Inspiring education through great design

by Hannah von Ahlefeld
Analyst, OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments

In many parts of the world, schools have re-opened their doors after a long summer break. Like many parents, I was nervous about the first day of school. First impressions count. As we arrived, my kids remarked that the recently renovated Parisian suburb school looked attractive and welcoming. Inside the school, they noted the different learning spaces in the large open-plan classrooms. Students were moving quietly through the different activity areas, taking in their new surroundings and exchanging excited conversation with friends. “This looks like a fun place”, they remarked (concurring, exceptionally, and to my relief). “We like the brightly painted walls, and the cosy canteen and reading area. And we really love the pink toilets with the giant water fountain!”

OECD’s new publication Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011 is all about how design can create new and exciting opportunities for students, teachers, parents and communities. Opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of schools and promote environmental education. Opportunities to create a safe and secure environment for kids. Opportunities to inspire learning, improve the quality and inclusiveness of the learning environment, and bind schools and universities to their local communities. And opportunities to bring new technologies and dynamic pedagogies to the classroom.

The publication showcases over 60 exemplary schools and universities from 28 countries and includes examples of early childhood, primary, secondary, vocational and higher education facilities spanning countries in six continents, from India, Uruguay and Portugal, to Australia, United States and Burkina Faso. Published every five years, it reflects on what we have learned from the dynamic interplay between design and education over the last 40 years and on what could be possible in the next 40 years.

In these times of financial constraints, this publication is not a testament to iconic architecture or expensive state-of-the-art facilities. Investment in schools – through renovating, extending or constructing new schools – is a visible commitment to the community and a cost-effective way to revitalise local economies.

One of the best examples of this is Seven Fountains School in Kokstad, South Africa. This new school demonstrates the benefits of community involvement from the planning stage of the project. Local people were fully involved in the design and construction of the school, and they now make use of the facilities outside of school hours. There is a strong sense of community ownership, with high demand for places and no theft or vandalism of the property. Many of the design elements, such as the circular buildings and thatched roofs, reflect the local architecture. There are a variety of spaces for teaching and learning. Many classrooms have mezzanine or loft areas that provide breakaway spaces for creative teaching and for project work. Several features – such as sensors that measure room temperatures, light levels and energy consumption – act to reduce the environmental impact of the school, and they have been implemented at little or no extra cost.

To celebrate the launch of this publication, come along to the live webcast launch event and exhibition at the OECD Headquarters in Paris on the afternoon of 29 September 2011 or tune in to the webcast at

Download a sneak preview of the Compendium
Full information on the Compendium:
Website for the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments
Follow us on twitter @ OECD_Edu  #CELE

Leave a Reply