As students across the United States enjoy fall, football and anticipate the holiday season, a school year tradition is being challenged by President Barack Obama.
In a video posted to Facebook, President Barack Obama made a call for fewer, better tests, saying that current policies, including those from his own administration, have taken “the joy out of teaching and learning.” Many in the education world applauded his move.
As the world’s leading education company, many commentators immediately jumped to the conclusion that Pearson would oppose this suggested shift in policy. But, I have a different message for educators, parents and students: We agree with the president.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to my home city of London last week is a reminder that in the race to build a world of better education, few places compare with India for the scale of the challenge and the ambition.
The Indian Prime Minister has rightly highlighted the problem of India’s “acute skills shortage”, and how this is hampering the pace of economic growth and undermining international competitiveness.
There are a number of reasons for this. Traditional rote-learning, for centuries the teaching style of choice, where students regurgitate knowledge, is increasingly out of sync with workplaces that value emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Team-building, conflict resolution, empathy, leadership, resilience – this is the stuff of the successful 21st century worker; but it is not the stuff that schools are sufficiently good at teaching.
The Pearson India team recently published our annual Voice Of The Teacher survey. They found that 57% of Indian teachers consider their students insufficiently prepared for employment on completing school. Three quarters of teachers want greater industry input into course content – a theme I also heard loud and clear when the Pearson board visited India last month. The full report has some fascinating insights on the state of play in Indian education.
Yet the infrastructure is there to make big improvements. Technology lets us learn what we want, when we want, at the pace we want. It can give us instant feedback and tell us where an individual – I – am going wrong and what I need to do to progress. And most importantly of all, it can do this for billions more people than the traditional classroom can. Not just access to learning - but also progress.
This skills challenge is not one of those great, intractable global issues. Solutions shouldn’t be hard to come by. It will require closer collaboration between educators, and employers. Nobody knows better than employers what sort of skills are needed for the workforce, and nobody knows better than teachers how to impart these skills onto young people. Governments need to put in place structures and incentives which encourage this collaboration.
Then there's the education providers like Pearson. We also have a vital role to play, through businesses we own like IndiaCan, which runs over 100 career coaching centres across India. My colleague Leah Jewell’s blog explains how we’ve helped 10,000 young people achieve their first taste of employment; people often left behind and let down by education when they were younger. Better employment outcomes are perhaps the ultimate measures of educational efficacy.
Free market forces and government policies may determine unemployment levels, but with the right education, nobody ever need be unemployable. I hope India continues to think outside the box when it comes to skilling up its population.
Get it right, and we all win: the school leaver gets the job, businesses get their talent, and a nation continues to lift itself up.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
Education is rightly seen as a catalyst for progress, not only for individuals but also for whole countries. The research confirms what we intuitively know - when you improve education, economic and societal benefits follow. It’s why national governments are heavily invested in schooling their citizens and why a growing portion of household incomes are spent on private or supplemental education. In an ever-competitive job market where the constraints of national borders are increasingly imperceptible, education is the leveller, and the edge-maker.
In this 21st century landscape, how a country educates its most gifted and talented children takes on a new sense of potential; not just the prospect of young lives fulfilled, but the promise of a new economic powerbase. Consequently, in many countries the responsibility for identifying and educating gifted students has spread beyond national or local government. Institutions like Brazil’s Center for Potential and Talent Development, and South Africa’s Radford House are having just as much of a say in who the next generation of bright young talent will be... and more of a say in how to nurture them.
But who are these gifted and talented kids, and what makes them unique from typical students?
If you study most of the thinking on this, there’s a broad consensus that gifted children have four characteristics: intellect, motivation, creativity, and affect (i.e., positive beliefs about themselves).
But studies are designed to be neat. In truth, no two children are ever the same, and gifted children are no different in this respect. Each will have their specific talents, learning needs, behaviours, likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. Each will need to be challenged and managed according to his or her abilities. They will usually need to learn faster and deeper; need to pursue independent study; need to make a meaningful impact; need to feel challenged by big problems; need to have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers - and knowing all this will help them flourish. But applying all this uniformly, without regard for the individual child and their specific gifts, is naive.
And it’s equally naive to not consider the impact of where a child is studying. How, for example, does local context and cultural values affect these interpretations? In August I attended the World Conference for Gifted and Talented Children where I heard a Lebanese researcher, Dr. Anies Al-Hroub, report about teachers' concepts of what makes a child gifted. It would seem in Lebanon, the ability to bargain for low prices and cutting in line to get faster service are seen as key traits of leadership and social intelligence. Elsewhere, this is the height of rudeness! Likewise, most conceptions of giftedness describe characteristics of an individual student, but the Mäori people of New Zealand recognize a collective giftedness - giftedness ascribed to a group of people whose talents become apparent when working together. So how do we reconcile these different views of giftedness?
