5 Physical Learning Environment and Teaching Practices: The Case of Grand’Anse Schools

Nelson Sylvestre


Those involved in school planning tend to prioritize physical infrastructure ahead of pedagogical environment. Both environments have to be managed in order to contribute productively to the learning and success of students. Students learn better when the school is accessible, safe, hygienic, relatively comfortable and cognitively stimulating. This article focuses on the first aspect of an extensive study, which applies various methods such as observations of students with disability in schools in Grand’Anse region in the academic year 2018-2019. Based on the data already collected and analyzed, we found that the schools were promoting pedagogical environments that do not take into account learners’ personal experience. On the contrary, these schools constitute the real handicaps to the personal development of these children.

Keywords: educational environment, physical environment, learning, school, pedagogical practices

Aktè edikatif yo akòde enpòtans ak anviwonnman enfrastriktirèl yo,  pou yo ka oganize espas pedagogik yo. Tout eleman dwe ajanse nan sans pou yo fasilite aprantisaj ak ogmante konpetans elèv yo. Elèv yo ka aprann pi byen lè lekol la aksesib, lè li pa enkyetan, lè li pwòp, konfòtab, timoun yo vin anvi aprann tout bon. Atik sa a se yon avangou sou yon refleksyon apwofondi k ap soti fen ane 2020. Daprè enfòmasyon ki deja ramase nan Depatman Grandans, nou ka afime pwen sa a : anviwonnman pedagojik lekòl yo pa apwopriye pou yon veritab eksperyans aprantisaj, yo plis koze andikap olye yo  ede timoun yo aprann kousadwa.

Mo-kle : anviwonnman aprantisaj, anviwonnman fizik aprantisaj, klima eskolè, pratik pedagogik.


Traditional educational concerns in Haiti generally focus on issues of reproducing inequalities, dropping out, adaptation, access and quality, language of instruction and inter-individual exchange, disorders, teaching materials, pedagogical practices and school performance. These issues are often addressed in two ways: the subject’s cognitive and intellectual activity, on one hand, and the social and cultural dimension, on the other (Bourgeois, 2011). In this article, we will address the acquisition of skills by students with disabilities in relation to the physical learning environment of primary schools located in the Grand’Anse department of Haiti[1].

This contribution is in line with the general issue raised by the GIECLAT project on “Students with disabilities and teachers’ pedagogical practices in the departments of Sud, Nippes and Grand’Anse.” This paper intends to initiate a more in-depth reflection on the relationship between the school environment (buildings, classrooms, courses, and other facilities) and the teaching/learning process in the Grand’Anse department. The scientific work initiated here is scheduled for December 2020.

The aim of this article is to explain more accurately some of the negative impacts of the school environment on pedagogical practices, and conversely, how these influences the school environment. The idea is to use the results to build on the observations made on students with disabilities in Grand’Anse schools during the 2018-2019 school year. These negative effects are reciprocal and cause – so to speak – disability mainly in students participating in this study. Before doing so, it is necessary to clarify the notion of physical learning environment.

Conceptualizing the physical environment of learning

Physical learning environment is a concept referring to the space, equipment and tools used in schools. Therefore, it refers to the physical structures of the school environment. For Lehtinen (1997), this concept would embrace a much more complex structure which includes teaching materials, information sources and events outside the school, where students can participate directly and virtually in the learning process. In an operative term, Hutchinson (2003) suggests that the designers of the educational environment should consider the following parameters: classroom, room temperature, seating comfort, background noise, visual distractions, tutorials, seminars, conferences. They are all environmental factors that can affect learners’ concentration and motivation. Some are under the control of the teacher, some are not. In this sense, the design of an appropriate and accommodating physical learning environment should address the following points:

  • the size and temperature of the room;
  • the environment of the room to be considered (location, noise, visual distractions inside or outside);
  • the seating arrangement and other accommodations;
  • the equipment;
  • the location of the classroom in relation to the playground, the first aid dispensary, the dining hall, the library, the sports fields, etc.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2006) conceives the educational environment as a physical space that supports diverse curricula and learning pedagogies, including current technologies, and encourages social participation by providing its occupants with a healthy, comfortable, safe, quiet and stimulating environment. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization experts (2018) argue that school planners should not neglect the physical environment when designing the learning environment (physical spaces, learners, peers and teachers) because students learn best when the school is accessible, safe, hygienic, relatively comfortable and cognitively stimulating. Therefore, to ensure a positive effect on learning, a quality school environment requires attention to aspects such as location, building materials, classroom size, furniture, lighting, temperature, ventilation, noise level, sanitation, air quality and the integration of ancillary equipment. Everything must be arranged to contribute effectively to the acquisition and strengthening of learners’ scientific competence (Ibid.).

