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Blog: Sirpa Vaarmala, Director, Education, Martela

“The most important thing for a young pupil is to learn to read, to do mathematics and to get along with others,” one of my teacher-friends says. This is a very good summary. In fact, teachers face quite a task in getting excited first-graders to follow common rules so that work gets done and goals are achieved.

The first and perhaps most important thing is to ensure that children feel safe. When they are getting used to each other and their new situation, you must be able to deal with the less outgoing philosophers and more active rascals. This is easier in a learning environment that has been designed and adapted to take into account and manage different needs.

Teachers have noticed that even small children know how to use versatile spaces and intuitively choose the learning environment that best suits them. The older the students, the greater the need for spaces that enable them to work in a versatile way alone and in groups and to improve their skills in ways that are best for them.
 

Learning spaces must also be adaptable for future changes

It is a teacher’s job to teach and students’ to learn – this has not changed. However, the ways of teaching have changed radically in recent years.
 

Nobody yet knows what the future will bring and how subjects will change or what skills will be needed in the future.


What is obvious is that there will be plenty of change in the future. This is why it makes sense to create learning environments that are easy to adapt for needs that we do not yet recognise.

Traditionally, when a new school is built or an old one modernised, it will be furnished with new furniture that is expected to last at least 20 years, although everyone knows that even high-quality furniture will suffer from heavy use. Time and wear will unavoidably affect comfort and the efficiency of the use of space.

It would be so much easier if principals or municipalities did not have to invest in new furniture every time a new student starts school, there are more first graders than the year before or classrooms have to be altered because of integration. Or if storing extra chairs and desks when there are fewer students than before was not an issue.
 

What if learning environments were always optimal and functional?


The lunch room would have the right number of chairs and tables that are in good condition. Learning areas would be adaptable and hence always suitable for each situation. Solutions would be ergonomic and students could work on a computer without having to strain their necks because of the low chairs. Benches in lobbies would be kept clean and broken sofas would be replaced.


Learning environments as a service: a new application of a familiar concept

Everyone can enjoy facilities that are always up-to-date and in good condition when new furniture is no longer purchased and complete learning environments are procured as a service.

Leasing is nothing new, of course: schools often lease computers and other equipment. Furniture can also be leased in the same way. Service agreements include, as well as furniture, user-centred specification and planning that engages school personnel, facilities maintenance and servicing, regular surveys and monitoring of user experience, and the optimisation of facilities when needs change.

The service model also provides excellent temporary solutions. When a school moves to a temporary location so that the school building can be modernised and old furniture damaged by moisture cannot be used, it can lease a learning environment that meets the school’s pedagogical plan.

The purpose of a learning environment is to promote learning and teaching in a way that meet all needs and situations. Continuous maintenance ensures that the environment is always pleasant and that both students and teachers enjoy working in it. The service model is a new, more flexible answer to these needs.


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