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  • The private sector and the public trust

    by Amar Kumar

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    Nothing divides education opinion quite as much as the role of private business. For some, they are the necessary partners of delivery, picking up where tax dollars and public provision aren’t enough. For others, there can be no place for profit in the education of children, an ideological stance where anyone seeking a commercial advantage is immediately distrusted. And the larger the company, the louder that distrust.

    Pearson makes more money than any other company in the education sector, so we receive our fair share of that mistrust. And it is fair - we should be made to work hard for people’s trust. We may make textbooks and digital content and administer tests and manage schools - but ultimately we are in the business of making people’s lives better. When you’re dealing in such a precious product as people, cynicism is not only understandable - it’s essential.

    I work for Pearson, but that does not mean I am immune from this cynicism. I’m also a former teacher, a taxpayer, and I care deeply about what kind of world I want us and future generations to live in. When parents and educators rise up and shout “Show us - show us how what you do is helping our children make progress”, I am shouting with them.

    When I was the principal of a school in India and parents asked why their child was falling behind, I wanted to know too. Now, having made my home in the U.S., I want to know why it comes a lowly 36th in global education standards, trailing behind the likes of Estonia, New Zealand and Vietnam. I want to know why far too many of our students are dropping out of high school or arriving unprepared in college or the workplace. I want to know, amongst all the great things that happen in our schools and classrooms, what doesn’t work and how we can make it better. And I don’t care where the answers come from - public money, private enterprise, a bit of both… I don’t care. All I care about is achieving better outcomes.

    The challenges to delivering better education are many and varied, and we need to increase the number of people helping to find the solutions, not close the gates. That’s why I believe there’s a clear role for private businesses, Pearson included, in increasing choice and competition in education. Learners and customers will rightly demand that this involvement comes with accountability and transparency - as do shareholders. What good is that shining new private school down the road if there’s no evidence it’ll be the right fit for my child? That whizzy new website; get past the sleek design and smooth user experience - will it actually improve my students’ grades? How are you ensuring your products outperform the competition? Different questions, but all part of the same inquisition.

    Our products may be traded in dollars, but they are held accountable by data. Collected, analysed, and made public. Without data, we all fall down, scrambling in the dark, banking on hunches, clinging to the “because we’ve always done it this way” mentality. With data, we all move forward - all of us. The teacher, more confident that her students will progress quicker in literacy and numeracy because she’s seen the evidence that the product she’s chosen has done that for others. The student, using tools that don’t just make him more literate and numerate, but also better at solving problems, being a team player, more able to think creatively… because that’s the sort of person the world says it needs. The parent… prouder and happier.

    There is no silver bullet that makes all this happen overnight, but efficacy - this total immersion in being led by the data - will help get us there quicker. It’ll make decisions easy. If the data is telling us a product isn’t doing what we intended it to do and we can’t improve it, we won’t sell it anymore. Irrespective of how profitable it might be, it will have no place in our portfolio. Period.

    Don’t believe me? Last year Pearson considered a multi-million dollar investment in a school chain in an emerging market. On the surface, it all looked great - months of due diligence and financial analysis said this was going to be a sound commercial investment. But when it went through our efficacy review, it fell short. In the past, that school chain may have become part of Pearson; but today, it is not, because we couldn’t be confident it would deliver for its students. That is what we mean about being accountable.

    Last month, we made some of our data available publicly, and we’ll continue to do so until we - you - have the evidence to cover our entire portfolio. We’ll have nowhere to hide. And, that’s exactly how we want it.

    We don’t expect our commitment to efficacy to win everyone over. There will always be people who are ideologically opposed to our business, regardless of the alternatives and whether they help people make progress or not. But for many others - who just want to see their child graduate, get that promotion, be prouder of their country - they’ll be able to judge whether we’re the ones who can help them or not. And if it’s not us, we’ll be glad that those that ‘did’ also made their data available so it was an informed choice.

    Ultimately, accountability is about more than assigning blame or defending yourself – it’s about making the right decision to get what you want. Education would do well to lose the public vs private tags, and just see us all for what we are - people in search of progress.