As Mabilon-Bonfils (2018) reflects on the physical environment and well-being at school, he proposes to link architectural choices to the issues of the school space. According to her, in order to consider the well-being in the school space, school health must be concretized in a system of co-construction of knowledge. Thus, it is absolutely necessary to avoid erecting schools in environments that are harmful to health, such as the construction of school buildings on recognized toxic sites, for example.

Another aspect to be taken into account in the educational environment (also referred to as the pedagogical environment) is known as the ‘school climate’. This notion refers in particular to “the feelings of security and justice that prevails in the establishment, the quality of interpersonal relationships, mutual support, collaboration and participation of students in their environment. This notion has been considered to be an important factor in the study of school drop-out” (Poulin, 2015: 3). Also, Hutchinson (2003) states that a teacher must aim to provide an environment in which students feel safe to experiment, express their concerns, identify their lack of knowledge and push their limits. She believes that safety can be compromised by humiliation, harassment, and the threat of forced disclosure of personal information. Therefore, a positive learning experience requires respect for students and their needs. The absence of threats to personal integrity and self-esteem is essential. Praise, and encouragement to participate can all lead to a sense of well-being and to a rewarding and enjoyable sense of reaching beyond one’s limits.

All the elements considered and articulated here lead us to think with Lippman (2010) that the responsive design approach to architecture is based on a set of pedagogical principles that describe the interactions between the student and his or her environment. Based on these principles, which establish the link between the social and physical components of the instructional environment, the designers are called upon to create an environment that is more appropriate and suitable to the specific needs of students in an inclusive perspective.

School environment as main factor for teaching/learning

A key word that characterizes the environment of public and non-public schools in Grand’Anse is adaptation or adequacy of the buildings and the accommodation structures. This keyword is curiously absent in these schools considering their physical and location aspects. The observations made highlight the following elements:

  • no enclosure of school grounds;
  • schoolyard enclosure (when it is the case) not secured;
  • presence of public markets or cock fighting arenas nearby that operate during school hours;
  • insalubrity of school premises, inside and outside;
  • classrooms sometimes too large, sometimes too small. Their geographical and architectural layouts are not always conducive to teaching and learning;
  • location of school buildings close to dangerous gullies in rainy periods;
  • multiple uses of rooms or halls at the same time, or two classes being taught at different levels in the same space. This causes a permanent state of chaos;
  • school buildings constructed too far from where students, teachers, administrators and parents live.

The following photo shows obvious signs of neglect in which students and teachers are working in a school of Grand’Anse Department. The image presents an outdoor school environment that suggests the reverse of the ideal 21st-century school. If even gifted students would have difficulty learning and concentrating in such a setting, how about those with disabilities?


Photo taken in May 2019 by a member of the research team during a school visit in the city of Jérémie.

It is known that school infrastructure plays an important role in the teaching/learning process and promotes the normal operation of a school. The weaker the school infrastructure, the more negatively it affects the operation of the school and the learning experience of students. The better the school building, the less  it adversely affects the overall functioning of the school, including the work of teachers and student learning.

Regarding the location of schools, various experts (UNESCO, 2018) state that schools should be located no more than three kilometres from students’ homes, and less for younger children. This improves access and attendance. Therefore, the location should be chosen with health and safety considerations in mind. These experts also recommend that there should be a fence or other appropriate demarcation to protect children and keep them within the school compound to ensure that children are not exposed to the dangers of accidents and weather. The quality of the materials to be used should also not be neglected. Structures must be solid and durable. Special vigilance is imperative in areas exposed to natural disasters. However, many of the schools observed are far from embodying the ideals of this physical learning environment model.

