class in session
A few of us have been working with schools and after a client’s response to the question “What are you looking for in your new school?” was “We want this to be a school of the future,” I began to wonder what that meant.
Architecture for Humanity places schools high on their list of priorities because of their potential as a catalyst for change. Educating children means an educated population in the future, while investing in a school that benefits 800 students is easier and more cost effective that building homes or businesses for the same number (not that these amenities are not important of being invested in).
Traditional french style teaching is common through high school where most education stops for children in Haiti. Classes focus on grammer, science, French, sewing, embroidery, crafts, religion, and etiquette.(1) Though some of this education is cultural, much of the history and heritage of Haiti is learned at home. Those who wish to go on to a higher education generally leave to be educated elsewhere as no accreditation is given here.
In addition to classrooms, schools often include multi-purpose spaces for all-school gatherings, kitchen facilities, and sanitation blocks that have the potential as a community resource. Ideally schools would be open as public amenities for community classes or skills training after hours, but most schools in Haiti are private and therefor regularly guarded and fenced as security and safety is a constant concern. Privatization of education limits those who have access to it which further separates the desperately poor from those with money.
Perhaps ‘a school of the future’ opens after hours for public social or cultural education as one of schools we are working with has hopes of doing. This has the potential to enliven the community and build a local pride and sense of belonging.
With a hand in this kind of potential for change, I’ve found it is important to remember context. The question “What is the school of the future?” should really be “What is the school of the future here?”. In our excitement to embrace sustainable solutions to issues surrounding sanitation and water, it is important to remember that the bio-digesters and composting toilets that we envision as moving forward with an environmentally responsible design, may seem like a second rate toilet to a flushing system when all you’ve ever known is a latrine. The human factor is more important than ever. Low budget projects in poverty stricken neighborhoods with limited resources are still projects that are used everyday for work, play, and education. They should be beautiful, intelligent, and creative manifestations of a vision for the future of Architecture.
(1) Design 4 Haiti. A Field Guide for School Designs in Haiti. The School of Architecture College of Design: University of Minnesota. 2011.