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  • The day my life changed

    by Gwen Hodgson

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    In amongst the day to days of life as usual, we all have the odd date that gets hardwired into our memory banks. The days when something out of the ordinary happened, a bolt that breaks up the trudge of routine and stands-up screaming “you’ll never forget me!”. Life changing, hopefully life making, sometimes life breaking - the days that come to define us.

    Mine is April 4, 2006. A little over nine years ago, but as fresh as yesterday. I will never forget it. The day I took Jaq, my beautiful two year old boy, to the doctor.

    Jaq had always been a ‘challenging’ baby. Not in the way that all babies thunder in to shake up your life. He was certainly that - but more too. Something I couldn’t put my finger on at the time; just something that didn’t feel quite right. He would sometimes be totally engrossed in an activity, then seem suddenly detached as if there was nothing but empty space around him. Sometimes he would scream uncontrollably for hours on end, but shudder away from any attempts to comfort him. Other times, he would cling to me as if fearing he would fall off the edge of a cliff if he let go.

    April 4 2006 was the day I learned Jaq has autism. I had found myself in the office of a developmental and behavioral doctor. A few weeks earlier, at Jaq’s two year check up, the pediatrician had explained that Jaq didn’t seem to be meeting the milestones like a typical child, and we should look into why that might be.

    I remember feeling totally overwhelmed by the news. I had almost no understanding of autism; wasn’t that something very serious? And no idea why Jaq had it, or what to do to deal with it. And I felt guilty. Had I done something wrong? Had I not protected him from something? Was this all my fault?

    In today’s world of hyper information at your fingers, it seems odd to recall that when I went looking for answers, they were hard to find. Today there’s a huge autism ‘family’ that stretches right around the world - parents, carers, teachers, doctors, psychologists…. and autistic people, all pulling together to better understand autism. In the last decade we’ve learned so much about autism. People are properly diagnosed, and early. We might be shocked by the numbers - it’s estimated that 1-2 people in every 1,000 worldwide have some sort of autism; but it’s a sign of progress that we know this. And we’re learning all the time what therapies work, and how to modify teaching and learning practices to suit individual needs.

    But back on April 4 2006, I knew none of this. Slowly I learned. I learned about the science of it all - how autism isn’t one thing, but a spectrum with a myriad of moving parts. How everyone’s autism is unique to them - in the same way we’re all made up of shades of intelligence, ambition, shyness, humour, so too is it impossible to bucket autism into a neat single lump. I learned what worked for Jaq -  the vacuum cleaner running next to his bouncy seat; or his big brother doing a funny ‘Sponge Bob’ dance. I have no idea why those things worked, but they did.

    And I’ve also learned that, despite the conversations around autism being largely rooted in medical terms, we shouldn’t see it as condition to be cured. Sure, there are things that people with autism can do to improve their lives - but isn’t that the same for everyone? Don’t we all want to be a bit more determined, a bit cleverer, more confident, better to cope with what life throws at us? Aren’t we all striving to be better versions of us; and happier!

    As Jaq’s grown older, we’ve used clinical assessments to inform the best therapeutic and educational interventions. These have been absolutely crucial for Jaq. Like any education of a child done well, it’s given him the start in life he needs. Jaq’s ten years old now. He’s in a mainstream school, and is considered ‘high-functioning’. That’s the official take. I consider him as my gorgeous little man - always trying his best, sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong, but always making progress.

    If Jaq had been born years earlier, odds are he wouldn’t be any of those things. Education may have brushed him to one side, classing him as unable, lazy, troublesome. And that is the power of education. That when it makes progress, so do people.

    April 4 2006 - a life making day.

    ***

    Get in touch with Gwen on twitter - @HRGwen

    Learn more about Pearson’s work in this area.  

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  • Educate refugees or lose a generation

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

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    How do you educate refugee children in places with a shortage of trained teachers, a lack of resources, and where school records have been lost? In the last four years, across the Middle East and North Africa, millions of young refugees have fled from their homes. And an entire generation, millions of children, are at risk of growing up without an education.

