Over the last decade and a half there have been tremendous gains in global education enrollment. Nevertheless in 2014 the United Nations reported there that while more children than ever are going to school, many are not getting the basic reading and math skills they will need to escape poverty. In part this is due to a shortage of trained teachers, but it is also a result of the poor physical condition of many schools. The majority of schools in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, do not have access to electricity or potable water.

In order for the world to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all (Sustainable Development Goal 4), development practitioners are stepping up their game, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In addition, the global development community is focused on specific populations needing special attention, including refugee children, persons with disabilities, and those living in rural areas.

Redesigning the Physical Space.

While new technology may offer some a vision of education untethered to place, others are examining ways to redesign the built environment to improve the quality of learning outcomes.

A study published in Building and Environment in 2013 reviewed learning rates and classroom design in seven UK schools over the course of a year. Researchers evaluated the classroom environment along multiple design parameters, including classroom orientation, natural light and noise, temperature and air quality, as well as flexibility of space, storage facilities, and even the use of color. What they found was extraordinary – fully 73% of the variation in student performance, driven at the class level, could be explained by the physical environment.

Redesigning the built environment presents a unique challenge, given the wide range of factors that contribute to the human experience in a particular space. What we do know, is that great designs often begin with listening.

Read the full story about redesigning educational spaces in the developing world at Global Washington.