#BaLA – Building as Learning Aid

Let us dream about the school first!
Let us first imagine the school as a space for children. Imagine yourself to be a child once again.

  • Imagine a tree where the branches are so low that you can horse ride on it. Imagine a tyre train or a tyre swing. Imagine a mound on which you can roll down.
  • Or a window security grill which has interesting patterns to move your fingers on. Or a wall on which you can make your painting or a floor on which you can write a poem and nobody scolds you for that. Or another wall behind which you can play hide and seek, while peeping. Or a pipe through which you can talk to your friend on the other side of the wall.
  • Imagine a periscope through which you can not only talk to your friend but also see her. Or a fan with seven colours that vanish when it rotates.
  • Imagine a shop where you can buy or sell anything you want to, with your friends.
  • A cave where you can sit quietly and see the world going by.
  • Imagine a patch of blue sunlight that moves through the day in your room. Imagine a quiet corner, where you can be alone, or discuss your problems with a very close friend. Imagine a place where you can make your own game on the floor and play with a friend. Imagine a colourful garden with lot of fragrances and trees where birds make their nests. Imagine a garden where the moment your friend is hurt, you know a plant that you can use as a medicine to heal.

To imagine and to dream is to make something possible. BaLA is one such dream.

Building as Learning Aid, or BaLA as it is now popularly known, is about creating such possibilities for learning in all existing as well as new school environments.

So, what is BaLA?
BaLA is about developing the school’s entire physical environment as a learning aid – the inside, the outside, the semi-open spaces – every where. At the core, it is about maximizing the educational ‘value’ of a built space. It is based on ‘how children learn’.

Schools are specialized spaces for learning. Traditionally, school buildings were conceived to provide shelter to the activity of education. They were treated as structures of bricks and mortar, rather than as enclosures that encompass a learning environment. Often, not much attention is paid to the interface between building design and the design of the teaching and learning program – how the use of space and its constituent elements, including lighting and ventilation, can support more diverse learning activities apart from frontal teaching (for example, for small group learning, individual reading, for project work).

The fact that physical space can be a resource in the teaching-learning process has never been explored seriously. Buildings are also the most expensive physical asset of a school. By innovatively treating the school spaces (e.g. classroom, circulation spaces, outdoors, natural environment) and their constituent built elements (like the floor, wall, ceiling, door, windows, furniture, open ground) a range of learning situations and materials can be integrated such that they can actively be used as a learning resource. This resource can complement the teaching process and supplement textbook information, much beyond providing wall space for posters and decoration.

A three-dimensional space can offer a unique setting for a child to learn because it can introduce a multiple sensory experience into the otherwise uni-sensory textbook or a blackboard transacted by a disinterested teacher. It can make abstract concepts more concrete and real from the child’s perspective. Dimensions, textures, shapes, angles and movement can be used to communicate some basic concepts of language, science, mathematics and environment, to make learning a truly enjoyable and memorable experience for children.

Building as a Learning Aid (BaLA) aims to use the built elements like the floor, walls, pillars, staircases, windows, doors, ceilings, fans, trees, flowers, or even rainwater falling on the building as learning resource.

For example, a window grill can be designed to help the children practice pre-writing skills or understand fractions; a range of angles can be marked under a door shutter on the floor to explain the concept of angles; or ceiling fans can be painted with colour wheels for the children to enjoy ever-changing formations; moving shadows of a flag-pole to act like a sundial to understand different ways of measuring time; planting trees that shed their leaves in winters and are green in summers to make a comfortable outdoor learning space.

Focusing on child-friendliness
While child-friendliness seems like an attitudinal issue, it is also an issue to be addressed in the design of physical environments of schools. From the most basic provisioning of seating and chalkboards to the more complex ones like hardware, sanitary and plumbing fittings in classrooms and toilets, all need to be designed and constructed from the perspective of child friendliness. BaLA attempts to encompass a holistic view through all such details of the physical environment and make learning fun and child centric.

Essentially, BaLA is about

  • Child-friendly learning environment.
  • Learning by doing and experiencing.
  • Involving multiple senses in the learning process.
  • Allowing different children to learn at a different pace.
  • Learning through peer group activities.
  • Developing inclusive settings for all children.
  • Allowing children to learn all the time in the school environment.

What can BaLA do?
For children, it can help in developing

  1. Language and Communication skills
  2. Numeracy skills
  3. Abstract notions through concrete examples
  4. Respect for nature and environment
  5. Capability to realize potential of available resources
  6. Power of observation