Flexible Learning Spaces: Inclusive by Design?
The idea that the New Zealand education system will cater to all students, regardless of ability, and support them in developing their full potential to the best of their abilities, is enshrined in the famous 1939 Beeby/Fraser statement. Equality of access policy discourse has shifted to emphasise equitable outcomes, focussed increasingly on preparing students for success in the globalised, 21st century knowledge economy. In this context, the design and development of innovative new school buildings and refurbishments of existing facilities have been promoted as a policy that will enable, even bring about, modern pedagogical practices that, in turn, will achieve the stated aim of preparing students for the 21st century global economy. Arguments against retaining traditional single-cell classrooms include their perpetuation of traditional, mainstream (‘one-size-fits-all’) approaches to teaching and learning, while new, radical building designs hold the promise of enabling the desired ‘new’ pedagogies. Flexible learning environments encourage and enable teachers to exchange ‘front-of-the-room’, single teacher presentational approaches for collaborative, dispersed and facilitative styles, often in teams, working with multiple students in shared, common learning spaces. The New Zealand Curriculum has ensured inclusion as an educational principle, and current Ministry of Education policy discourse reminds schools of their commitment to this principle, and specifically links building design and design processes to ensuring inclusivity. So it should be asked whether non-traditional, flexible learning spaces can be inclusive. This article places this question in the context of the historically evolving approach to inclusion in the New Zealand context, and with reference to the ‘spatial turn’ in recent New Zealand education policy. This turn to enhanced flexibility and innovation has implications for inclusivity, reflected in both Ministry of Education policy discourse and critiques suggesting the exclusionary effects of flexibility. It is argued with reference to Lefebvre that notions of inclusion and exclusion are inherent in social practices that are both superimposed upon material space as much as they are influenced by the design features of that space.