    The threat of an educational void is becoming abundantly clear in places like Syria. More than 2.3 million children inside the country are not in school. Of the hundreds of thousands who have fled, nearly half are not receiving any education at all. In Lebanon, there are more school age refugees than the entire intake of the country’s public schools, and only one in five Syrian children are enrolled. Sadly, it’s a similar situation in Jordan and Iraq. Aid needs to reflect the new, longer-term reality of conflicts, and should include the means for providing access to education to those who have had to migrate and are forced to establish a new life.

    Abu Mohamad, a Syrian refugee, recently told his story to CNN about small businesses in refugee camps. He started a pizza delivery service for other refugees and aid workers living in his camp. “I couldn’t sit and wait for the situation to change,” he said. “We always want more for our families.” But not everyone is an entrepreneur, particularly young children – many of whom lack access to basic education. Not everyone has the necessary tools at their disposal.

    Last month, the UK pledged £100m to help support Syrian refugees with food, medical care and relief items. The UK Department for International Development has committed more than £800m – the UK’s largest ever response to any humanitarian crisis. And USAID, between 2012 and 2015, donated $570m to help Syrian refugees. This is all much-needed support. Given the reality of this crisis, we need to supplement these efforts. More governments, NGOs and companies can play a significant role in improving access to education in these settings.

    Much as food aid often includes basic essentials needed for survival, education assistance needs to be rapidly deployable but without compromising on quality. Refugee camps and host communities need easily accessible materials and low- or no-cost tools for education that work in challenging settings. Some organisations are already leading the way.

    UNICEF helped more than 375,000 Syrian children last year access formal and informal education through school construction and rehabilitation, teacher training and provision of school materials for teachers and students. In Jordan, staff and volunteers from Save the Children are creating specialised teacher training and support programs for those operating in conflict regions. These sessions will equip teachers with an entirely new way of approaching lesson plans, homework and grading. Save the Children has also developed a database of emergency personnel for education. These experts can be dispatched on short notice to areas affected by emergencies.

    All this can be done without traditional classroom tools. Teachers work from condensed, modified curriculum, written to be delivered quickly and affordably. Mobile-delivered teaching resources can be vital when communication and normal delivery methods are limited by circumstance. And there is a need for solutions for grading tests where no national marking system exists and where students lack school records.

    Education is often among the first casualties of sustained conflict, and all too often, the international focus simply moves on to the next conflict, leaving a massive skills and knowledge void in its wake. Children out of school are vulnerable to the influence of extremism, a growing threat in the region, criminal behaviour and other forms of exploitation. Many host governments are stretched to the limits in terms of their ability to absorb the influx of refugee students into schools in already-struggling education systems.

    How can we make a difference? Businesses must prioritise the social impact we stand to make as major players in the global economy, and we must do so with a view to the future.

    In 2015, the UN is examining where focus must go following the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, and education will surely be among the priorities for the new Sustainable Development Goals.  There is work to be done. I encourage all businesses to examine their core competencies—whether in logistics, product design, communications or whatever their area of expertise – that can be applied or offered to refugee communities to drive educational improvements at little or no cost.

    The late professor C.K. Prahalad said: “The big challenge for humanity is to get everybody, not just the elite, to participate in globalisation and avail its benefits.” The shift in our thinking I’ve described around moving from a short to a long-term view of how we assist those in need through education, and what Prahalad envisioned, is about inclusion, it is about fairness and it is about allowing everyone, not just those at the top of the pyramid, to have a chance.

    (Click here to read about our own partnership with Save the Children, and join the conversation on Twitter at #EveryChildLearning.) 

     

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  • How tests are changing

    John Fallon

    by John Fallon

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    Amidst all the noise in American education, something interesting is happening across the country: students from grades three to eleven are taking new assessments aligned to higher standards and it’s going well. That’s not to say the work is complete. It's not easy to implement new assessments and there is still a tremendous amount we can learn and improve upon as we move through the school year.

    The shift to higher standards sets higher aspirations for all students involved. It demands new ways to determine whether our students are learning. These changes include digital testing methods that score tests faster and more accurately, and at lower costs to schools, along with multi-step questions that measure critical thinking, reasoning and the ability to apply skills and knowledge in reading, writing and mathematics. Students now write responses based on texts – fiction and non-fiction - and multimedia components to support their point of view.

