Dr. Nazli Che Din, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Built Environment at the Universiti Malaya, focuses on the critical yet often overlooked aspect of education – classroom acoustics. Dr. Nazli's expertise in architecture acoustics has led to groundbreaking research, particularly in the context of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing prevalence of remote learning.
The research on classroom acoustics was motivated by the profound shifts in education during the COVID-19 post-pandemic. As classrooms adapted to hybrid teaching models, it became evident that the acoustic environment played a crucial role in the effectiveness of remote learning. The motivation stemmed from a desire to address the disparities in the quality of classroom acoustics and ensure a conducive learning environment for all students, regardless of their physical presence in the classroom.
The study involved assessing 22 rooms at the University of Malaya, revealing a startling reality – none of the rooms met international standards for classroom acoustics. Dr. Nazli emphasized that this issue extends beyond university classrooms, with the worst cases found in post-independence schools. The culprits behind poor acoustics were identified as both architectural design and mechanical devices such as air conditioners and ceiling fans, especially when not properly maintained.
Dr Nazli conducted his research by first examining the decibel readings of classrooms.
Addressing the issue of classroom acoustics requires a holistic approach starting from the early design stages. Dr. Nazli highlighted the importance of considering the location of educational institutions and the materials used in construction. Reflective materials that cause sound echoes and reverberations can be problematic, as can the lack of proper mechanical ventilation. Design choices, including materials and locations, can significantly impact the acoustics of educational spaces.
Dr. Nazli's research shed light on the long-term consequences of exposure to acoustically challenging classroom environments, particularly for younger students. The cognitive development and mental health of kindergarten and primary-level students were found to be the most affected. The inability to focus and perceive information due to distracting noises can impede speech development, potentially affecting future prospects.
While acknowledging the expense, the suggested solution for existing buildings is using acoustic panels to control sound absorption. Additionally, innovative technologies like those being researched at Nanyang Technology University, involving active noise-controlling systems that mask external noises through windows, show promise. Lesser expensive measures include implementing high-quality PA systems, microphones, and speakers to ensure students' hearing and concentration are not compromised.
In Malaysia, we are yet to have specific regulations regarding classroom acoustics. Although the Malaysian Public Works Department (JKR) has written guidelines on acoustic work, they focus primarily on background noise and lack supervision. The need for comprehensive policies addressing both background noise and reverberation issues are crucial to creating truly conducive learning environments.
In conclusion, Dr. Nazli Che Din's research underscores the urgency of addressing classroom acoustics as an integral part of educational planning and design. It calls for a collaborative effort from academic institutions, architects, and policymakers to ensure that the acoustic environment supports optimal learning experiences for all students, regardless of their mode of participation.