The City of Athens’ “Designed for Better Learning” program won the Golden Prize in the “Best Learning Experience” category at the Educational Leaders Awards 2018, the nationwide prize awarding private and public bodies for best practices in education. This pioneering program, designed by the TUC TIE Lab of the Technical University of Crete, was launched by the Athens Partnership with an exclusive grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The prize was received by Athens Mayor, Mr. Georgios Kaminis, who stated that "with Designed for Better Learning we have transformed 24 schools, changing the relationship of children and teachers to their school. We created attractive learning conditions and revived the educational process itself. I feel very proud as a mayor when I hear parents telling me that their children do not want to leave school."
The program renovates public schools in dire need of repair—with the ultimate goal of improving learning and teaching, and enhancing community engagement. Twenty-four schools, kindergartens, primary schools and high schools have been transformed and continue to be upgraded, with the active involvement of researchers, architects, teachers, students and parents. More than 4,000 public school students and teachers in the Municipality of Athens have been directly impacted by Designed for Better Learning initiative.
“The Designed for Better Learning assessment showed that we achieved a small revolution in education: 77% of the children responded positively with changes school and 43% of the teachers even tested new ways of teaching under the program,” said Alexandros Kambouroglou, Executive Director of the Athens Partnership. “This award is not only a testament to our success in 24 schools but that we have developed a methodology that can be replicated in many more. We are grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and our project partners for their commitment to this initiative.”
“On behalf of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, we would like to warmly congratulate the Municipality of Athens, as well as the Athens Partnership and the Technical University of Crete for the recognition the Designed for Better Learning initiative as the Best Learning Experience,” said Aristi Stathakopoulou from the Grant Management department of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. “We are particularly proud that through our grant we contributed to the implementation of this innovative educational program, which is transforming schools by activating and involving the whole school community. This grant is part of the Foundation’s 10 million euro donation to the Municipality of Athens for programs that aim to strengthen the City and change daily lives.”
The first stage of Designed for Better Learning focused on large-scale architectural interventions in school buildings: more efficient interior layouts, upgraded facilities such as bathroooms, unification of previously separated or obstructed spaces, new spaces for students to play and socialize during breaks. These changes were intended both to solve operational problems and provide a fresh, new image of the school as a creative learning space, in vibrant child-friendly colors.
Through “Educational Playces,” a participatory process led by architects and researchers from the Technical University of Crete, Designed for Better Learning also achieved the goal of activating and empowering the school community. An “Educational Playces” team worked with students and teachers in each of the schools to enrich learning spaces and incorporate educational equipment to enhance learning. From gardening pallets on the roof of a school that had no plants, to circuits to understand the properties of electricity, to a “tree of emotions” that encouraged children to seek out and express their mood, educators placed the process in the hands of students to direct these efforts. Key to success was participative design, constant communication and direct access to a state-of-the-art “Maker Space” lab, equipped with machinery and digital design, printing and manufacturing tools (laser printers, 3D printers, CNC routers, vinyl cutters).
The Maker Space workshop in Serafio, Athens, also founded and operated with a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and coordinated by the Athens Partnership, continues to support the Designed for Better Learning Program. Teachers participate in training workshops on the use of laboratory equipment and the possibilities they can offer in learning. Students are able to work with modern technological applications, exploring STEM (Science, Technology, Mechanics and Mathematics) educational programs.