    They are also solving complex math problems that require reasoning and address real-world situations. These skills are critically important for students in college and in the workplace. Because of these new kinds of questions, students will receive a better indication of their progress with detailed analysis of their answers to each test question.

    Teachers will have data specific to each student that is useful and timely, as the assessment is built with them in mind. For example, Joanie Funderburk, a math teacher for 25 years, was deeply involved in developing the assessment, helping ensure that students would be given appropriate feedback. Funderburk, with 25 other Colorado educators, met twice a year together with other teachers to ask questions, give input, and provide feedback to shape what was important to each state. She noted, “PARCC* is built upon an evidence-based design: starting with the standards, identifying the specific skills and knowledge the standards require, then designing tests and items that align to those knowledge and skills.”

    Parents are also able to be more involved, in supporting their children and their local teachers. They can access more information about their child and have an accurate gauge on progress. And employers benefit from a workforce ready for the jobs of a dynamically different economy.

    Parents are however rightfully concerned about the pressures on children. We need fewer, better tests. And these richer assessments that capture student performance and produce more and better feedback, should reduce the need for benchmark, or “drill” style tests, that have exploded in use over the last decade. These tests should also be replaced by new platforms that enable teachers to observe more naturally and effectively how their students are doing. These platforms allow teachers to make small, incremental adjustments based on the individual needs of each student through the school year rather than waiting until the end of the year, when it is much harder to recover lost ground. Parents should also be reassured that, implemented properly, it means less rote style “teaching to the test”. The best way to prepare students to perform well on these new assessments is for teachers to focus completely on the rich, deeper curriculum demanded by these new, higher standards.

    Teachers should also be given time to adapt the curriculum for students, and their own teaching style. It’s one thing if you start in third grade, with a new class and a new way of teaching math. But if you’re in eighth or ninth grade, it’s understandably harder for teachers, and students, to adapt. Just as each student is different, so is each school district, and the pace of change will vary from state to state. It is vital that teachers are given the time, space and encouragement to work with, and learn from, each other through what would be a big change in practice for any profession.

    Some specific issues color perceptions and hamper progress. In New Jersey this week, for example, a student posted on Twitter details of a test question he had just taken but that other students had yet to take. It is only one question, but it is still unfair to students and jeopardizes the integrity of the test. Pearson found the tweet through a monitoring service that is part of our contractual obligation to make sure test information doesn’t leak. It looks for keywords, directly relevant to the test, not the individuals taking it. We immediately alerted our customer, the New Jersey Department of Education, who contacted the student to remove the tweet.

    While this is a standard procedure and aligns with high stakes testing best practice, parents were understandably concerned about their children’s privacy. Pearson does not monitor individual students and never views information that is not public. But as a parent, I would never want my child to compete against other students who had an unfair advantage due to leaked information.

    As close as I am to the issues, I’m learning more every day. What’s important is to focus our attention on issues that really impact students – like ensuring students are prepared for college and take fewer, fairer, smarter tests. Creating smarter tests that better serve students will require the active cooperation of everyone who has a stake in our shared future.

     

    *PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure the progress of students towards college and career readiness.

    (Syndicated content)

     

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  • The state of parenting

    by Stacy Skelly

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    I am proud to be “mom” to two adorable little boys — a three-year-old and a seven-month old. Becoming a mom has really changed me for the better. As anyone who is one will know, being a parent isn't always easy. In fact, it's often quite hard. It is a challenge like no other, but so are the rewards. I wouldn't change it for the world.

    It’s so true that parents really are our children’s first and most important teachers. Every day I’m amazed by how quickly my boys are learning and growing. They will be attending school soon, and when they do I hope those first steps at home will have set them on a good foot in their academic lives... and continue to do so as they find their way into work and adulthood. The nuts and bolts of what they'll need to know for life might be taught in the classroom, but equally important will be the behaviors we will try to keep encouraging at home - ambition, resilience, determination, and kindness.

