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    Better lighting design means better educational and environmental outcomes

    Branko Miletic

    In 2016, the Optical Society of America in its journal, Optical Express, published the results of a study on the relationship between learning performance and the quality of lighting used in a primary school. 

    The study, ‘Dynamic lighting system for the learning environment: performance of elementary students’, looked at the effects of lighting (with its corresponding colour temperatures) on South Korean primary school students’ performance who were using a dynamic lighting system to facilitate a ‘smart learning environment.’ 

    The researchers found that LED lighting can be optimised by designing it to mimic various natural light settings for a range of educational activities from sitting for exams to simple reading. This was done by changing the light’s correlated colour temperatures (CCTs)—which were categorised as being from "warm" to “neutral and to "cool" lighting, and were measured in Kelvin (K).

    The study involved one classroom equipped with three distinct CCTs - 3500K (warm), 5000K (neutral), and 6500K (cool) with a control classroom that used a standard fluorescent light found common across many of the world’s classrooms today.

    The results gave a clear insight into how lighting design should be approached for educational institutions.

    So while the 3500K or “warm” lighting provided adequate support for activities such as lunch and relaxation, the 5000K or "neutral" lighting was much more suitable for activities such as reading and writing. 

    The optimum CCT was the 6500K light, which was also known as the “cool” lighting version. This was found to be preferred when looking to improve students' overall academic performance.

    BETTER VISION, BETTER LEARNING

    Other studies have found similar outcomes, albeit from other parts of the world, including in Germany by lighting maker Philips with its concept of SchoolVision.

    According to Philips, SchoolVision was specifically developed to deliver a “specially calibrated light spectrum that helps children concentrate, which can as the same time, also be adapted to different classroom activities.”

    The results, says the electronics manufacturer, is a learning environment where “children are attentive, and teachers can work effectively”.

    Similar to the South Korean experiment, SchoolVision used four different light settings according to the time of day and activity. These settings were designed to mimic the natural patterns of daylight that humans would be well acquainted with.

    The settings were ‘Normal’ – standard brightness and colour tone for a normal lesson; ‘Focus’ – highest light intensity and a cool colour tone for exams; ‘Energy’ – high intensity level, very cool colour tone for mornings and after lunch, and ‘Calm’ – standard intensity level, warm colour tone designed to calm down a hyperactive class, or one that had just come back from lunch or a sport break.

    The concept of SchoolVision was put to the test an independent study by the government of Hamburg and the Universit√§tsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, where 166 pupils and 18 teachers were tested across a 12-month period, and included meticulous recordings of the students’ performance.

    According to Philips, the test results showed that reading speed went up by 35 percent, the frequency of errors decreased by up to 45 percent while hyperactive behaviour in the students fell by a massive 76 percent.

    Additionally, found Philips, another desirable result emanating from this test was an increase in energy savings of up to 57 percent.

    HOW THE RGHT LIGHT CAN TURN EVERYTHING GREEN

    In its 2013 report, The future of Australian education – Sustainable places for learning, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) found that not only can proper lighting improve school student’s results, it also has a measurable impact on the carbon emissions and sustainability of the school itself.

    In the report, the GBCA listed the Heschong Mahone Daylighting Study of more than 21,000 students in California, which showed a dramatic correlation between day-lit school environments and student performance. 

    In fact, according to the results, the students with the best access to daylight demonstrated 20 percent faster progression in mathematics, and 26 percent faster progression in reading.

    Another study, this time in 2010 and performed in controlled laboratory conditions, also in the US, conclusively demonstrated that children deprived of natural light for a five-day school week had disrupted melatonin cycles. The research concluded that such disruptions were likely to have a significant impact on students’ alertness during school.

    “Schools are no different to other buildings when it comes to the productivity, health and wellbeing benefits offered up by healthier, more comfortable work environments,” said the GBCA’s report.

    Another GBCA report from the same year, The Value of Green Star –A Decade of Environmental Benefits, which was a quantitative study of Green Star-certified buildings, found that Green Star-rated education facilities deliver, on average, a 70 percent reduction in energy usage for electricity compared with standard buildings.

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