The refugee crisis in Europe is, rightly, dominating headlines. The refugees' plight is a very visible one - tired, hungry, dirty, the absence of hope is etched numbingly across their faces. It stirs us to act and to get involved. It is the right response of a civilised society to a crisis that should never have been allowed to happen.
And yet when nudged on illiteracy, another global crisis impacting 100s of millions of people too many of us are ambivalent. Perhaps it’s because we don’t see it around us that we don’t care enough. We rarely come across someone who is struggling to write, and it’s not obvious when someone is finding it hard to read. And we definitely don't see the consequences.
The curse of illiteracy is it's largely invisible. But its impact is global and devastating. Today 520 million women and girls are illiterate. They are consequently denied access to learn, earn, vote and ultimately thrive. For me the starkest statistic on literacy is that babies born to mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa who can't read are 50% less likely to reach their fifth birthday.
If you see inequality and poverty, you’re seeing the impact of illiteracy. Later this month, when world leaders meet at the United Nations in New York, they will announce their commitment to the new Global Goals for sustainable development, setting out their ambition for a more peaceful and prosperous world. There are 17 of them, and none will be achievable without combatting illiteracy along the way. The real prize of a more literate world is not more people who can read and write, but what they can then do with those skills.
There are nearly 800 million people around the world who are illiterate and we won't begin to put a dent in that number unless we are all stirred to action and become more involved. Sometimes challenges on this scale can seem too remote, too abstract to even try to fix. But this is an issue where each of us can make a difference.
Today marks International Literacy Day, an opportunity to bang the literacy drum. For us at Pearson, that beat comes in the form of Project Literacy. There are lots of ways to get involved with the project from volunteering to raising awareness through your social networks. Find out more about how you can get involved with Project Literacy and help make a lasting dent in the literacy challenge.
Later this month, when world leaders meet at the United Nations in New York, they will announce their commitment to the new Global Goals for sustainable development, setting out their ambition for a more peaceful and prosperous world.
All 17 goals are important, but the fourth – “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” – makes many of the others that much more achievable, too. For education can slow and even reverse the vicious cycle of poverty, and give people the chance to improve their prospects, their communities and their lives. Education is a pathway to improved health, nutrition and wellbeing, particularly for women and children (goals 2, 3 and 4). A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5. Education helps create ‘global citizens’ with the knowledge to promote responsible consumption and production patterns (goal 12) and aids the development of peaceful societies (goal 16). Education has an effect on nearly every aspect of the societies in which we work.
Just one vivid example of this: through the Sudiksha program in Hyderabad, India, which we invest in via our Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, local women are empowered to open and run neighbourhood branches of a low-cost preschool network under a profit-sharing model. Sudiksha trains and educates the women as teachers, and they are then able to teach students who otherwise would not be able to attend school. As the programme progresses, the risk of extreme poverty decreases for both the women and their students.
By putting efficacy at the heart of everything we do in education, Pearson has been contributing to a wider movement to focus much more on outcomes over inputs. So it’s encouraging that the new goals also focus on outcomes, such as expanding access to education, ensuring the success of students (measured by completion rates) and enabling them to progress in their lives (tracked by placement into jobs or further education). This is particularly important in a world of constrained resources, where everyone involved in education is trying to do more with less.
These goals, of course, are a vital means by which we fulfil Pearson’s own purpose – to empower people to progress in their lives through learning – which is reflected in the reach and impact of our people, products and services. But beyond our purpose, it is our responsibility as a learning company to support the Global Goals' focus on improved quality of life for the world’s poorest citizens, and to do so by using our expertise in teaching and learning.
Clearly, we can’t do this alone, and we know that the Global Goals themselves call for a robust network of partnerships to carry out this work (goal 17). So we will continue working with our partners Save the Children, Kiva and Camfed, and will step up the work we have started with a number of global education partners through Project Literacy. We will offer support in new ways as well.
Plans to give widespread international attention to the Global Goals this month include an initiative called the World’s Largest Lesson. Pearson will be playing an active role in promoting that lesson. You can help by learning all you can about the Global Goals at the link above, reading about the World’s Largest Lesson and sharing it on social media using #telleveryone and #globalgoals.
Everyone, no matter where they were born and under what circumstances, deserves an equal shot at a healthy, safe and fulfilling life. With these ambitious new goals, the world is setting out to achieve just that – and to do so in our lifetime. I look forward to all of us at Pearson being able to say that we played our part in making that happen.
When the Chinese invented exams over a thousand years ago, and the British copied them in the nineteenth century to select people for the Civil Service, they were a wonderful innovation. A way to ensure a more meritocratic society, to objectify knowledge and aptitude that as a result of standardisation allowed meritocracy to spread.