    We are 40,000 strong at Pearson, and many of those 40,000 people are parents. So when, as a company, we say 'we’re putting the learner at the center of everything we do' it's not just a throw-away line or a bullet point on a strategic document -- it's a personal commitment that many of us first made not as employees, but as parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents, in our own home, to our own kids. It’s not a promise articulated in terms of 'learner at the center,' but rather "I'm going to love you and never give up on you." It's a promise that each of us takes beyond our own families, around the corners of the kids in our neighborhood, and across state and national borders. It's a promise we make to all children, wherever they may be: education has the power to make your life better.

    That's why I’m excited to share the findings from a new NBC News National Survey of American Parents, which is shedding light on the current state of parenting in the U.S. Conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, the research paints a new portrait of the American family, and really encourages us to think about the crucial link between a strong family and a strong education.

    A few of my favorite poll highlights are:

    • 75% of America’s parents give high marks to the education their children are receiving

    • 79% of parents reported having dinner with their families most days of the week

    • Two-thirds of parents say their children's overall academic performance is excellent (39%) or very good (25%)

    • A little more than half (53 percent) of parents are satisfied with their level of involvement in their child’s education, but almost as many parents (47 percent) wish they could do more.

    You can learn more about the findings at www.ParentToolkit.com/Poll and share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #StateofParenting.

    ***

    Stacy works in our North American team. Connect with her on Twitter on @StacySkel

     

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  • Blackjack to Black Ops: New Learners Earning Unique Badges

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    Gone are the days when online education was limited to a few industries and skill sets. Today, alternative credentialing opens access to a wide range of industries students may have never considered, allowing them to gain the skills needed to find a new or better job.

    As digital badging programs become more popular, more accepted, and more diverse employers from many sectors are turning to this technology to fill workforce needs.

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  • Goal to Be Greater: Encouragement and Support to Raise Civic-Minded Kids

    Kids recycling

    Jamie Farnsworth keeps her eyes open for lost tourists on the subway as she commutes to work in Manhattan.

    “My final stop is the place where people are getting on the train to go downtown to South Ferry, where they get the Statue of Liberty ferry,” Jamie says. “The entrance is a bit confusing and difficult to find.”

    Earlier this month, she came upon a couple with small kids looking confused.

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  • Two Generations of IT Professionals Talk Employability and Proving Your Skills

    by LearnEd

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    A few weeks ago, we wrote a story about the 2016 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship, a global competition that tests students’ skills in Microsoft Office Word, Excel® and PowerPoint®. This year's World Championship was held in Orlando in early August.


    After she brought her son’s resume to a Montana bank so he could be considered for an internship, Tina O'Donnell recalls, "The HR rep told me, ‘I wish everybody had a resume like this.’”

    Her son, Nick, stands out among intern candidates. He is the current U.S. Champion in Microsoft Word 2013, a title he secured in the Pearson VUE Certiport Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship in Orlando earlier this month.

    He has just graduated from high school.

    “We never expected Nick to be named the best in the United States,” she says. “But I do think he’s a rock star.”

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    Nick O'Donnell and his mom at the 2016 Microsoft Office World Championship in Orlando, Florida.

    Making A Resume Stand Out

    Nick’s certifications in the 2010 and 2013 Microsoft Office programs, as well as a long list of other extracurricular activities, help him prove his skills to potential employers.

    “I think you need to have computer skills to be employable because that’s where the job market is going,” says Nick.

    “You also have to adapt because technology is constantly changing.”

    Nick was offered, and took, the internship at the bank, working on their document management system.

    At the age of 18, he also became the resident expert in Microsoft Office.

    “I was really impressed at how he was able to interact with adults more than twice his age. When we had a very technical discussion, something moms and sons don’t usually have, I knew he had changed,” says Tina, who is also employed in IT at a bank.

    “When hiring, I look for those soft skills like teamwork and leadership.”

    After graduating, Nick was hired to work in IT for the Anderson School District in Montana. He is on-site, helping educators with the technology in their classrooms.

    “The Microsoft certifications helped me get the job,” says Nick.

