Global Lack of Classrooms: A Sustainable Solution for Building Tomorrow’s Minds
As the global education gap grows, Thinking Huts tackles the crisis head-on with sustainable 3D printed schools.
By Maggie Grout, Founder and CEO of Thinking Huts
About the The Global Lack of Classrooms
Crunching the Classroom Crisis
Even pre-pandemic, 87 percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa could not read simple written text*. When the pandemic hit, learning for children all over the world was impacted as schools shut their gates and pivoted to a brand new way of teaching.
But, those who already struggled to access even the most basic levels of education were hit the hardest, the pandemic only exacerbating what was already a terrible situation beforehand.
There’s still an unfathomable amount of children in the world who do not have access to education–over 260 million to be exact**–because their nearest classroom is either too overcrowded, too far away, or does not exist at all.
As someone who was adopted from a rural village in China when I was 18 months old and afforded access to education in the US and England, I have experienced firsthand the opportunities that come with having an education. Since I was young I have wanted to find a way to pay it forward to bring safe learning spaces and classrooms to children around the world.
One thing we know about the situation right now is that the problem is outpacing traditional solutions. Not only are there not enough schools for the 1.9885 billion*** children on Earth, but the time it takes to build classrooms and schools using conventional construction methods simply is not fast or sustainable enough to tackle the crisis effectively.
Ideation of a Sustainable Solution
In 2015, I decided to stop thinking about how I can help bring learning spaces to children in underprivileged parts of the world and put a plan into action.
Constructing education infrastructure sustainably while deconstructing barriers to education seemed an impossible task to begin with, but once I started talking to people at the heart of it, spending my days researching, creating a new operations plan and supply chain, and making budget projections to fundraise towards, it didn’t seem quite so out of reach.
And so, Thinking Huts was born in 2015 after I realized the untapped potential of using humanitarian-driven 3D printing technology to build classrooms. 3D printing has been used all over the world to build structures like homes, apartment blocks, and administrative buildings; but, only once before to build a school.
Compared to traditional construction methods, 3D printing buildings significantly reduces construction waste and time. For context, once the 3D printing machine was up and running for our first project in Madagascar, which I will come to in more detail shortly, it took only 18 hours of total printing time to complete the walls and about three weeks to finish the whole school. Printing buildings using this method can also require up to 50% less concrete than the average building.
Building schools in a matter of weeks rather than months, or even years in some cases, gives us hope that we can build a legacy for education everywhere at pace and without hurting the planet. To make these 3D printed classrooms scalable, the idea is for each one to fit together like a honeycomb.
After seven years of fundraising, planning, collaborating with partners and curating a team of committed volunteers, we are proud to have taken the first step of what is a marathon, by opening the doors of Madagascar’s highly anticipated first-ever 3D school.
Madagascar’s Pilot Project
According to UNESCO, one out of every three Malagasy children will not complete primary school, and for those who do, 97 percent of Malagasy 10-year-olds are unable to read single sentences. Not only this, there is an estimated need for 22,000 schools in Madagascar due to overcrowding and long travel distances. This, paired with solar energy opportunities, made Madagascar the obvious location to put the wheels of Thinking Huts into motion.
A project seven years in the making, in April this year, we were proud to open the doors to Madagascar’s first 3D printed ‘thinking hut’ named “Bougainvillea,” piloted in Fianarantsoa.
From the architectural design created by Bruno Silva and Yash Mehta of Defining Humanity, grounded in the honeycomb vision, to partnering with 14 Trees for this project, a joint venture company and global leader in sustainable construction, this pilot project has been about collaboration from the offset.
The local construction was managed by SECOA, and we wanted to ensure the local community was a part of the project every step of the way. We did this by establishing a local supply chain and creating long-term jobs, which ultimately built mutual equity in the project.
The school’s 3D printed walls consist of a cement mixture that withstands environmental pressure. Locally-sourced materials make up the roof, door, and windows – this hybrid design involves local manufacturers in the construction process while teaching 3D operational skills that can be utilized for future construction projects. Trusted local partners oversee the daily operations of the school, coordinate maintenance, and supply teachers.
The pilot project has allowed us to iron out creases and learn how to work with the infrastructural limitations that come with constructing in developing countries. Thanks to its success, we will be able to scale up and tailor the concept by teaming up with other communities to build more schools in Madagascar and, eventually, around the world to break cycles of poverty through education.
What the Future Holds + How to Help
Down to the success of this project, we are confident we can take our learnings from one pilot project and apply it to a global program, creating long-term jobs and local supply chains along the way. We now have the tools, knowledge, and partnerships to roll out the delivery of classrooms rapidly as we work towards reducing the number of children whose promise of a bright future is broken.
We are volunteer-run and are always looking for committed, caring people who want to make an impact to join our team. If you’d like us to help us continue to bring our vision to increase access to education to fruition, please browse current volunteer opportunities here: https://www.thinkinghuts.org/volunteers
You can also make a donation, sponsor a school or hold your own fundraising event. Find out more details about all the ways you can get involved here: https://www.thinkinghuts.org/give-your-time
Help us as we work towards building tomorrow’s minds by bringing classrooms to children everywhere.
About Thinking Huts
Thinking Huts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit building a future that increases global education access through innovative, humanitarian-driven technology solutions. Its goal is to address barriers to education, such as travel distance and overcrowding, through sustainable education infrastructure. Leveraging 3D printing, Thinking Huts is on a mission to close the global education opportunity gap.
Thinking Huts was founded in 2015 by Maggie Grout, a 22-year-old social entrepreneur whose origin story as an adoptee from China shaped her desire to empower those with similar origin stories, born into underprivileged communities, by expanding access to education.