Of course they weren't perfect then and they are not perfect today. And, while we can continuously improve them and make them better, they'll never be perfect because they can only ever be a proxy for what people know at a point in time. Assessing everything that someone knows or can do, would take as long as it took to learn it in the first place.
The problem however, is that people too often see exams as more than that; too often they are seen not as one important indicator among many, but as the sum total definition of knowledge and ability, a binary predictor of success or failure in life.
Perhaps that's bound to happen in a more transparent and competitive society. Of more concern however, is when the education establishment itself also begins to define all worthwhile learning only in terms of exam results. That is a far bigger problem, because then the examination tail begins to wag the education dog.
School accountability systems can do a very effective job in holding teachers to account. But they can also distort behaviour in ways that are counter-productive. An accountability system that is too heavily focused on exam results leads to good teaching being defined primarily in terms of those test results; to an ability to teach to the test.
Over the years we've seen a growing tendency in this country to hire and fire teachers and to put school leadership teams under immense pressure on the basis primarily of exam results. This tendency is damaging. It squeezes the creativity and innovation out of teaching and the joy out of learning. It does not help our children acquire all the knowledge they really need.
Of course exams are an important indicator, but the irony is that those confident schools that give them less emphasis often do better in them than less confident schools which focus solely on exam technique. School accountability systems should be developed in ways that take into account the fact that the pressure they exert can have the reverse effect to the one intended.
In the UK, our new Progress Eight measure is a big improvement on what went before. But it should sit alongside a basket of other measures, independent of exam results. That might sound complicated, but that's the whole point; a good education provides a range of outcomes, not just one.
This is what parents want. In a recent Pearson report published with Family Lives, a charity that supports families to improve the outcomes for over 1 million children each year, parents told us clearly that exam results were some way down their list when choosing a school for their child. They were more interested in their personal and social development, including how they'd fare in work and life after school. Parents also showed a clear desire to be updated regularly on their child’s learning and development throughout the academic year, instead of having a single, annual report summarising their child’s progress.
This view is also reflected strongly in the views of British industry. The latest CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey finds that employers are looking for education, above all else, to be a better preparation for the workplace. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise but employers believe, too often the emphasis is placed squarely on academic exam results as the only gauge of education achievement.
The report clearly shows that employers – in this instance over 300 CBI members reflecting an employee base of over 1.2 million – are looking for more rounded individuals with skills such as communication, team-working, grit and leadership. This more balanced approach supports more than just employment; it equips people to succeed socially too.
Students have spoken
Most significantly though, students themselves recognise the need for change. In a Pearson/Teach First survey of students aged 14-21, young people expressed strong opinions about end of year exams not being the best way to assess learning. They felt their future rested arbitrarily on their performance on one given day.
When students talked about what assessment method worked best for them, most said they wanted confirmation they were learning the course material and staying on target. They consistently conveyed the need for regular feedback. There were concerns from some that the exam was more important than the learning; that delivering results counted more to some schools than understanding their personal hopes and ambitions.
Exam boards, government and school leaders have a great opportunity but also a responsibility, to work together to listen to what parents, employers and students tell us and to use these views to support teachers to rise above exam based performance measures, to reject a narrowing of curriculum around exams. We should reflect these views in how teachers are held to account, too. Exams alone are too crude a measure.
Rod Bristow is President of Core Markets for Pearson, including Pearson's UK exam board
A New Conversation with Parents: How can Schools Inform and Listen in a Digital Age: Pearson/Family Lives, 2011
Inspiring Growth: CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015
When we think about big organizations or brands like Coca-Cola, Disney, Chase or Nike, we typically recall a particular product, affiliated celebrity, news story, or experience we’ve had with that company. What we don’t think about – or at least I don’t often think about – are the people who form the backbone of that company.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many people across Pearson. Kendra is a Diversity & Inclusion expert with an adorable yellow lab and supportive husband in Massachusetts. Diane is a Pearson Enrollment Advisor and an unbelievable single-mom who has an impressive knack for editing home videos. And, Tom is a Science Specialist who has appeared on several local-Florida news channels with his son and husband to champion LGBT rights. We are a company of incredibly diverse individuals who are personally connected and dedicated to children and education. Most of us are parents, caregivers, and/or parent advocates.
That’s why we are so excited to launch Pearson’s third global Employee Resource Group (ERG): Pearson Parents! An ERG is an internal, employee-driven interest group that unites us behind shared business and social impact goals. The new Pearson Parents ERG follows on from our Women in Learning and Leadership ERG, and Spectrum, our LGBTQI and Allies ERG. Why, might you ask, is this an important initiative for Pearson?
We believe that parents and caregivers are children’s first and most important teachers. As a learning company, it’s crucial that we empower parents as they navigate their children’s educational journey—this includes supporting the parents and caregivers who work at Pearson.