Perhaps the question should be - do we need to? If education is ultimately about preparing children for a world beyond school, then we should champion the cultural idiosyncrasies that make societies what they are, not ignore them.
Just as important as understanding the individual child and local distinctions in our definitions of giftedness is our appreciation that the world is changing at breakneck speed. What was once considered valuable for children to know and learn and excel in is perhaps not as valued now. For example, rote learning was the dominant pedagogy for centuries worldwide. It was once that the child who could memorize and recite was most celebrated. Although spelling and geography competitions may still be popular, emphasis has shifted to skills such as empathy, leadership, teamwork, problem solving, determination, calmness, and respect. These are the skills that employers are increasingly requesting. And these skills are also making their way into new assessments such as PISA’s creative problem solving, collaborative problem solving, and global competency measures.
Some of these new '21st century skills' are already provided for in our traditional consensus of what gifted means and what skills we should help our gifted students develop. But others are not. So perhaps the question shouldn’t be “Is that child gifted?”, but rather “What does gifted mean, today, where you are?”
Is your child ‘gifted’? The four ‘traditional’ clues that could tell you.
Intellect Gifted children tend to have advanced language and thought patterns. This reflects not only rapid vocabulary and knowledge development but also abstract thinking such as the ability to solve problems, think about their own thinking (metacognition), and make relationships between seemingly unrelated ideas. These students may also have developed early abilities in reading, writing, mathematics, music, or art. They tend to be eager to learn, able to work independently, be curious, with a good memory, long attention span, and good judgment. Gifted children tend to be quick and logical thinkers. Combined with their desire for learning, this can lead them to frequently ask “Why” questions or seek to understand cause-and-effect relationships at an early age.
Motivation Another important characteristic of most gifted students is their motivation and persistence, or task commitment. A natural intellect, it would seem, is not enough. In fact, for students with high intelligence one of the primary factors that separated the successful from the less successful is motivation. Gifted students tend to have an intrinsic motivation—that is, they engage in tasks for the sake of learning rather than external rewards. Over time, this motivation orientation tends to lead to higher achievement and performance.
Creativity Gifted students also tend to be creative. General intellectual ability and creativity tend to be related, but are distinct. Creativity in gifted students often manifests as the ability to generate novel ideas and analytically evaluate them, tolerate complexity, think divergently, and be mentally flexible. Creative students are also risk takers, adventurous, curious, playful, and reflective.
Affect In general, gifted students are well-adjusted and have good self-concepts, particularly academic self-concepts. They also tend to have an internal locus of control—that is, they feel responsible for their successes and future plans. They often attribute failure to a lack of effort, rather than a lack of ability, which is associated with having a growth mindset.
Education is unquestionably the foundation of a brighter future, and graduating from high school the most fundamental step toward good employment and further education. For that reason, boosting graduation rates throughout America, and particularly among underserved student populations, is an essential piece of building a more just and fair economy and society, with more opportunities for all.
President Obama has stated a goal of achieving 90% high school graduation rates by 2020, and Pearson is proud to support that goal. We put the learner at the heart of everything we do, and believe strongly in advancing the cause of opportunity for all students.
In June, we announced the GradNation State Activation initiative in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance. This partnership aims to support and scale multi-year, cross-sector efforts at the state and local levels to make measurable impact on graduation rates.
We’re delighted to announce three state organizations that will each receive a $200,000 grant to support their work towards these goals.
• The Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable engages with mayors in 16 cities across the state through the Arizona Activation Initiative, in collaboration with WestEd and other state partners
• The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education focuses on students whose first language is not English
• The Minnesota Alliance With Youth, which supports GradMinnesota, a statewide initiative to increase the graduation rate, focusing on students of color, low-income students, English language leaners and students with disabilities.
An independent panel selected the grantees from a group of 41 applicants from 26 states. The panel, consisting of respected leaders in the education and youth development community, including Building a Grad Nation report co-author John Bridgeland, president and CEO, Civic Enterprises; former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education; Karen Pittman, co-founder, president and CEO, The Forum for Youth Investment; and 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples.
We congratulate the grantees, and wish them the best in the work to come. We’re looking forward to working with you, supporting you and celebrating the progress you will make in the years ahead.