    His experience helping his old high school out also gave him a boost—as well as his passion. “I’m really excited to learn new software.”

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    Nick O'Donnell with Pearson leaders.

    Looking Forward to a Bright Future

    He’s also studying computer science and business at Montana State University. What does he want as a career?

    “CEO of Microsoft,” says Tina.

    Her son is a bit more modest: “I’d like to be an IT manager."

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John Fallon

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  • The extraordinary in the everyday

    by Rod Bristow

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    In the east end of London, the name of Richard Cloudesley rings loud. By all accounts a man of modest achievement, the school to which he gave his name is anything but. His life is a story that bridges 15th and 16th century England; his legacy is of a place that bridges gaps in the here and now - the gap between a childhood and the fulfilment of potential.

    For most people, education is that bridge, yet around the world it’s a crossing that’s denied to too many. Disabled children are too often those who get left behind, a gap made bigger by the perception of inability more than the fact of it. It’s a perception that teachers at Richard Cloudesley School have been mocking for over 100 years. Today, we’re celebrating just one of them.

    As I arrive at Richard Cloudesley, I am struck by its open and friendly modernity. The school moved sites a few years ago, to its new home, with space, light and high technology. As the front doors open, motorised wheelchairs and walking aids line the large lobby. I spy a child using an eye gaze keyboard to communicate. There’s something futuristic about this place.

    Underneath these visible signs of progress, there's a driving force. Every child here is deeply cared about, but there’s more. Sean, the headteacher, describes it as “making sure nobody falls off the cliff.” He talks about making sure that children who come to schools like Richard Cloudesley - children with significant physical disabilities - have somewhere to progress to after their school years, and are not simply resigned to a life at home or in care.

    They’re leaving few stones unturned in that pursuit. The complex needs of their students require a complete view of their welfare. So alongside the teaching staff, the school employs a specialist dietician, a medical team, psychologists, social care workers and counsellors. This is an operation to rival many top flight football clubs.

    Sean is clearly very proud of the whole team, but none more than Joanna Ross, who is being presented with a national teaching award. “We’re all very excited, but I think she’ll be embarrassed by it all,” says Sean. Joanna has been with the school since 2004, working with their youngest students, and judging  by the turnout of parents and carers, present and past, her award is richly deserved.

    I’m ushered into a specially arranged assembly. I look around for my colleague, Dominic, who I arrived with but now seem to have lost. I spot him in the front row, chatting to a young pupil. “This is Faith”, Dominic says, as he introduces her. “She’s been looking after me. She wants us to have the best view.” Faith is small for her 11 years, but there’s no lack of stature.

    “Tell him about Mango Man,” Dominic asks her. I lean in to hear, as her voice struggles to keep up with everything she has to say. Mango Man is the superhero comic story she’s been busy writing. Half man, half mango… by all accounts it’s quite a tale. Everyone at the school seems to know about Mango Man… and know about Faith. That evening she’s due to fly to the Ukraine for treatment, a journey she makes several times a year. “I’m scared of flying,” says Dominic. She looks silently straight at him with a crystal-clear incredulity, like he’s just admitted to being scared of fresh air. I can’t imagine anything ever fazes Faith.

    “We’re here to celebrate someone very special,” announces Sean as he kicks the assembly into life. “Though, all our teachers are incredible here, aren’t they?” Young hands go up and faces light up. One by one, each student gets to have their say. “They’re kind”; “They give us homework”; “They teach me how to do things”. Sean looks around the room. “Has everyone’s voice been heard?” he asks. Samuel’s has not. So everyone waits. There is no sense that anyone is in a rush. Samuel stares at his carer; “Hugs” comes the translation. I was watching her interaction with Samuel, and I couldn’t see how she worked that out; and then I wondered, just who is the one here lacking in communication skills?

    In the preceding weeks, pupils, parents and teachers have been asked why they think Joanna deserves the award, and their thoughts are now presented back to them on a big screen. It’s in keeping with the day, but it’s also an exercise that answers the ‘purposeful writing and shared reading’ requirements of the national curriculum. Education is squeezed into every experience here.