The Pearson Parents ERG provides us with an internal network to make connections, exchange ideas and learn from one another. We are real people with deep ties to the local communities our families live in. We can discuss which topics are important to people in our networks. We can strategize about how we, as a company, can be more open and transparent about the work we do. And, we can think through what resources or information to provide to the public.
In an increasingly global economy, it is also important that we are sensitive and understanding to the diverse needs of learners. We have colleagues all over the world - 40,000 of us in 70 countries - so sharing our unique cultures and experiences will help to inform the work we do.
Our ultimate goal is to facilitate a meaningful, open dialogue between Pearson and the wider parent community. As the Pearson Parents’ community grows, we will continue to focus on kids and learning, while maintaining our commitment to support and advocate for parents and caregivers, both at Pearson and around the world.
Jenn looks after our parents' community in North America. Connect with her on Twitter: @Jenn_Rosenthal
No two classrooms are alike, but all students deserve access to a reliable learning infrastructure. Pearson CEO John Fallon speaks with students, teachers and local citizens on a panel discussion at Texas Southmost College about education in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
After Jennifer Wilkerson taught English in high school for 13 years, she went to work in her husband’s welding fabrication shop managing the business.
Today, those two professions are merged in her work as marketing director for The National Center for Construction Education and Research, or NCCER.
“My 14-year-old daughter often goes to her dad’s welding shop,” Jennifer says. “She’s using complex automation programs to fabricate industrial products with a plasma cutter.”
“This is the kind of profession we’re hoping to introduce to the next generation of craft professionals,” she says.
“People don’t realize the math, science and technology that are involved in the construction and maintenance industries. The certifications require knowledge and skills and can be tough,” Jennifer says, “but these jobs can be quite lucrative.”
A couple of years ago I read an article in a leading UK newspaper for teachers that described the English education system as a hotbed of innovation. England, it claimed, is a country that experiments energetically with new curriculum, new teaching methods, new kinds of schools, and new structures for governance. It was a proclamation of pride in its education leadership.
The article I read wasn't written two years ago, but 100 years earlier. A lot has changed in the intervening years, not least the emergence (in educational terms) of countries that now regularly overshadow England in some comparative studies of standards. The forces of global competition and the accessibility of meaningful evidence are driving a want to, and an ability to, make better decisions about what works in education, and what doesn’t.
There remains today a powerful dynamism in education, but there’s also a growing consensus that change for its own sake is damaging. The demand now is not so much for constancy, but for long-term coherence between purpose and action. Parents and employers find the changing education landscape confusing. Education is indeed complex, but that’s no excuse for complication.
Perhaps it’s time to stand back, and try to answer what really is it that we want our education systems to deliver?
Some say that education is too precious to be assigned a purpose; that education is an end in itself, and that learning for the love of learning is all we need. That idea does have poetic resonance (“beauty is truth, truth beauty”), but it’s surely wrong to ignore education's other purpose; it lifts people out of poverty, and gives them the tools to lead fulfilling lives.
Parents, universities and employers want young people to leave education with skills that go beyond the academic or the occupational; beyond too, the core skills of numeracy and literacy. They value character, resilience, grit, integrity and a strong moral compass based on our values of tolerance and humility. They value creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. They want collaborators and team workers, who can communicate with impact, and who are able to take a position and to lead. These things are sometimes referred to (dismissively) as soft skills, but their outcomes are as hard edged as hard edged can be. They are as important as exam results. And they are vital skills for life, not just employment. So why don’t they get more focus?
Perhaps because they are hard to describe, let alone measure. There may even be a perspective among those already in possession of these skills, that not everyone needs them.
Education policy is plagued with false dichotomies - teach knowledge or foster skills; value the academic or invest in the vocational. The simple truth is that an education system fit for the 21st century is one that provides it all. One that imparts knowledge, and also skills; where what you know and what you can do both count. A system where the means of progress is based on something more than a bit of work experience and careers advice. And one that has a razor sharp definition of its purpose; to help people make progress in their lives through learning. Knowledge and skills and deeper learning are all vital parts of the equation.
The engagement and perspective of employers is very important, because employability is such a critical part of the fabric of our society. When their voice gets louder, we need to listen more intently. But we also need to appreciate that their perspective is not always coherent, such is the complexity of education.
If we think a focus on these issues will distract from more pressing needs like exam results or performance on global comparators, we should think again. Time and again we hear from governments around the world that this agenda for skills and deeper learning is where their focus is too.
Over the next year, at Pearson we'll be working with employers and education experts to delve more deeply into some of these issues. How can we transform a notional demand among parents, learners and businesses for greater skills and deeper learning into something more tangible, more real, more easily recognised and understood? This is a fascinating challenge. Let's hope we're not grappling with it in quite the same way a century from now.
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.
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.