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  • How do you spot a gifted child?

    by Katie McClarty

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    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?”

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    Is your child ‘gifted’? The four ‘traditional’ clues that could tell you.

    Intellect

    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-LORES

    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-LORES

    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-LORES

    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.

  • Graduating a nation

    by Don Kilburn

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    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.

  • Why progress for girls can't wait

    by Kate James

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    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.

    ***

    This article was first published on The Huffington Post.

  • Illiteracy - the invisible curse

    by Kate James

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    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.

  • It's time to get smarter about exams

    by Rod Bristow

    Asian school kids. Photo Credit: Debdatta Chakraborty

     

    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[1] 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[2] 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[3] 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

    [1] A New Conversation with Parents: How can Schools Inform and Listen in a Digital Age: Pearson/Family Lives, 2011

    [2] Inspiring Growth: CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2015

    [3] My Education Report: Pearson, 2013

  • Growing together: Why our new parent community matters

    by Jennifer Rosenthal

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    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

  • Parallel tracks

    by Rod Bristow

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    There’s nothing new in young people and their parents wanting to know what it takes to get ahead after they leave formal education. What are the things they’ll need for that first step on the job ladder, and to keep climbing up; and how and where do you get them? These are the questions that every generation concerns itself with.

    Neither is there anything new in employers being clear about the sort of young people they’re looking for - a healthy attitude, great workplace skills, a bit of know-how under your belt - the basic building blocks of career advice haven’t really changed all that much.

    But the world is now moving so fast that we cannot rely on the things we’ve always just accepted. The technological revolution has gone far beyond a short, sharp, spike in the timeline of history. It’s a way of life, where the things we don’t know and can’t do today become the everyday occurrences of everyone’s tomorrow. A world where political borders mean less and less, as ideas and people travel ever more freely about. Where barriers to entry tumble, and competition races for the best jobs and the best people. In this 21st century world that values not just what you know, but also what you can do, keeping yourself relevant has never been more challenging.

    Against this backdrop we’ve been working with the CBI in the UK to look more closely at what employers there look for in the young people leaving education and heading into the world of work. And we’ve discovered a vivid picture, where a list of exams passed and grades achieved is no longer the only passport to moving on and up. Attitudes and character (85%) now ranks well ahead of qualifications (39%) or academic results (31%) as the most important factors when recruiting.

    But it seems that when businesses look to these ‘new’ measures of suitability, they become worried.

    The survey of 310 UK companies, which together employ over a million people, reveals that more than half (55%) think they won’t be able to find enough workers with the skills they need; 39% are currently concerned by the attitudes of school and college leavers to work, and 61% are not satisfied by young people’s self-management and resilience.

    It is overwhelmingly clear from the research that employers are looking for education to do a better job at preparing young people for the workplace - to turn out better communicators, team-workers, leaders, never-giver-uppers. But there is also concern about getting the basics right too; that there are too many school leavers unable to do the fundamentals of reading, writing and counting well enough. Nor do businesses think that young people have a necessary awareness of the world outside their school gates - half of firms want this as a priority in schools for 14-18 year olds. The upshot is that close to a third (31%) of firms point to having had to organise remedial training in core skills for some school/college leavers.

    This is not a lone struggle being fought by businesses. I do not know anyone alive who does not want to see schools everywhere work as well as possible for preparing young people for their futures. In separate research we found that - globally - increasing career skills is the top priority for parents and students, and scored very highly among teachers too.

    Nor should people read the survey and jump to some knee-jerk conclusion that UK schools aren’t working. Hundreds of thousands of young people leave schools every year, ready and able to flourish. Happy, too! We need to continue cherishing the things that so many schools and teachers ignite in young people every day, around the world - a natural human curiosity for knowledge, and a love of learning, literature, and the arts.

    Rather, the message here is about creating an environment where communication, teamwork, grit, and leadership skills are nurtured throughout education systems. Getting this balance of skills should matter to anyone who is a parent, a teacher, an employer, or just cares about what happens next to our world.

    One of my favourite things about my role at Pearson is meeting students who are studying our BTEC qualifications. There is something about the blend of academic and practical skills that gives them something extra. Students like Mohammed. School never really ignited his passions until he took a BTEC in sports science at his local college. In his own words the qualification was about “doing something you’re incredibly passionate about… and being the best person you can be”. Every year thousands of students study BTECs. Through their own dedication, their brilliant teachers, and the involvement of businesses in shaping what they learn and providing work placement opportunities, they’ll succeed. Just like Mohammed, who is now a coach at Chelsea Football Club. Or the quarter of UK university undergraduates who go there brandishing their BTECs. Within a few years that’ll likely be one in three new undergraduates. And from higher education we know they progress into good jobs, because they leave armed with those skills employers need.

    The findings of this latest survey are one side of the story here. Equally important is the exercise itself, of trying to align the hopes and needs of business and schools. The evidence seems to say that, for too long now, these two worlds - education and employability - are diverging, if not in aspiration then in the way they see those aspirations being achieved. It’s a relationship that we need to celebrate and encourage to grow; that we need to get running on parallel tracks. But tracks that also criss and cross; where the vocational and the academic blend, and where a multitude of destinations can be reached in a multitude of ways.

    Nearly two-thirds of the businesses we surveyed said they would be willing to play a greater role in supporting careers provisions in schools and colleges. That’s a good place to kick on from, together.

     

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    Read the full report >>

  • 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/

  • 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.

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

    Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter - @elizabethgoueti

  • 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.