Based on the principle that an environment is made up of all the conditions, primarily physical (adaptation and adequacy of the facilities, regular and gradual adjustments to them), chemical (prevention of environmental toxins and vulnerabilities) and even cultural (special attention to harmful habits), it must be recognized that this important factor in teaching/learning (school environment) is generally lacking and has only adverse effects (Lippman, 2010; Mabilon-Bonfils, 2018) on education in the schools observed in Grand’Anse. In what sense does such a school environment hinder the pedagogical practices identified in these schools?

Educational environment disrupted

The educational environment of the school is an unavoidable fact. It encompasses all the aspects that are essential to the mutual success of the people who attend it. When it is well designed:

  • students are presented with an effective teaching regime, rather than harsh discipline leading to maladjustment;
  • teachers rejoice in the effective learning of students and witness their own contribution to the beneficial transformation of society;
  • school and state authorities as well as school administrators can legitimately claim that they have carried out their responsibilities appropriately;
  • parents carry out their duties and contribute to the instruction of men and women who will be productive into the future.

However, it is painful to observe the opposite throughout the school samples collected from the data of the département de la Grand’Anse, as noted in the following:

  • a lack of supervision for students, even less for those with disabilities;
  • vulnerability of students with disabilities;
  • limited access to adequate materials;
  • teachers with a low level of training and poor ability to instruct;
  • a lack of educational policy and integration strategy.

In the educational environment of the Grand’Anse schools, students learn by adapting to a setting that combines contradictions, difficulties, imbalances, discrimination, stigmatization, in a word, handicap, much like that of the more general human society around it.

Pedagogical practices: the need for educational change

Teachers often mention that students do not want to focus on their disability because of the risk of stigmatization and backlash. It is important to change how we look at those with disabilities.

It is indeed important to practice a pedagogy that is suitable for the needs, rhythms and aptitudes of the students in their learning process. The pedagogical practices of teachers and principals are not designed to take into account the individuality of the students. They are neither special pedagogical practices for some nor completely individualized approaches for others. Adaptation of specific teaching methods in each discipline is needed to guarantee access to knowledge. This implies designing a suitable and appropriate environment for the personal and intellectual development of students.


Learning environments must be conceived to serve the learning activities that will take place in them. Whether designing a new building or rethinking the use of an existing facility, this process begins with gathering information from key users (students, teachers, parents, administrators) and conducting an assessment of the occupancy of the facilities, with particular attention to the constraints and benefits associated with the physical environment (Lippman, 2010).

The GIECLAT project intends, in its second phase, to identify the problems of students with disabilities in order to understand them better and to outline the key issues. The observations made so far in the case of Grand’Anse enable us to suggest certain remedial actions:

  • provide ongoing training on classroom management, inclusive education, and educational governance;
  • harmonize the curriculum in order to evolve pedagogical practices which facilitate teaching and learning;
  • define and apply school infrastructure prototypes that respect the principles of inclusive education.

This is the beginning of an analytical reflection on an educational factor that is indispensable in today’s world.


Bourgeois, Étienne, (2011), “Les théories de l’apprentissage : un peu d’histoire…”, pp. 23-39, Étienne Bourgeois et al., Apprendre et faire apprendre, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Hutchinson, Linda, (2003), “ABC of learning and teaching Educational environment”, BMJ, volume 326, pp. 810-812.

Kuuskorpi, Marko et al., (2011), “The future of the physical learning environment: school facilities that support the user”, CELE Exchange, Centre for Effective Learning Environments, no. 11, pp. 1-7.

Lippman, Peter C., (2010), “L’environnement physique peut-il avoir un impact sur l’environnement pédagogique?”, CELE     Échanges, Centre pour des environnements pédagogiques efficaces et OCDE, no. 13, pp. 1-6.

Mabilon-Bonfils, Béatrice et al., (2018), “L’impact de l’environnement physique sur le bien-être à l’école/The impact of the physical environment on wellbeing at school”, La revue de santé scolaire et universitaire, volume 9, no. 50, pp. 13-16.

OECD, (2006), “CELE Organising Framework on Evaluating Quality in Educational Spaces”, OECD.

Poulin, Rosalie et al., (2015), “Le climat scolaire : un point central pour expliquer la victimisation et la réussite scolaire”, Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, no. 38, pp. 1-23.

UNESCO, (2018), “Environnement physique de l’école”.

  1. I am thankful for Samuel Regulus’ revision and suggestions about this article.


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