Smart specification of interior acoustic solutions
As modern educational practices have evolved, so too have modern learning spaces. It is expected that contemporary learning environments should be set up to facilitate collaboration and interaction (meaning high levels of conversation), but this is not always the case. Studies have shown that when it comes to acoustic performance, Australian classrooms are well behind the markiv.
However, designers and specifiers can make a difference in this area. Interior acoustic solutions are a high-performance means of reducing reverberation and other noise within educational environments, creating better learning outcomes for children. They are lightweight and easy to install, meaning they can be retrofitted within existing spaces as well as specified for new construction.
This whitepaper will examine, in detail, the issues around poor acoustics in educational environments, their impact on children, and how smart specification of interior acoustics solutions can fix these problems.
The impact of poor acoustics in educational environments
The majority of students’ time in classrooms is spent listening to the teacher or interacting with each other. However, excessive noise and reverberation in classrooms often make it difficult to hear what is being said. This results in what is known as a low Speech Transmission Index (STI); put simply, the acoustics of the space make it difficult for students to determine what is being said. An Australian study found that more than 90% of Brisbane classrooms failed to achieve recommended STI levels, meaning that children would struggle to adequately decipher information in these environmentsv.
The ability to recognise speech under conditions of noise, or noise combined with reverberation, continues to develop until the teenage years, meaning that younger children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of unfavourable listening conditionsvi. Research indicates that acoustical problems in schools lead to decreased learning outcomes for students through impaired speech perception and listening comprehension. In addition, these issues are exacerbated in children with existing learning difficulties, hearing impairment, and English as a Second Language (ESL)vii.
However, these issues can extend further than listening. Noise-induced disruption can also have an impact on students’ abilities to perform non-auditory tasks. Excessive reverberation has been linked to poor performance in verbal tasks, and high exposure to ambient noise with a reduced reading levelviii. This shows that acoustic issues can negatively affect children’s wider cognition and brain function at a time that is crucial for the healthy development of neural pathwaysix.
In addition, poor classroom acoustics can have detrimental impacts on teachers as much as students. Teachers’ voices are considered tools of trade, and damage or loss of voice from excessive shouting poses serious Occupational Health and Safety concerns. In fact, voice disorders are considered one of the major hazards of school teachingx, impacting teachers’ ability to form relationships with staff and students, as well as resulting in lost productivity and greater sick leave.