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Will COVID-19 cause us to rethink school design?

Better and Safer

The world is racing for a vaccine to COVID-19. If we’re lucky, we’ll have one in late 2020 or early 2021. But what if we’re not? What if living with COVID-19 is something we have to adjust to longterm? How could we redesign our schools to make them safer in a pandemic?

Prakash Nair
Prakash Nair

We posed that question to Prakash Nair, the Founding President and CEO of Education Design International and author of  “Learning by Design: Live Play Engage Create”.

Nair says that in a properly designed school, COVID – 19 would have a much smaller impact. Children would have more elbow room, and you would have “designed learning communities” rather then trapping students in classrooms. Nair says these learning communities would also utilize a lot of outdoor space.

Learning the expensive way

In the 1990s Nair was the director of operations for construction of New York City Schools.

“We were spending an average of a billion dollars every year during my ten years that I was in that position,” says Nair. “We built schools that were obsolete on the day they were opened.”

In fact, Nair says 95% of the schools built around the world are built the same way.

“Of course I didn’t realize it when we were building those schools. But when I realized it, I decided that I have to move on and leave that job behind.”

So Nair started his own company structured around one major principle —

What would happen if you designed school buildings based on the actual research about how children learn?

Nair says the majority of schools today are designed like a factory.

Hillel-School-Detroit-Heart-of-School-by-Prakash-Nair
Photo Credit: Education Design International

“If you think about the idea of sorting kids by age. Not based upon aptitude or interest, and stick them in a room with an adult. You can’t personalize obviously.”

We know that children are not parts in a factory, and you can’t churn out identical widgets, says Nair. Nor would you want to.

To hear some of Nair’s solutions for a better and safer designed school, listen to Episode 162 of Class Dismissed on your favorite podcast app or iTunes.

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