don’t actively involve learners in the design of learning spaces? It’s all very well having a group of middle-aged architects designing a new school. It might be functional as an educational establishment, it might even be aesthetically pleasing if you’re lucky. It ticks all the boxes of what a school needs to be a school. Except, it doesn’t.
If learners themselves, the young people who will be making use of the building, have not been meaningfully consulted and involved in the design process, that school is not the best it can be. In my role as a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), my job is to represent young people.
I’ve heard of learners who haven’t been able to concentrate in class because the design of their classroom is so uninspiring; learners who feel they haven’t reached their full potential because there’s no available free space in their school to just sit and read; learners who have become disengaged with the learning process itself because they have no contact with nature or the outdoors within their educational establishment.
Sure, these buildings are functional. They’re waterproof, they house up to 2,000 students and they have running water and electricity. But what works for adults isn’t always what works for young people. Involving young people in a meaningful and non-tokenistic way in the design of learning spaces is vital to ensuring that they’re equipped to serve the needs of learners themselves.
The needs of young people are all too often overlooked, and the results are educational institutions that simply don’t work for them. Even something as simple as a small reading area for students to make use of at lunchtime, some inbuilt seating or some kind of connection to the outdoors can inspire a student to reach their full potential, but is easily missed when young people aren’t asked their opinions and views.
It shouldn’t be a radical notion to involve young people in the decisions that affect them. But unfortunately, it seems to be. So my message to you would be this: be radical. Ask young people what they think. Ask if your designs are working for them. Ask if you’ve missed anything. Ask if your design is the kind of leaning environment they want to spend a third of their life and have some of their most formative moments in. Who knows – they might even come up with an idea or two to improve their design.
Image (crop) by Silje Elrin Aure