The Finnish National Board of Education organised an international conference on the learning environment and its relation to pedagogy, student achievement and well-being at school in April 2006, offering visits to local schools. The conference emphasised the importance of physical factors for schoolwork. How can we create innovative and inspiring learning environments now and in the future, what are the criteria for evaluating school buildings, and what kinds of demands does fast-developing information technology pose?
Entitled “The School of Tomorrow – Learning Environment, Pedagogy and Architecture”, the conference gathered in Helsinki almost 100 participants from 21 countries to hear Finnish speakers and guest-speakers from abroad.
The Finnish speakers presented the country’s education system, the processes of school construction and the quality criteria for a good school. These criteria were created in response to the need to evaluate the school environment; they help the teaching staff and building owners to assess their school buildings. The school library was noted as an important element in the Finnish school as the central learning resource.
Petter Åkerblom from Sweden gave inspiring examples of how the school yard can function as a classroom. Very startling was the case in which children built a miniature model of a mediaeval village from paper pulp and cardboard, and after its completion the model was burnt down. The project taught children about history, mediaeval cities, handicraft and art, but also about mortality and the temporary nature of life.
Mukund Patel spoke on the United Kingdom’s school building programme. The tremendous need to provide new school facilities and refurbish existing schools is putting considerable pressure on the country’s education budget.
Pamela J. Loeffelman presented award-winning school projects in the United States that have been part of a programme by the American Institute of Architects. For many years the programme has tried to find the best examples of school architecture that adapt new and inspiring concepts for the learning environment.
The school of today and of the future no longer conforms to the traditional corridor/classroom concept, in which long rows of similar classrooms are connected by a hallway. Rather, the new school building is often analogous to the urban environment: it resembles a small community or village built around a square. The square is the scene of information searching and processing, meals, encounters and social intercourse.
School is a multifunctional concept, not only a place for teaching and learning but also a place for social interaction, both for children and adults. Outside normal school hours, schools can become small community centres.
The conference programme included visits to comprehensive, general and vocational upper secondary schools, which complemented the Finnish presentations and illustrated the character of today’s Finnish school: open, transparent and flexible, with multifunctional spaces.
Three Finnish schools
Hösmärinpuiston koulu (Hösmärinpuisto School)
This school in Espoo is a leading example of a flexible, multiuse building that combines ecological ideas and construction using local materials into a remarkable design. Completed in 2005, the facility provides educational and development programmes for up to 250 children and is used extensively by the local community for various activities.
Järvenpään Lukio (Järvenpää Upper Secondary School)
The new upper secondary school in Järvenpää counts more than 50 staff members who serve its 860 students.
A domed roof covers extensive accommodation for different subject areas grouped into faculties. These are located off a circular three-storey area, along with dedicated meeting rooms, independent-study rooms, cafeterias, a library, an integrated gymnasium with saunas and the administrative section.
Arabianrannan peruskoulu (Arabianranta Comprehensive School)
The Arabianranta Comprehensive School, formerly a rehabilitation centre, was refurbished to accommodate Finland’s ten years of basic education. The school building is divided into small units comprised of a few classrooms, a space for group work and a working room for the unit staff. Doors between classrooms facilitate classes working together, and the corridor walls are of glass to allow for greater interaction.
For further information, contact:
Reino Tapaninen, Chief Architect
Finnish National Board of Education
PO Box 380