"Learners in supportive environments have high levels of self-efficacy and self-motivation and use learning as a primary transformative force."1Welcoming the learner –child, youth or adult– in an environment where they can feel safe and nurtured for is very important for the development of each individual and the society as a whole. Addressing the issue of learning environment in a comprehensive and systematic way is even more critical in countries with limited financial resources. These scarce resources should be invested with a clear definition of what constitutes an enabling learning environment and with a clear benchmarking of progress toward the attainment of that environment. Despite the wide variety of learning systems and complexity of layers of decision-making, it is critical to not lose the importance of building learning environments and integrate these aforementioned considerations in a national and local policy context.
Learning takes place in multiple settings and the learning environment can be structured or unstructured and the learning in different environments can complement each other. Formal and non-formal education occurs mainly in structured environments in the form of institutions (schools, community centers, multimedia centers, learning villages/cities, etc.). Informal education on the other hand takes place in both structured and unstructured environments. This Analytical Tool focuses on structured environments. The paramount question this toolkit aims to address is: Have we assured every learner an environment that is both physically and psychosocially enabling to their learning and thus conducive to improving the quality of education and learning effectiveness? Through a series of structured questions, the toolkit supports an in-depth analysis of the different aspects of the learning environment both physical and psychosocial and also the policy context.
Diagnosis and analysis
Policies, instruments and process in support of a good learning environment
- How well do existing policy guidelines and instruments ensure enabling learning environments? To what extent are our legal frameworks consistent with the goal of creating an enabling learning environment? What is the evidence that they support a rights-based approach to education (the principles of availability and accessibility for all, non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, fundamental freedoms)?
- To what extent do education quality improvement efforts reflect the learning environment as key factors of achieving quality education for all? What key dimensions of these environments are taken into account and using what instruments?
- What is the mechanism for participation of the education community (administrators, headmasters, teachers, learners, counselors, support staff, etc.), in setting the criteria for a good learning environment? How do we ensure a gender balance? Has the mechanism been effective? How do we know?
- What is the role of centralized/decentralized structures in defining an enabling learning environment? [Link to Analytical Tool on Governance
- What evidence exit that current policies, legal frameworks and instruments have been effective in improving the learning environment? Which are the mechanisms in place for data collection and analysis to support measures to create and sustain a good learning environment?
The physical learning environment
1. What mechanisms (guidelines, standards, norms and safety requirements) have we in place to address the selection of sites and the design and construction process of our learning places? To what extent the community, including staff, learners, and villagers is consulted in the planning and design? What is the evidence that these standards and requirements are adhered to? (See Promising Practice : Rwanda’s child friendly schools infrastructure standards and guidelines)
2. How do we ensure that our physical spaces correspond to the requirements set in our educational policies and programs (e.g. availability of laboratories to ensure the delivery of science programs; ICTs spaces, etc.)?
3. What concrete measures have we taken to ensure that access routes to the learning places are safe and secure for all, especially for girls and women?
4. What physical conditions exist in learning settings that may impact on the health of learners (e.g. access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation facilities, lighting, ventilation and heating, drainage and dampness)? Do we have separate provision of sanitation facilities for girls and boys?
5. How do we ensure the needs of learners with disabilities?
6. How do we ensure equitable distribution of physical learning environment throughout the country (e.g. rural versus urban)? What is the evidence that physical infrastructure and facilities are distributed equitably in accordance with policy goals?
7. How efficiently are physical environments utilized and maintained? To what extent is it closely monitored? What is being done to address possible poor management and maintenance of infrastructure?
The psychosocial learning environment
(See: Note on phychosocial learning environment)
1. What concrete measures have we taken to address discrimination, to ensure respect for diversity and to promote living together?( See Promising Practice on rights, respect: a Whole School approach, United Kingdom)
2. What are the measures put in place to protect our learners, such as safety and protection from violence (including corporal and humiliating forms of punishment of children): physical violence; bullying; mental/psychological violence; cyber bullying, external violence (e.g. effects of gangs, conflict situation)? To what extent does our curriculum integrate the necessary tools against violence? (See Promising Practice : Anti-bulling programme in Finland)
3. What is the evidence on the type, form and extent of violence on our learners? What national mechanisms for data collection, monitoring and evaluation of violence exist?
4. What are the vigilance mechanisms (national/regional/local levels) within the learning environment?
5. Do we have a national policy/plan/framework in regard to health and nutrition in schools? If so, what aspects (e.g. HIV and AIDS, malaria, deworming, school feeding, etc.) does it cover? How effective is the implementation? Which specific health and nutrition issues merit more specific policies/plans/frameworks?
6. To what extent do our educational policies promote effective Guidance and Counseling Programmes innovations that are sustainable, demand driven and implementable? What types of services and thematic areas are included in our guidance and counseling programme policy?
Priorities for action
1. What are the key areas to be addressed urgently to make our learning environment conducive to delivering quality education to all our learners?
2. What are the knowledge gaps which need to be filled for an evidence-based policy on the provision of adequate and quality physical and psychosocial learning environment?
3. What are the required actions to deal with the priority constraints and the identified knowledge gaps?