University of Pittsburgh

Education Reformer Targets Indonesian Youth

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Of everything that Antarina S.F. Amir (MBA, MIS '90) learned under the tutelage of Thomas Saaty, a Distinguished University Professor in decision making, operations and information technology, it was a song he introduced her to by American folk artist Harry Chapin, "Flowers are Red," that inspired her.

The lyrics tell the story of a young boy who is reproved by his teacher for drawing flowers in too many colors. To Amir, this was metaphorical of the flaws in education. Rigid curriculums stifle creativity and hold students back, she felt.

"That poem motivated me to think about finding an education system for my own children that would develop their creativity," recalls Amir.

Amir is the managing director of HighScope Institute Indonesia, a school system for nearly 3,000 students at the pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school levels. The non-traditional schools deploy a project-based learning approach to core subjects like math and science, and challenge students to think for themselves - even if that means speaking up and talking back.

"We're different because we believe that students should be given choices, that the flowers aren't always red. Normally, most students would be quiet and not be critical, because everything is decided by adults or their teachers. We develop our students to be decision makers," Amir says.

The HighScope Indonesia curriculum favors active learning over memorization. To accomplish this, teachers share control with their students. Students are challenged to take charge of their learning by completing a variety of engaging activities both inside and outside the classroom.The program is innovative in other ways as well. High school students are required to complete 40 hours of community service for graduation. They also must join clubs and are encouraged to pursue internships and study abroad opportunities."HighScope Indonesia students come to school to learn, not to be tested," Amir says. "HighScope teachers assess and monitor student progress in many kinds of ways, including using a wide variety of assessment techniques."

Elementary and middle school students are placed in "multi-age classrooms." That means, for example, that elementary school students in grades four and five learn together. In that way, students can learn at their own pace.

HighScope is an international education system based in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Indonesia-based branch has 10 schools. Amir plans on expanding the program to new markets in Malaysia and Vietnam.

For her exemplary work, Amir was recognized by the international accounting firm Ernst & Young as a finalist for the 2010 Indonesia Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Amir says she relies heavily on her business education from the Katz School to help run the operation. During her time as managing director, HighScope Indonesia has received direct approval from HighScope to be the license holder for Indonesia. Amir says HighScope Indonesia would receive full support if Amir decides to open other schools in the Asia-Pacific region.

Amir says that, in particular, her foundation in marketing, strategic thinking, and information systems help her to make "the right decisions at the right time." She is proud to have opened up opportunities for her students and staff, and to have positively influenced the development of education in Indonesia.

"My education helped me develop the business from scratch. I learned how I should grow this business and develop the market," Amir says