Environment as third teacher

Alternative primary school in Kwu Tung

Tiffanny Wong Yim Ling
MArch thesis 2017

“School” in Hong Kong has already become a machine for producing identical identities that fit into the existing educational system. According to “pedagogy of the oppressed” by Paulo Freire, this is called banking education: when education is a process of imposing knowledge into passive students; while teachers are the authority, students are the passive absorbers of information. The typical school in Hong Kong is like an isolated “island” where students are ordered to stay in fixed seats within a modular classroom waiting for information fed by teachers. Classrooms are linked by linear corridor and stairs with limited space for interaction. This way dynamic and interactive education can never be achieved.

According to Loris Malaguzzi one of the founders of the Reggio Emilia Approach, the first phase of learning of children is through interactions with parents and teacher, then through peers and ultimately the environment. Space, thus is the third teacher and of paramount importance towards the growth of children. Primary school is a critical stage for children to develop into an independent being. Children of this age are mostly emotional and expressive, which makes the influence of surrounding environment even more critical towards their growth. Educational space should be designed based on the development of children, also to encourage students to learn from the environment and not just from textbook. Instead of informing the students what an apple is, students should explore what a real apple is by themselves. Moreover, unlike the “island” schools, each school should be unique and be site-specific, where the surround environment can be utilized as a means of teaching materials, which also provides the school and the students a form of identity of place.

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