In an effort to create the ideal environment for learning within schools, a lot of research has been undertaken into the impact of acoustics on a child’s ability to learn and the negative impacts that can arise due to poor acoustics in the classroom. Rather than being simply an issue of noise levels, research suggests that poor acoustics are a direct impact of the poor physical design and construction of schools, resulting in high levels of sound reverberation creating poor background noise. There are many studies which highlight the impacts of this on various aspects of learning.
Bonzaft & McCarthy and Green & Shore have both highlighted the significant differences in reading levels of children who are exposed to different levels of noise during school times. In a study of one New York City school, Bonzaft & McCarthy monitored grades 2, 4 and 6, half of each of the grades were in classrooms adjacent to train tracks and the other half on the quieter side of the school. The study highlighted how the reading levels of the students on the nosier side of the school had significantly lower reading level scores; sixth graders on the noisy side were on average one year behind the rest of the grade for reading level scores. Similarly, Green & Shore carried out a comparison of two schools, one of which was located near a major New York airport and the other in a quieter location, although otherwise very similar. Again, the students in the nosier school environment had significantly lower reading scores.
Lorraine Maxwell carried out a similar study of one school located in the flight path or a major airport. Compared to another school in the same urban area yet a quieter neighbourhood, which was closely matched in regard to ethnicity, number of children with subsidised school lunches and number of children speaking English as a second language. The school in the flight path was subjected to 90 decibels of noise from low flying planes every 6.6 minutes, students in this school struggled particularly with speech perception amidst the noise, Maxwell states “ This implies that language acquisition is the underlying mechanism that accounts for some of the noise-reading deficit link”. This issue is that children tend to tune out from speech amongst the noise and struggle to understand fully what is being said, mishearing roughly every 1 in 4 words. Adults have the language ability to fill in the blanks automatically, but children who are still acquiring language struggle to fully understand what is being said when other noises are present.
Noise induced stress may decrease dopamine availability, disrupting the flow of information in the brain according to Scientific America. Their study summarised that, stress resulting from background noise, may decrease higher brain functioning leading to an impairment of memory. As well as direct impacts upon learning, some studies have discussed the indirect impacts on learning as a result of general distraction and annoyance from noisy environments in the classroom (NCIB). With background noise creating distractions, children struggle to concentrate as listening is effected, this further reinforces the decrease in memory attainment.
Ewart A. Wetherill has suggested that there are two requirements for good hearing in schools: a quiet background (without noise from traffic, adjacent classrooms and ventilation systems, for example) and control of noise reverberation and echoing. Such issues are often created by the design flaws in the structure of the building; this does however mean that they can be just as easily avoided through building design. NCIB has provided a document outlining the different ways in that acoustics in schools can be improved through various low cost but high impact acoustic solutions.
Bonzaft & McCarthys study which was previously discussed, highlighted how children’s reading scores differed significantly at one school as a result of noise levels from adjacent train tracks. In response to this evidence, a two-year study was carried out regarding the installation of Acoustic Wall Tiles on the walls and ceiling of the classrooms adjacent to the train tracks. These noise-abatement measures cut the noise levels in the ‘noisy classroom’ by as much as eight decibels. Most importantly though, two years after the installation of the Acoustic Wall Tiles, there was no difference in reading scores between children of the same grades regardless of the classroom location.
Even schools without high levels of external noise from traffic for example, can benefit from simple acoustic solutions to decrease noise reverberation in the classrooms which will reduce background noise and echoing, creating an overall more ambient acoustic environment. Much research has highlighted how noise in schools travels between classrooms both horizontally and vertically, as well as noise resulting from computer systems and ventilation machines. Acoustic Wall Tiles work by absorbing these sounds and reducing the reverberation and echoing that can result. This also ensures that teachers are heard more clearly; with teachers 32% more likely to be off work with vocal strain (NCIB), acoustic solutions not only improve children’s ability to learn but they make the classroom environment much easier for teachers to teach.
With acoustic solutions now listed as compulsory requirements for school environments (World Health Organisation), acoustic solutions such as Acoustic Wall Tiles are the ideal ‘low cost high impact’ intervention to create a more ambient and efficient learning environment.