Najelaa Shihab
    Category: Inspiring Women 2015 By : Forbes Indonesia team Read : 4783 Date : Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 01:27:13

    Santirta Martendano for Forbes Indonesia

    Najelaa Shihab has been a lifelong learner and supporter of education. She got a BA and MA in psychology, with a focus on child and education, from the University of Indonesia. She also married at 19, and had three children. “My childhood friends always said that I have been talking about setting up schools and working in education since I was nine,” she laughs. She has lived her dream by establishing a chain of schools as well as two successful education-focused websites, all with the aim of improving education standards in the country.

    Najelaa, 39, sees education as the main force affecting society, especially in Indonesia where the situation is critical. “We are in an emergency state, in terms of the quality of education and also in terms of access. There are so many things that should have been done yesterday,” says Najelaa. Since the problem is big and urgent, Najelaa thinks everyone should do something about it. “You cannot let the government solve the problem by itself because at the end, it’s actually everyone’s responsibility. It needs to come from public initiatives,” she says. The educational entrepreneur sees the government more as a facilitator that should identify the best educational practices, in order to scale them up to a national level.

    In schools, she founded Sekolah Cikal in 1999 while taking her masters in psychology. Started as a preschool, the first campus was located in Jakarta’s Kemang area. Nowadays, the organization has seven campuses, including one dedicated to teachers, is building an eighth one and has 2,400 students. Sekolah Cikal has now not only pre-schools but also middle and high schools, accredited both nationally and by the International Baccalaureate Organization. However, she didn’t conceive Cikal as a standard academic school but as a “family center development.”

    In fact, Najelaa doesn’t believe in traditional methods: “Teaching by books for the exam is the worst kind of teaching and learning.” In addition, she also feels the entire family should be involved in the educational process. “It’s not like you drop your child at school and give up your responsibilities. We want to build a community of lifelong learners, that includes the children and also the parents and the educators,” she says. In order to offer a better education, Cikal focuses on developing the child’s personality. The annual report card, delivered to the parents, describes the child skills, attitudes and competencies. It highlights the student’s uniqueness and interests. Each child has an Individual Education Plan, tailored for each student. This education is not cheap—Cikal’s prices can easily run into the tens of millions of rupiah, depending on the grade and other factors.

    Najelaa’s efforts to improve education don’t stop at a school. In many parts of Indonesia, access to education is limited. “The teachers don’t actually have enough resources to teach,” she says. To solve this problem, Najelaa founded in 2012, a site that shows educational videos made by teachers as well as students (checked first and edited by the Inibudi staff). Furthermore, Inibudi can send a DVD or flash drive anywhere in Indonesia for those who are unable to download the content.