More than just a school building, Etania Green School is a learning ecosystem designed for the
tens of thousands of stateless children whose parents work in the oil palm plantations of Sabah.
The school provides an educational pedagogy in which teachers and students collectively exchange
knowledge, spark curiosity and explore self-learning.
Serving an invisible population of minimal means, the design exemplifies a high-impact, low-cost
model. It is sensitive to the environment, allowing for natural light and ventilation for most
of the school hours. At sundown, it runs on solar power. The building, made of five
decommissioned shipping containers and recycled timber that allowed for quick assembly, can be
expanded in the future should the need arise. Such a modular design can also be duplicated in
other locations to serve other overlooked communities.
The Jury upholds the project as an impressive example of how design can catalyse social change by
responding to a defining humanitarian issue – the millions of stateless children worldwide.
Etania Green School confers identity on this marginalised community and cultivates a strong
sense of belonging, which is nicely summed up by a parent – “Our children don’t want to come
home and [they] love the school”.
Dr Kathryn Rivai
Matakana Children’s Education Society Sabah
The school by Billion Bricks is new to Sabah in several ways. Not only is it for children who
have been marginalised and excluded from government schools in Malaysia, its design is inspired
by the state’s beautiful cultural heritage.
Prior to this, our school was located on the second storey of a cramped and stuffy shophouse.
Children had no space to move around and the overall condition was far from ideal. The new
school provides opportunities for our children, who have an insatiable curiosity, to explore in
a safe and protected haven away from the prying public eye. Its design allows for greater
freedom of movement, which enables outdoor learning as an integral part of our curriculum. The
quiet, cool, peaceful and green environment is ideal as a learning space.
Can design improve learning? It most definitely can. Children who learn in a pleasant and
spacious environment feel less stress. They enjoy and make the best of the programmes provided
for them. Since we moved into this building, we have noticed a huge change in the way students
learn and interact with each other, teachers and the environment. I attribute this change to the
school’s design, which challenges the biases that equate designs for the poor with poor designs.