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Ministry of Education challenged to prove open-learning classrooms are good for children

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A large classroom at Rāwhiti School in Christchurch with team teaching. Photo / RNZ


A think tank is challenging the Ministry of Education to prove that modern classrooms are good for children’s learning.

The ministry has encouraged large, open-plan rooms that accommodate several classes and teachers in one environment – known as flexible or modern learning environments.

Free-market think tank the New Zealand Initiative (NZI) said the classrooms were designed to encourage more self-directed learning.

Advocates have also claimed they allow for teachers to teach in teams better, more peer-assisted learning opportunities for children, and more flexibility for groups of students or individuals to break away to separate learning spaces where they can work to their own style but are still within sight of teachers.

But NZI said in a report on the learning style that it found the Ministry of Education could not provide strong evidence children learn better that way.

Educators have been divided over the value of the classroom style, and some have previously called for data about its effect on students and on their learning.

NZI concluded the classroom arrangements were an “experiment” based only on ideology.

Think tank member Dr Michael Johnston requested data from the ministry on the number of learning environments, their cost, and their effectiveness as learning environments, but the ministry “could not produce data to support its policy for mass conversion of New Zealand’s classrooms”, NZI said.

“The ministry did not research the effects of these environments on students’ learning before forcing schools to adopt them. Neither did they evaluate their effects after they were established,” Johnston said.

“The strategy under which modern learning environments were endorsed has now expired. However, open-plan classrooms are still being built, and many of the country’s classrooms have already been converted. Schools are therefore left with a permanent legacy of a policy based on ideology rather than evidence.”

NZI wants the ministry to analyse schools’ results to see what differences the buildings had made to children’s achievement.

It said future innovations should be supported with better research, and outcomes evaluated.

And, it wanted the ministry to do more to help children at a disadvantage in large classrooms because they have hearing or learning problems.

The Ministry of Education has been approached by RNZ for comment.

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