EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: Prior to co-founding Fielding Nair International, I worked for ten years as the Director of Operations for a multi-billion dollar school construction program for New York City. I also served as the Northeast Regional President of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International and the ICOPE Task Force, New York City’s Independent Commission on Public Education. In all these roles I spent a great deal of time studying how educational facilities affect learning, and how these spaces could be better designed to do so.
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: My firm has done projects and consultations in 43 countries on six continents, which has exposed me to the most innovative education practices in the world. The FNI design process begins with a school or district’s curriculum and educational vision, and our approach is built around developing a shared visualization for how each facility can enhance it. Every country today is struggling with how to best educate students to succeed today and in the future, and I feel it’s my calling to challenge clients to look beyond the traditional classroom-based school to facilities that support more innovative programs.
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: The world into which students are now entering is a technology-driven, global playing field and it is highly competitive. 21st century learning is learner-centered, inquiry-based, technology-rich, interdisciplinary, collaborative, and personalized. It’s about teaching students to become agile and lifelong learners so they have the skills to adapt to change, and the classroom formations of the past are far too limited to support these multiple learning modalities. Education spaces need to grow beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom and contain the varied spaces, flexible furnishings, transparency, and technological tools that push students to become better independent thinkers, collaborators, and problem solvers.
Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: In a recent study published by the American Educational Research Journal, entitled "Problem-Based Learning in K-12 Education," Clarice Wirkala and Deanna Kuhn document a 200% - 500% improvement in learning retention with authentically student-driven, enquiry-based learning. This is exactly the kind of learning supported by the varied spaces that FNI designs, including interconnected Learning Studios, Da Vinci Studios, Common Areas with hands on work areas and Small Meeting Rooms.
Question: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: Right now FNI has a long list of projects in places around the world, including Vancouver, Bangkok, Bangalore, Tanzania, Florida, Mallorca and Hawaii, and we have been expanding our ideas past the Pre-K – 12 range to higher education ventures as well. I’m also in the final phase of writing a book about innovative school design for the Harvard Education Press due to launch next year, and a new edition of The Language of School Design is also about to come out. Readers can check out the FNI website for more details about my work at Fielding Nair.
Image: Courtesy Prakash Nair