This week marks the fourth annual International Day of the Girl Child.
When we ask women and girls what they want from education, one theme comes through loud and clear -- "progress." They might not use that word, but when the mum talks of her little girl being able to read the books she was never able to, when the teenager dreams of being the first in her family to go to university, and when the young woman refuses to see a glass ceiling to her career... that is progress. Progress for each of them, and ultimately for all of us.
Gender inequality starts with the 31 million girls who are denied their right to an education. An education that literally saves lives. A child born in Sub-Saharan Africa whose mother can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five. It's one of the reasons why Pearson has convened Project Literacy, a campaign to eradicate illiteracy worldwide. It's why we're also working with Camfed to train 5,000 female 'Learner Guides' in Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, who are not just securing their own futures, but are shaping the lives of girls who may otherwise be the next forgotten ones. And why we recently invested in Sudiksha, a start-up that recruits local women to manage low-cost schools serving some of India's poorest communities.
We are proud of these initiatives, but we also know that they only scratch the surface of the challenge. The world needs to take a massive wrecking ball to the problem. And that requires companies, governments, non-profit organisations, and entrepreneurs to lend their weight. More money of course is needed but we also need the expertise that makes sure that money is invested wisely.
And when private and public sectors join forces come together we know it can have lasting impact. When 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram last year, the world was outraged. But perhaps as outrageous was how quickly we forgot about them. When the media moved on to the next story, we all too easily moved along with them. But behind the scenes, things were getting done. The Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) -- with support from the United Nations, A World at School, the Nigerian Government and international donors -- created the Safe Schools Initiative. As a result 2,400 of the most at-risk girls from the three states hit hardest by Boko Haram have been enrolled in safer schools. That's what can happen when corporate clout, political power, and education know-how come together.
We're really proud to be members of the GBC-Education, and to have contributed to their new "The Journey of a Girl" report explaining how corporations can, and should, invest in girls' education. The collective efforts of GBCE members currently reach 6 million girls worldwide. It could -- it must -- be so many more.
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.
Nothing like a new year for trying out a new look. But behind our new logo and splash of new colours for 2016, there's something fundamental that will never change about us - a belief that education has the power to change the world. We believe it because we see it happen, every day; the child lifted out of poverty, the adult able to read for the first time, the new job secured. These are the hallmarks of a world making progress. Here's how we're going to keep playing our part in the year ahead.
When research indicates that more than half of all New Year’s resolutions won't make it past six months, "why should I even try?" sounds like a sensible question. I’ll tell you why. Because you have zero chance of keeping a resolution that you never make. So in 2016, why not take your chances? And if you don't last the course, don't think you've wasted your time - most successful people agree that you learn more from your failures than your wins.
Here are 10 resolutions inspired by the hundreds of college students I've worked with across the US. I've seen how doing these things has turned hesitant young people unsure of their place in the world into passionate, successful, confident graduates, entrepreneurs, activists and professionals. I hope they can help you too... however old you are and whatever your 2016 has in store.
Don’t give up if you slip up.In the last few years I’ve observed a number of shared characteristics that successful young (and returning) students have in common. What makes them stand out is their ability to practice resilience – the ability to continue moving forward when faced with adversity – over and over again, until they get it right. So if your 2016 isn't going quite the way you hoped, regroup, learn from your mistakes and try again.
Brand your future self, today. It might seem like “the real world” and your future career are far off... but they are closer than you think. What you do online today will echo in eternity. So start building your future brand today and get hired more quickly tomorrow.
Hone your “soft skills”. While the job market for college grads has improved in 2015, many employers still report trouble finding qualified candidates. What’s the problem here? A lack of demonstrated soft skills. Resolve to bolster your academic studies with time spent developing your people, problem-solving, oral and written communication and leadership skills.
Own something. The ability to take ownership is both a skill and a mindset. Employers desire and reward employees who exhibit this capacity. Now is the time in your life to demonstrate ownership. This could mean planning a fund-raising event from start to finish, creating your own blog (like Dianna Blake, our Pearson Students Blog Editor-in-Chief) or even starting your own non-profit (like Corey Geary, Pearson Campus Ambassador). Make it your own, invest in it (if only with your time and talent), then see it through to completion. Future employers will be impressed!
