The global impact of competition in education is prevalent. Nations are advancing education reform through government policy to achieve learning outcomes relevant to new economies, support high-quality learning environments, and promote learning readiness with early-childhood education. Developing nations are bringing up a new generation of well-educated students to compete globally.

Do school designs support global education-reform initiatives? Advancing nations seek U.S. assistance to design facilities that support education reform. Just as the U.S. economy has served as a model for other nations to emulate, so is the pattern with school design. Economic and development organizations provide another perspective, placing the United States 18th in high school graduation rates among 36 nations examined. U.S. math and science test scores for 15-year-olds have dropped the past three years. Still, school designs in the United States are viewed by the world as supporting and enhancing global education reform.

Our children will graduate into a world very different from today. Rapidly changing economies, technologies and societies are connecting the world more than ever. New skill sets in global knowledge are needed that go beyond math, reading and science basics. Governments, businesses and education institutions understand the need for global competency. U.S. education is resilient, flexible and adaptable; likewise forward-thinking school districts desire adaptable and flexible facilities.

International awareness

Developing countries are advancing in performance, especially in primary and secondary education; parents, teachers and communities emphasize education as the pathway to a better life. Nations are re-evaluating education policies and curricula to compete globally, and staff development places more emphasis on global content. Higher-education mobility has become the product of global emphasis in primary and secondary education. The number of mobile students has risen dramatically in the early 21st century. In 2007, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia and Germany hosted 58 percent of the world's mobile students (the United States hosted nearly one-third) with emphasis in business, science, engineering, manufacturing and the arts. China annually has more than 400,000 people studying overseas, according to UNESCO's Global Education Digest 2009.

Nations recognize long-term benefits of education and look internationally to benchmark education systems and policy changes. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) enables nations to compare performance of education systems worldwide.

In the 20th century, a highly qualified U.S. workforce transformed the nation into the dominant world economy. Now, most industrialized countries have caught up with U.S. high school graduation rates. For example, South Korea went from minimal ranking to obtaining the highest school graduation rates in the world. As U.S. student enrollment subsides, the workforce will shrink while other nations experience enrollment growth and expand their education systems and workforce.

Performance is not simply a matter of money. It is based on strategies supporting high standards, accountability and autonomy, strengthened teacher professionalism and personalized learning. It is reminiscent of the 1996 “Breaking Ranks” themes from the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). That report prescribed personalization, coherency, time and organization, technology, professional development and leadership as necessary shifts to advance teaching for the 21st century.

The knowledge economy

An obvious catalyst for education reform is information technology. E-learning strategies include teacher training, online curricular and learning portals, national communications programs connecting remote communities through fiber optics, and modernization of learning processes to encourage innovation and creativity. Creating computer labs and mobile access portals is a straightforward strategy to embed technology into new learning approaches. New school designs with voice, data, video systems and cabling or wireless infrastructure support e-learning. Schoolwide paging/intercom communications and electronic security systems help create safe learning environments. Students learning new technologies acquire information, perform research and communicate globally as required in a knowledge economy. Once e-learning is initiated, a learning paradigm shift occurs.

The pedagogical paradigm moves from “teacher-controlled instruction” to “student-centered learning,” and education reform begins: student-centered learning with diverse teaching methods in lieu of teacher-delivered instruction; specified learning outcomes with time variables in lieu of specified time with varied learning; discovery and understanding in lieu of knowledge transfer; choice, experimentation and risk assessment in lieu of a prescribed approach.

All these methods are supported by a variety of physical spaces beyond the traditional classroom. Students learn how to innovate by setting goals and using talents and creativity to follow their interests. They receive opportunities to define how to reach outcomes and are encouraged to look beyond textbooks to explore what is meaningful personally. Teachers have responsibilities to demonstrate innovation, creativity and variety in teaching, and students are given the freedom to select resources and vary the order in which topics are introduced to reach outcomes. Teachers are facilitators of learning instead of the source of knowledge, and give greater consideration to a student's learning needs.

New school models

The paradigm shift from instruction to learning occurs in school, at home and in the community; it is ongoing and lifelong, and requires new school designs. Design models supporting new education delivery methods have emerged in the United States the past 10 years and are being emulated worldwide.

Class-size reduction and lower teacher-student ratios are manifestations of a shift from traditional instruction to student-centered learning; the trend is toward creation of a variety of learning spaces with access to technology. New design models support flexibility and different learning approaches via large-small group rooms, specialized labs, student-resource areas, gathering spaces, meeting rooms, staff development and planning areas, and spaces for community use. New designs emphasize community and student-services components, including health clinics, guidance and career centers, multipurpose community rooms, media centers and outdoor learning and physical-education areas. The new design models must support traditional self-contained classroom instruction, while engaging "rotation" or movement of students for interdisciplinary learning, pull-out programs, project-based curricula, teacher-student mentoring and varied learning approaches.

Because community interaction and lifelong learning are integral to education reform, spaces with technology access for community after-hours learning should be inviting, yet have controlled access for security purposes. With flexible and adaptable learning spaces, new trends in educational delivery can develop.

New design models promote healthful and safe learning environments through code compliance, security systems, indoor air quality and daylighting. Architectural and engineering systems emphasize sustainability, energy efficiency, low operation and maintenance costs, and higher quality for extending useful life. Fixtures, furniture and equipment must support the curriculum, and be age-appropriate and durable.

Nations pursuing education reform seek unique school designs so students, parents, communities and other countries take notice of new teaching and learning opportunities. New design models look different from traditional schools; architectural design and landscaping are eye-catching; they draw attention and curiosity.

Advancing nations desire modernization to further advance their standard of living. The United States and other countries can offer many creative approaches for improving the education process. New school design models that are flexible and adaptable support this effort and bolster global education reform.

Erickson, AIA/NCARB/REFP, is president of ATS&R Planners/Architects/Engineers, a multi-disciplined firm specializing in preK-12 school planning and design, Minneapolis. He can be reached at perickson@atsr.com.

Jordan reforms education to compete in a global economy

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is focused on improving public education so its workforce can compete in a global economy. Jordan has embraced initiatives of lifelong learning, responsiveness to the economy, access to information and communications technology, and high-quality learning. These initiatives create well-educated, broadly skilled, adaptable and motivated citizens. Jordan's economy is moving toward global competition.

The country's Education Reform for a Knowledge Economy (ERfKE) project, overseen by the Ministry of Education, will modernize the economy through four components:

  1. Reorient educational policy objectives through governance and administrative reform.

  2. Transform education programs and practices to achieve learning outcomes relevant to the knowledge economy.

  3. Support the provision of high-quality learning environments.

  4. Promote readiness for learning for early-childhood education.

World organizations support Jordan's ERfKE program by providing schools that are safe, modern and supplied with effective teaching resources. The project reduces classroom crowding; the reliance on inappropriate, rented facilities in poor condition; and double-shifting. It accommodates enrollment growth and improves facilities to support student-centered learning.

The Ministry of Education began ERfKE with a four-year process of rewriting curriculum, encouraging teachers to use technology to broaden student learning. Teachers facilitate learning, select resources and customize the introduction of topics. To support the new learning model, new school designs are being created.

As educational specifications and designs are developed, Jordan's demographics, history and culture are researched; architects, planners, education leaders, practitioners and Ministry of Education officials collaborate to design new schools to support Jordan's education reform.