Learning spaces need more technology to prepare students for new career paths, say UAE architects
Across the GCC, education projects are demanding far more integration of technology than ever before in order to be competitive in the marketplace, attract enrolment and prepare students for the rapidly diversifying job market. But with technology advancing faster than schools can be built, how are architects meeting the new age requirements? And how are they designing spaces that last?
This month, Middle East Architect spoke to a handful of architects who work across the GCC. While noting the rise of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as leading markets in the GCC, the architects added that region-wide, intensified urbanisation has contributed to the growth of multi-cultural urban communities that seek to have diversified educational approaches and quality education for their children.
According to Altug Ajun, executive director at ATI Consultants, Architects & Engineers, this means creating immersive, interactive and flexible spaces that are dedicated to facilitating learning through activities.
“Technology has affected all areas of life and work, and education is no exception,” he said. “The replacement of whiteboards with smartboards and the installation of charging stations for electronic devices in classrooms demonstrate the impact of the ongoing technological revolution in the education industry. Apart from this, flexibility of spaces specifically designed for the collaborative use of instructors as well as students to enhance their learning experience through interaction and creative, unconventional thinking is a major design element being implemented.”
“Technology is transforming the way users live, think, work and play,” added Ahmed Abdel Hamid, lead design at NEB’s education department. “Not only has this led to the advent of ‘smart classrooms’ and technologically rich learning environments, it has also brought about a wide range of occupations that require equally enhanced cognitive abilities to be developed in children.”
To adapt to these changes, Hamid said, the highly controlled and standardised model of the traditional classrooms has been replaced by phenomenon-based ‘active’ learning environments where students can gain practical and theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience.
Students no longer simply sit at desks and listen to teachers, confirmed the architects. Education spaces are designed to adjust to student numbers, seating arrangements, lighting, acoustics, technology and other learning factors.
“The notion of the ‘front’ of the class has disintegrated,” said Hamid. “Each wall of the classroom adds to the learning experience with smart boards, touchscreens and interactive televisions. Learning happens through collaboration between the students and the teacher, where the teacher works alongside the students. This engagement on different topics and discussions has proved to have a better learning outcome as it generates curiosity in the children to study topics in greater depth, thus retaining the knowledge more effectively than memorising it.”
The changes in education design further complement the rise of online courses and “distance education programmes”. The schools of tomorrow, said the architects, will focus on facilities and learning environments that are not available online, placing emphasis on the social spaces, advanced multi-functional labs, playground and facilities for sports and theatre.
“Architects are faced with a multitude of challenges in education design,” said Charl Goldblatt, design manager at U+A.
He added, “One of which is the creation of learning spaces that are adaptable and flexible to the needs of learners in a contemporary society where traditional professions and careers are no longer the norm. We are seeing a multitude of new professions and career opportunities in today’s market and we need to ensure our educational facilities are designed in a way that facilitates these not yet known possibilities.”