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Bright ideas: Exploring the importance of light on learning

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Bright ideas: Exploring the importance of light on learning

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Can adjustable lighting in classrooms affect educational achievement? And what about schools that have no electricity at all? We explore the impact of light on education in this week’s Learning World

The sun to the rescue in Latin America

More than 60,000 schools in Latin America lack access to electricity. However one project is helping light up lives and minds in rural schools and their local communities.

Twelve-year-old Angel Castillo starts his day at 7am by getting on his mule and riding to school in the Dominican Republic.

Teacher Haidy Vizcaino’s mode of transport is a little more advanced – a ten-minute ride on a motorbike is a much easier journey.

Wilkin Moldan’s school days are over. He’s packing his tools to go and visit a client. He hopes to grow his own business from small beginnings.

All three live in a remote rural area without electricity or access to the internet. Their lives changed with the arrival of Lights to Learn, a programme started in 2012 by the Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture. It provides solar energy to schools.

“When I moved to this community to teach French, I noticed that there was no power anywhere,” says teacher Haidy. “My parents got solar power energy. When that happened I thought that I must have solar energy as well because I am used to online chatting and all that. So when the school got solar panels and started to offer courses I thought to myself that I should take part, I have to participate, I have to know more about that.”

Thanks to the solar panels, the school now has internet access so Haidy can learn more about IT. She’s one of more than a thousand teachers and Wislandy is one of more than 20,000 pupils who benefit from “Lights to Learn”, implemented in rural educational centres that have been equipped with solar panels, computers and Internet access.

“If you couldn’t find the subject in books there was nothing you could do. Now, if you don’t find it in books, you look it up in the Internet,” says Wislandy.

The programme prioritises indigenous people of African descent who might also be in vulnerable situations. The main task is to provide quality education in isolated rural communities, which traditionally suffered from low education levels and high dropout rates.

Catalina Andújar Scheker, Representative of the OEI in the Dominican Republic says connectivity really changes the way of teaching, learning, and the life of the community.

The school has become a meeting point and development platform for the whole community and a door to the outside world. Adults are offered the opportunity to improve their education and escape from isolation.

In order to achieve sustainability the community has to be able to install and maintain the solar panels. So courses were offered and taken up. Even some teachers participated. Wilkin took a step forward and used his knowledge to open a small business:

“Thanks to the training I don’t have to focus so much on farming, planting white yam. When somebody calls because of a solar panel, I solve the problem and they pay me.”

The success of the program is visible. In some countries where ‘‘Lights to Learn’‘ has been implemented in rural schools, dropout rates have been reduced significantly. A true chance for rural communities to develop.

Lighting up pupils’ minds

Lighting can affect your learning! That’s what scientists have discovered. Adaptable lights in schools can apparently help children learn better, make less mistakes and curb hyperactivity in younger pupils. Learning World went to Germany to see how it works.

On a foggy and rainy Monday morning in Hamburg pupils arrive one-by-one at the elementary school In-der-Alten-Forst. The children are often still half-asleep.

Teacher Diana Kleinicke switches on an ‘activation light’ to wake up the class.

“Thanks to the blueish light the pupils concentrate more,” says Diana.” The teacher should use the activation light for 20 minutes early in the morning in order to wake them up. Their eyes get bigger, because it is a visual effect.”

This public school is the only one in Germany that is fully equipped with dynamic lighting in every classroom. Besides the activation light there are three other settings, which can also be dimmed or brightened depending on the lesson.

“This is the relaxation light. We use it after the recreation when the kids come back into the classroom and are still hyperactive so that they have a short break to calm down. Next we have the concentration light. As the name says you can concentrate better. It’s another light colour and another brightness, we use it quite a lot in moments of concentration, for instance for maths or for tests. The rest of the time we’ve got the same normal light like in other schools. We use it too but we can also diversify it in terms of brightness.”

The teacher changes the lights up to 15 times a day. The efficiency was proven by a study by the University Clinic Hamburg Eppendorf which found that pupils are up to 75% less hyperactive and make almost 45% less mistakes if the light is adapted compared to a class with normal lighting.

Andreas Wiedemann, Principal, Schule In-der-Alten-Forst

“The pupils made less mistakes,” says teacher Andreas Wiederman. “Not only did they realise that they managed to read and write better, but the study also found out that the speed of reading and the comprehension improved significantly.”

According to the study, not only the brightness but also the light’s colour play an important role. If the light is bright and blueish, the steroid hormone Cortisol is activiated. We become more efficient, highly productive.

The children at the school are supportive of the intiative:

“When it’s dark, we’re not completely awake sometimes, but if it gets brighter, we’re fully awake.”

“I notice when it’s dark and then it gets really bright and you put on the concentration light.”

“When I’m back from recreation, Miss Kleinicke always switches the relaxation light on, then we’ve got a short relaxation break.”

Despite the scientific proof of the positive influence of light on learning, there are only a few schools equipped with dynamic lighting, something the head of the study regrets.

Prof. Michael Schulte-Markwort, Director, Child and adolescent psychiatry, UKE

“People usually underestimate the importance of light and learning. This is one of the reasons why schools and authorities don’t care enough about it. Second, it’s more expensive than usual light, because it needs more electricity,” says Professor Michael Schulte-Markwort, Director of Child and Adolesent Psychiatry at UKE.

“I wish that there could be desk lights at home to do homework. providing really bright light similar to those we examined in schools. In the evening, it’s important for children that light gets darker when they brush their teeth so that they can easily fall asleep.”

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