By M. W. FRANKLIN
ONE is continually subjected, through newspaper and broadcasting. lo discussions on education. This is particularly so with the recent Robbins and Newsom reports on secondary and further education receiving active consideration at government level, and with such controversial talking points as the new Pitman alphabet and the old favourite — I I-plus still uppermost in the minds of parents and teachers alike.
But an aspect of the educational scene which should have stimulated controversy because of its vital nature—but has not —is the selection of the right equipment and environment to be provided and created as an aid to teaching.
Because of the projected multi-million increases in State expenditure on education, more emphasis will be given in the near future to the building of new schools and the reequipping of old. ln a few years time we will have in Britain an educational system which has not only survived the turmoil of discussion on educational methods but is also wellequipped throughout.
It is easy to think of school as being very much a matter of a teacher. a desk and books, some to read from, and some to write in. But the development of new teaching methods has marched forward with considerable improvements in the educational equipment field so that the pattern of teaching is much different to what it was twenty, or even ten, years ago.
Buildings and environment
An obvious and immediate example of the impact of technology on education has been the increasing use of television for teaching. The television authorities now provide educational programmes which can be fitted into the schedule of instruction at all schools and for all age levels.
The ingenuity of manufacturers of equipment for schools has had its impact in many ways. It is increasingly realised that a child's capacity for learning is closely related to the environ
ment in which it is taught.
Detailed scientific and pyschological consideration of the various factors involved in this problem has given birth to a new era in the design and equipping of schools and other educational establishments.
Architects are now well accustomed to planning, within their cost limitations, buildings which are relatively cheap to provide and at the same time, give the sort of environment which is conducive to stimulate interest in the mind of the child arid make him. or her, feel more all-round physical and mental comfort at school.
The days of old, when brown paint work and heavy oak desks were to be found widely are now past. The accent today is on lighter furniture which can be stacked or moved in the corners of the room, leaving space free for other purposes at special times. and for the lighter pastel shades in interior decoration, linked with much more window area.
Flooring, door and stairway designs have also improved considerably. Emphasis has been placed on the importance of good ventilation and also on the layout of educational buildings so that classrooms are separated from gymnasiums to reduce the distracting effect of noise during study periods, and on the arrangement of laboratories and handicraft departments to gain maximum possible benefit with good space utilisation.
it has now become a tradition with school buildings to provide them with movable partitioning which enables alterations in interior layout to be made quickly and simply when desired, and also to fabricate buildings to systems which allow them to be extended without the expensive and difficult operations which have to be undergone to knock down brick walls and lay costly foundations in extending and traditional types of building.
Impact of technology
Furniture manufacturers, many of whom have developed their products with schools very much in mind, now provide equipment which, in colour and form, is ideal for school use. This applies not only to the more obvious pieces of furniture, like desks and chairs, but also to tables of various shapes and sues, permitting many different arrangements.
Display boards, blackboards, and similar equipment, also show advances in design intended to make the task of the teacher an easier one.
Advances in science generally, particularly in the electric and electronic fields, have had their effect on the pattern of education. Very refined equipment is now available for both sound and visual projection with slides and films, and a particularly ingenious device has recently made its appearance
which will, in time, revolutionise teaching.
This is a portable overhead projector which can be placed on a desk. The teacher, instead of using conventional equipment such as a blackboard, sits at the projector and writes his comments in ordinary sized handwriting on a horizontal plate.
'Be image of his inscription is enlarged and projected on to any screen, or suitable white surface—a classroom wall is often ideal—providing an area of image large enough to be seen clearly by every member of the class. The obvious advantages in efficiency, speed and convenience should make this development a "must" in the schoolroom of the future.
Although at the present time teaching machines have not found wide application, it is only a matter of time before these devices achieve universal acceptance. They enable instruction to be given without the need of Close teacher supervision. and since a teaching programme can be preset, it enables the best possible utilisation of time.
With teaching machines of the type currently available in Britain the users of machines may plan their own programmes quite simply, merely needing a fundamental understanding of the science and, to some extent, the art of logically sequenced subject material.
In art and handicrafts rooms also, science has had a very noticeable impact. Water and oil paint manufacturers have developed their blending and processing techniques and now market materials which are much easier and more economical to use than their forerunners.
Paper manufaiturers have developed their manufacturing techniques similarly so that better qualities of paper are available in bulk at a comparatively more reasonable cost than previously.
There are many companies who specialise in the provision of handicraft equipment. Potters wheels, kilns and all the clays and decorative materials necessary for this craft, can be easily obtained at reasonable cost and of such a size to suit any school requirements.
There are also concerns which provide wide ranges of materials for weaving, including looms, basket work, leather work and also special services are available to schools for acquiring sewing machines and similar equipment.
Besides all these very considerable developments, it is perhaps in the school laboratory where the most startling changes have been made. Because of advances in science, it is necessary for laboratories to be more comprehensively equipped than they were ten years ago.
Special equipment The day of the simply equipped laboratory bench with nothing more than a bunsen burner and a sink, with the occasional test tube and glass jar, have now passed. It is considered essential these days for a laboratory to be fully equipped with instructional aids for all aspects of chemistry, physics, electricity and electronics, magnetism, heat, light and sound. not to mention biology and zoology, etc., which are very often housed in separate laboratories and require special equipment of their own.
Excellent equipment is available for laboratory use. Most of it at very reasonable price and with a long life. For instance, for instruction in the theory and workings of television, it is now possible to obtain a camera kit for under £50 which can be assembled from components in a classroom and can be linked with any conventional television receiver to provide a school with its own closed circuit television, and, at the same time, provide science classes with an interesting and worthwhile exercise.
Many of the most significant advances in school equipment design have taken place in the last five years, and if fully employed, their utilisation will go far to help solve the problem of acute pressure on teaching staff which increases as more children require educating and the school leaving age rises. Certainly all the necessary equipment and services are now available and it is up to school authorities to apply them to their own advantage.
The first Church and School Equipment Exhibition, which takes place at Olympia on April 21-25, will be a shop window of many of these developments. Manufacturers of a wide variety of equipment will be exhibiting so that school teachers and other authorities may see —under one roof—some of the trends in educational equipment and furnishing, and may gain an insight into the likely patterns of the future.