Locally and around the globe, race, gender, religion, wealth, and disability are some of the recognized sources of inequity in education that make learners vulnerable. In a country like the Philippines, which is plagued by both natural and man-made disasters, learners’ vulnerabilities are magnified. These vulnerabilities have exacerbated in the last decade following Typhoon Haiyan, the series of earthquakes in Mindanao, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) recognizes that it is critical to address these vulnerabilities and ensure that quality education is accessible, equitable, and resilient.
To this end, DepEd partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the All Children Reading (ACR) Philippines Project to build the capacity of school leaders to evaluate, reimagine, and re-design their school’s existing learning spaces. The initiative culuminated in a design thinking workshop to create prototypes of learning spaces for the future.
Design Thinking and Co-creation of Accessible, Equitable, and Resilient Learning Spaces for Filipino Learners
In August 2022, 29 local school leaders from six schools in five School Division Offices (SDOs) joined the Futures Design Prototyping Workshop to co-create prototypes of future learning spaces that address priority teacher and learner needs in their respective localities. Participants included the Chief of Curriculum and Instruction Division, master teachers, school heads, and education program supervisors for science and math and language and literacy. The participants were grouped by the division and schools they represented. Through the USAID-funded All Children Reading (ACR)-Philippines project, technical experts from RTI International (www.rti.org) facilitated the five-day workshop with input from DepEd resource speakers. See the workshop report here: Co-designing Prototypes for Future Learning Spaces: A Field Guide for Scaling Future Learning Spaces Innovation in the Philippines | SharEd (rti.org)
The Futures Design Prototyping Workshop was situated within DepEd’s larger framework of the Basic Education Development Plan and the Education Futures program. Mr. Edwin Calubag, Chief of the Planning and Programming Division of DepEd highlighted the importance of the Basic Education Development Plan 2030 and its strategic direction particularly within the context of Education Futures. This plan serves as a roadmap to improve the delivery and quality of basic education for the future. Prof. Sheryl Lyn Monterola, Director of the National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development and consultant for DepEd’s Education Futures program, presented the Education Futures Program Framework at the workshop, underscoring the importance of creating learning spaces for the future. She emphasized that a learning space, conceptualized as a habitat, is a place where a learner engages deeply in his learning, adapts this learning to his life experience, and therefore thrives socially, emotionally, and academically.
A learning space, from the perspective of habitat, is part of an ecosystem which has both human and environmental factors. Human factors consist of the community of individuals, organizations, and institutions, both public and private, that interact to support learning. The environmental factors are the resources, tools, and technology for learning.
Dr. Monterola’s presentation underscored the importance of considering all these factors in designing or co-creating learning spaces for the future.
Keeping Professor Monterola’s message in mind, the participants were then led through various activities that allowed them to reflect on the teachers and learners’ needs, empathize with their challenges, and brainstorm, as a school team, about the possible solutions that would address these needs to help students achieve their maximum potential. For example, one participant shared that teachers during remote learning needed to unlearn old strategies and relearn and upskill new instructional techniques by optimizing their use of technology. Doing so helped learners stay engaged in their lessons. This also helped the teachers in assessing learners’ performance and abilities and in developing appropriate activities that would support learning. Another respondent shared that learning beyond the four walls of a classroom may improve students' psycho-social well-being if learners are nurtured in a positive, safe, and green learning environment. Teachers’ well-being was likewise underscored. Following their experiences during classroom closures, teachers recalled personal and professional challenges in pivoting to distance learning and now they must prepare again for face-to-face classes. Thus, some of the re-imagined learning spaces that surfaced during these reflections included dedicated spaces where teachers could relax and care for their well-being even while in school.
This reflection exercise was the first step to re-imagine effective future learning spaces. It revealed how important it is to consider varying needs of both learners and teachers while taking into consideration their interests and skills as well as the context that their schools are operating in.
Learning Spaces for the Future: Prototypes of Reimagined Future Learning Spaces
By midweek, all groups had completed their initial prototype concept. Each group created a visual prototype which illustrated the features of their respective learning space for the future. The prototype concepts ranged from developing pod-based learning, community-based learning spaces, learning spaces that extend into the natural environment, learning spaces that align with a variety of learning styles and intelligences, and extracurricular activities to attract students to school. The succeeding narrative describes the design of each of the six teams.
Intellect Connect by SDO Tanauan City proposed a community recreation facility which hopes to address literacy development and digital literacy while considering full well learner’s well-being. The group believed that discovery learning coupled with hands-on learning experiences which intentionally target priority knowledge and skills – including known gaps – will allow the learners to learn and grow while having fun. This outdoor space, to be built in an existing space in the district, shall be designed into a literacy maze where children assessed to need remediation can go through leveled literacy activities in designated “stations.” By successfully working through each station of the “literacy learning maze,” the learner should be able to read well enough to perform at their grade level. Meanwhile, the indoor learning space allows for discovery learning using education technology materials and resources. At Intellect Connect, learners will have balanced learning experience in their regular classrooms as well as with nature and technology.
