Schools will need to look at connected spaces, natural ventilation and outdoor learning spots, says Anupama Mohanram
The past few months have made us realise the importance of personal interactions for our children. It is clear that however efficient or effective online education might be, they need to spend a certain amount of time in the company of others. The physical classroom environment promotes and stimulates collaborative learning and brings about the much-needed social interaction with staff and other students.
As we wait for schools and colleges to reopen, what are some of the changes needed in their physical infrastructure to ensure the safety of students and staff?
It is now evident that any new school being constructed should consider the pandemic and ensure that the planning of built spaces will address these conditions going forward. Existing schools will have to look into their current infrastructure and make appropriate adjustments.
A key lesson learnt from COVID-19 is that mechanical conditioning of indoor spaces is not ideal for occupants. Naturally ventilated and sun-lit spaces are healthier — they not only help prevent the spread of any infection, but also aid in faster healing. Spaces such as classrooms — where students and staff spend a lot of time — need to ensure adequate access to breeze and light. Personal space is another important factor to be considered to ensure the maintenance of social distancing without too many changes.
Existing schools could look into opening out closed classrooms to cater to the above two requirements. Windows could be made larger, additional doorways could be opened out to ensure easy access to the outdoors. Creating ‘verandah’ like spaces — that expand the classroom and allow for distancing and spillover of students so they do not feel trapped inside — is another option.
Kindergarten and/or primary classrooms could be opened out to connect two classrooms via an open archway that can be closed if needed by blinds. Installation of insulation on the rooftops could be planned to ensure indoor spaces remain cool and comfortable without the need for mechanical air conditioning.
Spaces could also be created for outdoor learning in smaller groups. Built-in brick and stone seating around or near trees and stepped seating can be created to add more interest. Such spaces can alternatively be used for events and meetings.
Sanitisation stations should be installed at entry points and must be equipped with adequate handwash facilities with separators to prevent crowding. A variety of innovative roof-covered structures and unique signages could be incorporated to make these zones interesting for children.
Opening out indoor spaces and creating flexible transitions will not only ensure schools are better prepared to deal with such pandemics in the future, but will also create a healthy environment for children to spend time in.
The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a sustainable architecture firm
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