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Sinarmas World Academy, Indonesia

Sinarmas World Academy, Tangerang, Indonesia

By Prakash Nair and Jay Litman

Sinarmas World Academy in Indonesia is a prime example of how to go about developing personal learning communities in a large scale school. Fielding Nair International (FNI) served as Design Architect and Educational Facilities Planner for Sinarmas World Academy, a 1,500 student school which opened Phase One (Lower School (Pre-K to 6) of the proposed campus master plan development in July 2008. The school was planned, designed and constructed within 16 months on a very tight 5.8 hectare site and posed many difficult challenges that had to be overcome. From an architectural perspective, the challenge for FNI was to create a campus that is modern, aesthetic, dramatic, playful and responsive to the cultural context and Indonesian ethos. The final built design was realized by PT Metro Idea Architects of Jakarta who served as Architect-of-Record.


The Small Learning Community

The campus of the Sinarmas World Academy has been designed around seven distinct school buildings or “Small Learning Communities” arranged by age groups; Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12.

To understand the concept of the Small Learning Community (SLC) we first need to revisit the concept of the traditional classroom. The traditional 8.4M x 8.4M classroom starts with the assumption that a predetermined number of students will all learn the same thing at the same time from the same person in the same way in the same place for several hours each day.

When these classrooms are strung together, side by side along a corridor, it becomes the familiar and traditional school, referred to by educational planners as the “Cells and Bells” model. The students occupy the classroom “cells” and move between them, by subject, at regular intervals at each change-of-class bell. We also call this the “Factory Model” of traditional school design. The traditional classroom’s simplistic design also assumes that the significant part of a students learning occurs in a somewhat linear fashion.

Designing for Diverse Learning Modalities

The design of the Sinarmas World Academy utilizes modern research that has now shown that learning is not linear and uni-dimensional, but holistic and multi-faceted. In other words, children learn differently, using different learning strategies or modalities and at different speeds. Some children think in a logical or math centered modality, some are visually centered, some are story or language centered and some are a mix of each. Each group requires a different sort of learning environment.

There are currently twenty distinct learning modalities that have been identified. These are the different learning strategies that children use based on their individual learning styles, in different combinations. They can range from one-on-one learning with the teacher, group lecturing, independent study, peer tutoring, to project-based learning, performance and music-based learning and seminar-style learning.


The traditional classroom will come up short against these various learning modalities because it is primarily set up for the group lecture format. Even with some adaptation and modification the traditional classroom cannot cope with the differing needs and learning styles of children of the 21st century. As we move into the 21st century, our most valuable export will be creativity and innovation and these skills are not developed in the traditional classroom of the “Factory Model” School.

The Learning Studio

Under the new learning paradigm, we are looking at a model where different students (of varying ages) learn different things from different people in different places in different ways and at different times. Each of the Sinarmas School Buildings is based on the concept of a Learning Studio. A Learning Studio offers an irregular shaped plan, which creates breakout spaces, active zones and flexible learning areas that support a significant number of the twenty critical learning modalities. In many areas pairs of studios have been combined to create a more flexible Learning Suite.


The Small Learning Community

A Small Learning Community (SLC) is created on each floor by combining several learning studios or Learning Suites together and connecting them with a large multi-purpose social space or “Learning Commons”, that can be used for project work, independent study, distance learning, collaborative work and so on. Each SLC also contains its own teacher workroom, a small kitchenette/café space, a small reference library and workspaces for each student. The Learning Suites are connected directly to the presentation areas, seminar rooms, its own bathrooms and science labs.
On each floor each SLC also contains outdoor learning spaces through the use of covered and shaded outdoor terraces. In this way each SLC is a rich learning environment that will support most of the twenty learning modalities and allow teachers maximum flexibility. Also by arranging the Sinarmas World Academy into distinct SLCs, each building can be scaled to each age level and can carry its own distinct identity which will allow each student to feel that they belong.


The strategy of the Small Learning Community also breaks down the apparent size of a school designed for 1,500 students into a well-scaled educational campus much like a small town comprised of distinct neighborhoods, where each SLC represents a neighborhood. In this manner the younger grade SLCs (Pre-K – 6th grade) are grouped into a lower school campus designed with its own, smaller gymnasium and outdoor activity areas and where overall, a rich and varied set of outdoor activities specific to the younger age group can be created. The upper grade SLCs (7th – 12th) form the upper school campus with a larger Health and Fitness Center and a Design, Arts and Technology Center (DAT).

An Administrative and Global Learning Center contains the performing arts, the library, café and administrative offices and is shared (as is the DAT and Health and Fitness center) by all age groups. The performing arts center contains facilities to educate the student through exposure to theater, dance, motion, music and performance. The facility band and chorus practice rooms and musical practice suites for both electronic and traditional instruments. In this manner the Sinarmas World Academy aims to educate the whole student in all learning modalities.

For more information, contact:

Prakash Nair, REFP
Fielding Nair International


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