Focusing on the need for more inclusive education, group 2 proposed a learning space for borderless education. The Quezon City Learning BEYOND (Borderless Education for Youth in Optimum and Nurturing Dynamism) concept maximizes partnership and engagement with external stakeholders including but not limited to community members, barangay, higher education institutions and other possible partners to keep the youth aware of the many opportunities waiting for them after completing basic education. Learning BEYOND encourages shared responsibility in educating the learners among community members, for example by taking on the role of “learning support aid” and “teaching volunteer” especially to learners needing guidance and remediation.
SDO Tuguegarao City named their learning space Pattalupaddianamma, an Ibanag term which directly translates to Keep Me In. This prototype emphasized teaching and learning which are tailored to the students’ needs and intelligences in order to keep all learners in school and eliminate dropout. The team underscored two key requirements for this learning space to be successful: (1) to identify students at-risk of dropping out, and (2) to identify students’ skills, talents, and learning styles. Doing so, the team said, will allow the teachers to provide appropriate and engaging activities that capitalize on students’ interests, skills, and creativity to learn at their own pace. A key feature of this learning space is to include a station for each of the multiple intelligences. The assumption is that in doing so, learners will observe and feel that their particular interests and inherent learning styles or “intelligences” are recognized and valued, and will be more likely to come back and stay in school.
The SDO Caloocan City designed a state-of-the-art learning facility called Kankaloo Bagani  Hub that showcases equipment, learning resources, and assessment tools in the form of learning carts and multimedia equipment for self-directed and collaborative learning experiences. The set of learning resources are designed for accelerated learning for learners in the future, addressing digital literacy and responsible cyber-citizenship.
A "natural laboratory for learning” was the prototype designed by another school from SDO Tanauan City. The Green Fusion Pod aims to utilize the school’s existing garden for the students to learn mathematics and science. Believing in learning beyond the four walls of a conventional classroom, the co-design team strives to maximize use of both technology and nature to promote the students’ holistic development and psycho-social well-being in a safe, affirming, green learning environment.
The last group, from SDO Pasig City, recognized that both teacher and learner well-being play a big role in academic performance. Thus, the group proposed a borderless, hybrid learning space where children regardless of context can have access to quality learning resources and supportive learning experience wherever they are. For this group, the concept of Learning Can Take Place Anywhere envisions learning spaces that are flexible, resilient and inclusive thereby providing equal opportunities for all children to learn and grow.
Obtaining Stakeholder Feedback
Getting feedback from users is critical in the success of the design process. This allows the proponents of the prototype to obtain insight into what might or might not work according to the individuals who will be participating in the learning space. Thus, on the workshop’s 4th day, teachers, kindergarten to grade 3 learners, and their parents joined the workshop to learn about the prototypes and provide initial feedback to improve the existing designs.
The participants realized that partnerships with students, peer teachers and school managers, local government, and community members are vital to the success of any learning space for the future. Thus, whole school, local government, and community engagement is essential. This realization was reinforced from teachers’ experiences during the pandemic. That is, many teachers believed that without material support of the local government unit, technical and emotional support from the school head, and the community assistance to families, remote learning would have been very difficult for both teachers and the learners.
Based on their experiences during the COVID-19 school closures, parents expressed that they would like to see the future learning spaces prototypes provide more opportunities for their children to learn through play and other social interactions with their peers. Considering the need to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 during the pandemic and beyond, children have had limited peer learning activities and this has compromised the learners’ school experiences because the essential element of social learning was very often absent. As such, the past two years have negatively impacted learners’ socio-emotional development because of their home confinement during critical years of development. For kindergarteners to second graders, it will be their first time to physically go to school this year, while third graders are very excited to go back to school and interact with their classmates.
Providing opportunities for hands-on and play-based learning promotes social, emotional, and cognitive development. This is essential to mitigate the negative impacts of limited peer learning that many children experienced during the pandemic. If peer interaction continues to be limited upon returning to school, one can expect further compromise of socio-emotional learning in the school environment where this could be best promoted.
This speaks directly to the need to attend to children’s psycho-social wellbeing within the future learning spaces concepts. Attention to wellbeing, interactive learning, and enjoyment in learning is prevalent in six prototypes developed above and is underscored in the parent comments below.
“I am also a teacher, so I know what my child needs to learn. My son would always say that he wants to go to school and play. This makes me laugh but he is right. I wish learning could still be fun even as we prevent COVID spread in schools. More dancing and singing, more playing, more manipulative toys, more books. These are what I want to see in these learning spaces”
“Schools should sustain children’s interest to go back to school and learn things that are important, and this could be achieved through peer learning and play. I hope they will put this in mind as they create learning spaces for the future. I want my granddaughter to always be excited to go to school where her interests and skills are sustained.”