Gain a global perspective. When we first meet our Pearson Student Advisory Board at our annual Pearson Student Summit, we use an ice-breaker that we call the timeline activity. We ask students to think about the experiences that helped shape the person they are today. Every year several students’ timelines include a trip outside of the U.S. or Canada. Their eyes glow as they relive far-off memories and offer perspectives gained only by immersing one’s self in another place, another culture. If you have an opportunity to travel outside of your home country, take it. If you don’t, then be a tourist in your own backyard. Exploring new places keeps your mind open to new possibilities, enhances your creativity, and helps you gain valuable perspective.Employers seek perspective in candidates.
Healthy body, healthy mind. As stated by Dr. John Grohol, founder and CEO of Psych Central, “…the plain truth (is) that many people still do not “get” that your body’s physical health is interconnected and cannot be separated from your body’s mental health.” You don’t have to run a marathon; you simply need to get moving. Or cooking! Liz Croak, Pearson Campus Ambassador, shared some of her favorite, affordable healthy-eating tips earlier this year. Her advice includes sharing healthy meal prep with friends. And since social connections are another essential component to happiness and success, this resolution is like a two for one. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more successful.
Ask for help. For many college students I know, this is one of most challenging resolutions, especially for minority, and first-generation college students who lack the financial, and sometimes emotional support from family members. When sticking to your priorities gets tricky, resolve to ask for help. Your school advisors, professors, personal and professional mentors, and many free organizations like org can help. So create your “go-to” list of helpers and mentors in 2016.
Dance! It's true - according to Norman Doige, psychiatrist and author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, learning a new dance is one strategy to sharpen your mind. But for those not too fancy on their feet, any novel and taxing learning exercise will do the trick.
So if your 2016 isn't going quite the way you hoped, take a look back at this list and see if anything here might help. Being a successful student is like being successful at almost anything; it requires practice. So keep going, your epic year awaits - good luck!
Allison leads our student commuity activities in the US. Connect with her on Twitter: @AJTaken.
We at Pearson are a company of nearly 40,000 people proudly working for learning, for employability and yes, for profit.
Competition is a powerful force for innovation, and that is no less true when it comes to education. Business has an important role to play in K-12 and higher education, investing in research and new products that might not be possible otherwise.
We recognize not everyone agrees that commercial enterprises have a role in educating children. Some question whether a sense of social purpose and a profit motive can go hand in hand. At Pearson, they always go hand in hand because the profit we make is the by-product of making a useful and meaningful addition to society.
We don’t shy away from public debate around education policy or the quality and content of our products. When it comes to our role in the lives of people as important as classroom students, we should be scrutinized. That’s why earlier in the year, we posted the full transcript of our Annual General Meeting to share openly our goals and thinking and our willingness to hear criticism. You can read the full transcript online.
We are always striving to do better and increase transparency. This can be seen in our public commitment to achieve better student outcomes, identify what works in education, and report out on how well our products, programs and services are meeting that goal. We made some of our research on this front available already, and starting in 2018 our annual reports will include audited reports about the efficacy of our products.
We currently do about $5 billion worth of business annually in the U.S., out of an estimated $1 trillion that is spent on education each year; only a half percent of total spending. We are making record levels of investment in new products and services – our research and development spending has grown from more than $330 million in 2005 to nearly $600 million in 2014.
We engage students, parents, teachers and professors to learn more from them as we research, design and deliver new and improved products and services. For example, our Texas-based Center for College & Career Success is researching indicators that can help parents and teachers predict a middle school student’s progress toward college readiness. The center also is developing measures that help college admissions officers bring diversity on campus. And in the digital age, we are developing games and other digital learning tools – co-designed by children at our Kids CoLab in New Jersey.
The better we do expanding access to good quality education that leads to a more fulfilling job and life for more people, the better we can create a faster growing and more sustainable company.
We believe when it comes to the monumental challenges facing education, no efforts to take on the hard work of finding solutions should be dismissed – whether or not profits are involved. Pearson is held accountable for how we perform as a company by educators, students, schools, shareholders and employees. Our employees include more than 15,000 former teachers putting their classroom knowledge to work in pursuit of new tools to improve learning and employability. Many more of us are parents and caregivers who are passionate about giving all students a brighter future.
We’ve put our profits back into the communities we serve and to bring education to places where it’s most desperately needed. For example, we joined with America’s Promise Alliance to support states in increasing graduation rates with a State Activation program. Our hope – like everyone involved in education – is to help every student reach his or her full potential and live a fulfilling, fruitful life.
So hold us accountable for our actions and our impact. That includes creating curriculum and courses, designing assessments and managing digital services for schools and colleges– but our ultimate mission is to make people’s lives better. If we fail at that, we fail as a business.