    We are asked to read the quotations aloud together. They are brimming with the stuff of role models - ‘amazing’, ‘inspirational’, ‘special’, ‘fun’. But I’m struck by one particular quote: “Every teacher training course needs a Joanna.”

    And then it’s Joanna’s turn to speak. “This is really about all of you; and everything I’ve learned about you and from you.” And as if to prove it, she walks around and makes sure all the pupils get their chance to touch the award.

    Richard Cloudesley is a shining example of why no child should ever accept a limit. But having the humility to acknowledge your limits is important. At Pearson, we do a lot in education. But we never lose sight of our place. That whatever we do, however well we do it, pales into insignificance against the impact of teachers. That the frontline of education - that place where a teacher and student come together, will always be where the most extraordinary things happen, every day.

    ***

    The Pearson UK Teaching Awards began in 1999 as a way for anyone to say “thank you” to the teacher who has helped them most. This year they attracted over 7,000 nominations. Learn more at http://www.pearsonteachingawards.com/.

    And read more about Richard Cloudesley School - http://www.cloudesley.islington.sch.uk/

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  • A parent's legacy - a journey in education

    by Elizabeth Goueti

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    Haiti should be a paradise on Earth. Tropical air breathes down from its mountains, rustling the chorus of coconut palms into a gentle surrender of their harvest. Its bountiful coastline offers up a gallery of fish, their chargrilled scent meandering through the placid streets. Voices waft in friendly rhythms.

    But you don’t need to explore too far to see that this is far from a paradise.

    Daily life here can feel like a momentary interruption in an unabating journey towards devastation. The 2010 earthquake brought Haiti to its feet and to the conscience of the world, but it had been under the grip of destruction for years before. Politics here can, and often does, spill into bloodshed, staining that which it is supposed to serve. Remnants of communities long beyond breaking point cling to existence - smells of putrid, fermented garbage line the outer banks of walkways and streets. In a country that can’t even keep itself clean, what hope does education have?

    This is the Haiti that my father remembers. He came from Borgne - aptly pronounced by the locals as “Oh Boy” - a small, indistinguishable town on the north coast. Back then there were no public schools, so if you wanted an education, you had to pay for it. Thus schooling was reduced to the privileged pursuit of the wealthy and the well-connected. If you were neither, you went nowhere.

    My grandfather, Rollin, got himself ‘connected’, and in doing so got his son - my father - into a school. It meant a four hour trip over deadly mountain terrain; it meant sending their little boy away to live in the big city of strangers; it meant scraping together every last penny they ever had. When school fees were late, my father would be thrown to the streets, left to wander around in the hope that the money would soon be on its way. It always arrived, and he was allowed back in, in the end.

    But ask my father what he remembers, and you’ll hear nothing of the hardship and the struggle. Instead, he’ll speak of luck, of being the only one of his friends that got the chance of school. He’ll speak of opportunity, of progress, of the start point to the rest of his life.

    My father completed high school at the very top of his class, but graduated into the merciless dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. His education had taught him how to read, and that had given him the freedom to think. But Duvalier’s Haiti was not a place for free-thinkers. So in October 1980, my father, along with 132 other Haitian men and women, boarded a boat, heading somewhere in the loose direction of America. They were running away, of course, but my father never described it as an escape. Survival, he would always tell me, should never simply be the absence of fear, but the presence of hope. His hope, as he lay upon that rickety boat, was to live the life of the educated man he had become.

    The boat trudged along for eight days, small and overloaded, alone amongst the bullying seas. The exiles survived on slim rations of uncooked rice and sips of water. Finally, Cuba; and for some, far enough, as they scuttled from the shore into the secrecy of a new life. But my father had bigger dreams; 14 days later, they landed in Florida.

    A year later, my mother made the same journey. Hers was a quest of a different kind; a single minded mission to secure for her 18-month son the education that she had been denied. She was only 19. She left alone - her baby was to follow weeks later. It took them 17 years of battling the system before they were reunited. The education she had risked her life to get him, gone. But she had succeeded. My sister and I are her proof of that. I am a lawyer, and Patricia will soon graduate with her Master of Arts.

