A new school that caters for children with language or learning difficulties has opened in a mall in Singapore.
School of Concepts (SoC) is a social enterprise that aims to empower children through literacy. It works with children from less privileged backgrounds and those in need of additional learning support. To further its main cause, SoC also reach out to people with disabilities by offering them jobs within the SoC.
As well as formal learning, SoC offers sensory and experiential learning, speech and drama, and arts and crafts. This helps to build confidence and social skills and is proven to improve learning outcomes for learners with dyslexia.
SoC needed new premises after outgrowing its previous location. As a social enterprise, it was imperative that the move could be achieved at the lowest cost possible with minimum disruption to day-to-day operations.
Broadway Malyan became involved with SoC following a conversation between curriculum planner Adrian Chan and Cindy Han, board director at Broadway Malyan. Cindy discovered the misconceptions and challenges that a social enterprise faces and heard about SoC’s challenging task of moving to new premises. She saw that there was a great opportunity to put Broadway Malyan’s capabilities towards a good cause and introduced them to the team to see what could be done.
To help, Broadway Malyan volunteered interior design, graphics and signage consultancy to the school. “The project really struck a chord with our designers”, said Rosie Oliver, associate at Broadway Malyan. “Education is one of our key sectors and we knew that there was a lot we could offer to help improve the learning environment of these children.”
The new space is bigger and offers three classrooms, allowing a larger intake of students that can also be arranged according to age or need. There is enough room for workshops, training and even performances, with a puppet theatre production recently hosted in one of the spaces.
David Spencer, associate director at Broadway Malyan, has designed a number of learning environments for children with learning difficulties. He said: “When designing spaces like these, it is important to talk with the teachers and find out their needs and those of the children, as they know the children the best. What emotions do they need to instil in the students to assist learning? How will they want to manage their lessons and structure meeting their student’s needs?
“It is important to enable the teachers to select an environment with enough stimulation to support the learning process alongside being calming to not over excite the children. The main thing is to have a range of environments so that it can be adjusted to match the mood and attitude of the students, which could potentially change throughout the day.”
Speaking about SoC specifically, Rosie added: “The interesting aspect with this environment is that students arrive via the mall. Typically, these are busy, bright spaces, designed to grab attention and entice people. We wanted to contrast that with our design, so that they feel they are entering a safe, welcoming, calm place.
“It was important that the space did not feel clinical, so warmth and colour was provided by the choice of materials, for example the timber floors.
“The front of the unit has more colour, helping with the transition from the mall. For example, a key feature is the use of coloured alcoves along one wall. These offer a quiet space for interaction, and can help provide a break for students from the wider classroom, as they are deep enough to offer some privacy without making the student feeling too enclosed.”
As well as Broadway Malyan, a range of other companies donated time, materials and furniture to the build, including Steelcase (tables and chairs); Erco (light fittings), Interface (timber flooring), Formica (laminate for all shelving/cupboards/storage) and Nippon (textured/coloured paint for the classrooms).
Mall owner CapitaLand has also provided a significant discount on the lease.
As well as designing the new space, the Singapore team has been collecting donations from staff since Christmas, through a raffle and voluntary contributions for soft drinks supplied in the office fridge.
Cindy added: “Our original intention was to raise enough money to sponsor a child to attend one semester at SoC. We have actually raised enough for four children, and will be handing over the money to SoC shortly.”
Mint Lim is the founder of SoC and said that the new school had generated a lot of interest from the public.
“The design of the school has turned a lot of heads as people have passed by in the mall,” she said. “As a result, we have had a higher intake of full fee-paying students, which has allowed us to open our doors to more children that require a subsidised education.
“The new space has increased the perceived value of the school and the education it provides, raising our profile and credibility amongst parents and the broader education sector.
“One of our missions is to educate the public on children that fall outside the conventional education system and how we can help them, and the extra interest in us has allowed us to do this.
“The space is very inviting to young children. The soft colours and warm palette make the children feel at home, and they want to come to class.
“Because the design is very clean and all of the resources are neatly concealed in large cupboards the space has very few distractions. It is a very calming space and we have found that the children are much more able to focus, particularly those with ADHD and low spectrum autism.
“One great thing is that fun elements are designed into the space itself. We do not have to rely on props or resources to inspire the children’s imagination. In one minute, the space can be transformed into a market or a house helping children to learn via play as well as more formal teaching.”