Last week, I went for a ‘Paint A School’ event where a bunch of volunteers, (urban, well-educated, working with reputed MNCs) would gather to paint the walls of a school colorfully. To be very honest, I was highly skeptical. I thought it would be fun, but slightly frivolous – the kind of volunteering event that makes volunteers feel better about themselves but does not truly add anything of value to the lives of the beneficiary.

It was more an interest in art that I decided to give it a try. Even if it doesn’t really help someone, it definitely wouldn’t hurt anyone too. So why not try!
With an open mind, I reached the venue early in the morning. Soon, other volunteers started dropping in and we found out what we were supposed to do. We had to transform the walls of the building into teaching aids. This meant using the canvas provided by walls to illustrate concepts and principles that children were learning in the class. It was an interesting idea.

Stairs could be used for counting. The floor by the door could help explain angles, by marking a range of degrees on the floor. As the door moves, children can visualize different angles.

The ground below the flag pole could be transformed into a sun dial. With changing shadow of the pole and markings on the ground, children would understand different ways of measuring time, the earth’s rotation causing day and night.

This technique is known as Building as a Learning Aid (BaLA). It is used to expand learning opportunities outside the classroom using physical environment around us. It is based on the idea that children learn through different medium, and they have different learning styles.

Neil Fleming, a teacher from New Zealand, in 1992, conceptualized VARK learning modalities. It says that individuals have four dominant modalities through which they learn – Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. The BaLA tool aims to enhance learning through visual and kinesthetic modalities. It’s an important task, since it ensures involving multiple senses in the learning process and can ensure better engagement of students.

Apart from its use as a teaching tool, there are more effects of an aesthetically pleasing and fun environment on learning. This relationship was first explored by Chan (1988) who found that there are two kind of effects of such an environment. The direct effect is seen in better learning achievements. The indirect effect is the impact of environment on students’ feelings and their attitude towards the school which contributes in positive learning.

Since this seminal study, other researchers have also found this association between school environment and learning outcomes (Berry, 2002; Al-Enzei, 2002; Earthman, 1996).

After my experience, I’ve been reading up on this technique and have now changed my opinion about such volunteering activities. They can absolutely promote the environment for learning, stimulation of creativity and an increase in the sense of belonging among students, teachers and hence, community. It seems to be an effective way to convince others that the school is committed to and concerned about its students.

While during my fellowship, I don’t directly work with schools, I am glad to have had this experience and an opportunity to challenge some of my assumptions.

1. Al-Enezi, M. M. (2002). A study of the relationship between school building conditions and academic achievement of twelfth grade students in Kuwaiti public high schools (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).
2. Berry, M. A. (2002). Healthy School Environment and Enhanced Educational Performance: The Case of Charles Young Elementary School, Washington, DC.
3. Chan, T. C. (1988). The Aesthetic Environment and Student Learning. School Business Affairs, 54(1), 26-27.
4. Earthman, G. (1996). Review of Research on the Relationship between School Buildings, Student Achievement, and Student Behavior.
5. Fleming, N. D., & Mills, C. (1992). Not another inventory, rather a catalyst for reflection. To improve the academy, 11(1), 137-155.

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