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Rethinking Learning Space and Pedagogy in Africa

By Chipo Marunda-Piki

I am an Educator by design. It has become valuable to improve teaching and learning practices for learners so as to ensure academic success. Through an action research, I set out to assess the extent to which elements of space affect the development of academic skills in my learners. This article is a glimpse into my journey as a teacher-researcher and into how I can use space as curriculum in my teaching and learning in Southern Africa. Space encompasses a range of aspects, including the physical setting and the psychological environment that is related through a social context. There are new strategies the world over calling for the rethinking of classroom design to accommodate active learning, collaboration, interaction, and social engagement in learners. In my teaching, I aim to nurture learners that work independently. Today’s education system calls for learners that engage material creatively and critically. The question I set out to answer in my investigation was: How do we configure learning spaces in a way that will ensure effective teaching and learning? The majority of schools in Africa consider the learning space as merely a facility in which to house learners and not as a space for eliciting learner engagement, ideas, and motivation. Regardless of the tremendous research taking place around the world into the effect of learning spaces on students, very little has been done to explore the impact such environments may have on the performance of learners. There is a gap between understanding the actual configuration of a space and its value. In observing my learners, it became clear that space is closely interwoven with pedagogy. There is a psycho-social concept that closely links a learner’s security and identity with space. Moreover, there is a relationship between space and the retention of knowledge. The ability of space to affect our senses contributes to the sagacity of familiarity, which either creates alienation or comfort, thus affecting the learner’s performance. In my action, I observed that the psychology of color affects my learners’ moods, perceptions of the subject, cooperation, behavior, and productivity. I began to make a study of the effect of color and noted how we associate colors with emotions. Red correlates with love, passion, anger, and danger. Orange is closely linked to happiness, excitement, and enthusiasm; to promote a sense of comfort and security it is usually recommended for babies. Yellow is more cheerful and energetic; however, it causes eye fatigue and causes babies to cry. My action research study made an observation of color and its effect on learners’ attitudes towards learning, memory encoding, and retrieval of knowledge in the classroom. I realized that my learners have a biological reaction to color; the way color transmits through the eyes affects their mood, metal clarity, and activeness in the lesson. Through evidence provided in the focus group discussion, my action research observed that there is a strong contradiction between the learner’s perception, the school’s facilities, and modern trends in space configuration. Schools tend to make design choices based on functionality and cost efficiency. For example, scholars such as Helen Englebrecht present the notion that cool tones help to calm hormones. Yet none of the classrooms in which I teach feature a deliberate choice of color. Learners are exposed to white walls, which research has labeled as boring and uninspiring. Learners agreed that a well-executed pallet can enhance the absorption of information and contribute to the learning process. A carefully configured space allows learners to feel a sense of belonging and connect to the pedagogy. My teaching style is also greatly affected by space configuration and the manipulation of space to suit more current trends results in a change in the way I implement the curriculum. Educators should seriously take space into account as a major contributing factor in the teaching and learning of students. It is time to have a conversation about space as curriculum in the African classroom. Space ought to contribute to the nurturing of learners’ intelligence and develop the potential of all learners. It is not enough for us to use learning spaces to house students; our facilities ought to encourage the empowerment of learners and teachers as they engage pedagogy. As my research progresses, I look forward to delving into the contributions of lighting, sound, design aesthetics, and classroom arrangement in shaping the performance of my learners. l Chipo Marunda-Piki teaches at Lusaka International Community School in Zambia.

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