Innovation Cities

Height and light—how schools are changing inside and out

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
How light is changing the way we learn

The way our children learn is changing. Fast. Far from being outlandish and foreign, technology such as tablets, touch sensitive whiteboards and video conferencing has now become the norm in many classes around the world.

In the Netherlands, one school is taking classroom tech to another level entirely by focusing on the way a learning space is lit.

Classrooms at Disselboom primary school are equipped with SchoolVision, a lighting system developed by Philips that changes the atmosphere and ambience of a classroom depending on the type of lesson being taught. The settings on offer to teachers range from 'normal' and 'calm' to 'focused' and 'energy'.

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Dr Efrosyni Konstantinou, of University College London, has researched the effects of lighting on learning. "There are a lot of studies which have shown that lighting can actually impact on the mood of the students in their education and in their learning," she told CNBC's Innovation Cities.

"When students are able to adjust the lighting to the needs that they need, psychologically that helps them better concentrate because they feel that they have that extra bit of control," Konstantinou added.

"When the kids arrive at school, we start with the energy setting," Tamara van Thiel, a teacher at the school, told CNBC's Innovation Cities.

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Raymond Boyd | Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images

The use of 'dynamic lighting' in the classroom has proved effective. In a study conducted by the University Medical Center, Hamburg-Eppendorf – the University of Hamburg's teaching hospital –reading speeds improved by 35 percent, frequency of errors made fell by 45 percent and hyperactive behavior dropped by 76 percent.

But it's not just in the classroom that innovation is changing the way people learn. The buildings they are taught in are transforming as well. Architects across the world are looking to the sky for solutions to the problems presented by a lack of space in cities.

Completed in 2008, Tokyo's Mode Gakuen Tower stands 204 meters high and can house up to 10,000 students, while the Wabash Building at Roosevelt University in Chicago stands almost 143 meters and houses labs, classrooms, laboratories, dorm rooms and a dining hall. The Wabash Building was completed in 2012 at a cost of $130 million.

Schools as well as universities are looking up. New York City's Public School 397 takes up the first five levels of New York by Gehry, a 265 meter tower in Manhattan, and has its own rooftop playground.

In Atlanta, Georgia, North Atlanta High School moved to a new building in 2013. Housed in former IBM offices, it is 11 storeys high and has space for over 2,000 students. "If there was ever a model for an urban high school, this is it," Howard E. Taylor, the school's new principal, told The New York Times.