by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle
We all know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it appears that it also takes a school to raise a village, as educational facilities progressively transform into centres beyond their live functions for all ages—young or old—to live, learn, work and play in, all at once. All around the world we are increasingly seeing that no matter where we learn, the place where we learn matters. Schools are no longer simply for education but a springboard for strengthening social cohesion, advancing Green solutions and developing the economic viability of the communities they serve. Schools are part of a community and, beyond teaching, serve as extensions of social or ecological space, and that can range from a school that contributes to the long-term sustainable development of a rural village to the construction of a smart school building that saves space and energy while enhancing human comfort, acting as an educational tool on its own. This, therefore, implies a paradigm shift in the approach to the design of school buildings, moving beyond programming for education towards permeable boundaries and greater connectivity with neighbourhood networks.
Rebuilding a Village
Qinmo Primary School in Guangdong Province, located in one of China’s poorest areas with yearly earnings of US$200, goes beyond mere building construction by combining educational programmes and sustainable concepts. In 2006, the Green Hope Foundation had chosen Qinmo, a neglected and remote village, as the site for a new school focusing on environmental education.
The project seeks to rebuild the notion of the village as a community and to reinforce the idea that education is the primary tool for sustainable development, introducing villagers to changes in methods of agricultural production so the village becomes less reliant on outside remittances and moves towards economic self-sufficiency. The objective is the long-term sustainability of the village, and the hope is that the villagers will gradually resume interest in rural productivity as an alternative to the mass exodus to factory towns by the young and able-bodied, leaving behind children and the elderly, where farming increasingly becomes a secondary activity and the inhabitants depend on the income of their migrant parents, children or relatives.
Low Tech, High Impact
Turning conventional wisdom on its head, the Waterbank Schools initiative is transforming the design of school buildings worldwide by using rain as a catalyst for social, economic and environmental transformation. Showcasing a school’s commitment to sustainability and community development, Waterbank Schools serve as a pedagogical tool addressing social needs, helping people rise out of poverty mainly due to a lack of access to clean water, and making possible dramatic improvements in hygiene, health, crop cultivation and nutrition.
The Waterbank School building at Uaso Nyiro Primary School—recently named “The Greenest School on Earth” by the US Green Building Council (the other recipient was Sing Yin Secondary School in Hong Kong)—is a simply-constructed, low-tech but smart alternative to the four-classroom barrack-style, linear school building prevalent throughout the developing world. Costing less than US$60,000, it educates 350 students and supplies water to the 700-strong school community. Organised around a central courtyard that serves as a community classroom and that has already become an important gathering place for the school community, it houses an underground reservoir for water from the 557-square metre roof, designed to collect instead of deflect rainwater.
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