    When we were children, my father would take my sister and I to the public library every Saturday.  Come rain or shine, he made sure we got a chance to get to read as many books as possible.  And my mother would often come home burdened with secondhand books she’d bought from the local thrift store or garage sales. To this day, I have kept them all, an enduring reminder of the world that opens up when you learn to read. Perhaps it is with our father’s words ringing in our ears - of the power of education to change the world - that we have both found ourselves working for Pearson.

    My parents’ stories seem so far removed from the life I’ve enjoyed as a first-generation American, that to describe myself as a child of refugees feels odd. Yet that is exactly what I am. I am the children of those risking their lives, right at this moment, attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe. I am the children of Syria, torn from their homes and their classrooms by war. And I am the proof, that education is both the means and the motivation that can make the difference.

    ***

    Learn more about how we’re trying to help the children displaced by the Syrian conflict.

    Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter - @elizabethgoueti

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  • Reading - a rite of passage

    by Emma Buckle

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    My son is 18 months old. Soon he’ll be at that age when you stop counting the number of words he can say. He’s up to seven. The sixth one was “Gruffalo”. His eighth word will probably be “Siri”. I’m lucky I can make a joke of it.

    For nearly 800 million adults around the world, reading can only ever be something done to them. The internet came and put education at the fingertips of more people than ever before. New ideas and data insights are improving school standards all the time. Yet illiteracy rates are merely being chipped away at, little bit by little bit.

    By 2020, 90% of the world’s over six-year olds are likely to own a mobile phone. Just think about that - there’ll be more people who can work a phone than can read or write. If this was health or homelessness or famine, we'd be talking about a humanitarian crisis. Yet illiteracy will likely be a major contributor to all three. Victims of a poor or entirely absent education, their illiteracy is the price they now pay. It is a heap of waste that seeps unnoticed by others into even the most basic parts of a day - a street sign, a menu, a tweet becomes the thing of subatomic quantum physics. Books are too lofty an ambition, so they remain untouched - just having enough words to see them through a day will do for now.

    A colleague of mine recently recalled when her boy’s reading ability sparked into life. He was five - a fairly typical age to be able to read, so you’d think. She remembers feeling a sense of revelation, even bewilderment, that this little creature who could barely do anything for himself not so long ago was now able to sit alone, with a book, and read.

    And she then realised how odd - how wrong - it was to feel like this. To be amazed and in awe of something that we should all take for granted; something that should be a simple rite of passage of a human’s progress through life. We’re born, we crawl, we walk, then talk, then read - isn’t that how it should go for everyone?

    I’ve read to my son ever since he was just a few weeks old. For me it is an emotional exercise, as much as an educational one. It’s about us sharing a moment of intimacy, with no interruptions - no phones, TV or Siri to get in the way. But the science behind doing so makes it equally rewarding. Children acquire between 500 and 1,100 words by the age of three. Regularly talking, singing and reading to our little ones during those years can increase their vocabulary by 75%.

    My son is lucky. Our shelves at home are stacked with books, and the school he'll go to will be too. But storybooks are shamefully the preserve of the better off. It is a fact that the poorer you are, the further away your closest book lies.

    Odds are, my son will be able to read. It’ll give him the opportunity to decide whether he’s a book lover. Whether, like his mum, he’ll be thrilled by the prospect of those opening pages, and eaten with the curiosity of finding out what happens next. Or perhaps he won’t like books - perhaps he’ll be into computers and want to spend all day coding. Or maybe he’ll be interested in the world around him - nature, politics, buildings. Whatever it is he ends up loving, he’ll be able to love it more because he’ll be able to read.

    It is never too late to learn how to read and write; but there is no substitute for learning to do that as a child.

    Today is the International Day of Families. Why not mark it by reading a book with your little boy, or girl, or niece, or nephew or grandchild and share the #joyofreading as a family. After all, there are still some things that Siri will never replace.

    You can connect with Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBucks

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    At Pearson we believe literacy should be a right, not a privilege. Join us in #ProjectLiteracy and help be the difference.

     

     

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