Mohamed is a success story. At school he was known as a 'naughty kid', too interested in sport and not enough in studying. Today he works for one of the world's biggest football clubs. His dream job is down to his own talent, commitment, and hard work. His success reflects well on his teachers, his family and his friends. And it also reflects well on BTEC. Mohamed is one of many thousands of young people who, through BTEC qualifications, are taking a less traditional, but no less valuable, path through education and then beyond.
Here's his story. You can catch up with more stories just like Mohamed's on Twitter - #BTEC.
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.
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.
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.
As a parent, I know how central education is to the ‘growing up’ experience. New friends, new perspectives, life lessons – these are what I hear about every day when my kids come home from school.
A classroom provides a safe, supportive space where a child can learn about the world, interact with peers, and feel a bit of normality. It’s a place where it’s okay to ‘dream big’ and a bright future seems possible. But every day, millions of children miss out on the opportunity to attend school and to learn those skills. Half of all out-of-school children live in countries affected by conflict.
Our new partnership with Save the Children, Every Child Learning, aims to improve access to quality education for children who have been affected or displaced by conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies - starting with a pilot in Jordan, which has experienced one of the worst refugee crises in history as a result of war in neighboring Syria.
It's a project that'll take us out of our comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. We don’t typically operate in places where disaster and conflict is a daily reality, yet it is exactly in the places where education has been abandoned that we have the potential to help.
That potential isn't about the traditional philanthropic model in which businesses make a donation to a charity and observe project activity from the sidelines. Rather, it's about being active participants in assessing needs, identifying gaps, and co-creating solutions for the difficult challenge of providing reliable learning opportunities to vulnerable and displaced children.
Every Child Learning combines Pearson’s expertise in delivering educational products and services at scale with Save the Children’s experience running education programmes in some of the world’s most challenging environments. Together, we’re aiming to create much more than a stopgap intervention – the long-term ambition is to develop new models and ways of working that leverage the core competencies of the private sector and improve the quality of education in emergency and post-conflict settings.
Ultimately, Every Child Learning is about building innovative learning solutions that can be adapted and scaled in similar contexts around the world, creating Shared Value. What we learn in the context of our pilot initiative in Jordan, we’ll seek to apply elsewhere, so that we help to ensure the cost of conflict isn't counted in empty classrooms and lost generations.