Many people have asked me about Pearson's response to the recent result of the UK's referendum on membership of the EU. Here is a note that I shared with Pearson's colleagues last Friday (06.24.16) immediately after the result.
I am writing to share some immediate thoughts in the light of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.
These are clearly uncertain times for the UK and for Europe. Pearson’s view throughout the campaign was that the UK was better off within the EU. Of course we fully respect the democratic decision that has been taken and, for Pearson, we will now focus on forging a successful path in a new context.
Pearson is in a strong position. More than half of our revenues are from the US, in dollars. We have a solid balance sheet with low debt, and this will enable us to weather uncertainties.
Although we care deeply about the UK, we are the world’s learning company. We will continue to be advocates for a world that is more open and connected. It is vital that the UK’s world class universities should continue to attract the brightest young people from around the world to enrich our education community.
For now, the important thing for us all is to stay focused on our business and our customers. We will take our time and work through every implication for our business and our growth. We will also play our part in helping maintain the outward-looking United Kingdom and globally connected education community that are in the interests of us all.
As I travel the world talking to students and educators, the most urgent questions I hear are variations on the same themes: How do I create a better life for myself and my children? What is the social compact that gets us all there, and who is responsible for creating it? Those are questions fundamental to achieving the American dream—a dream that resonates worldwide.
These critical questions are also at the core of many Americans’ concerns that economic progress is out of reach and that the dream is fleeting now more than ever. These concerns have surfaced more urgently within the context of the Presidential campaign, and have been foundational to candidates’ views on both sides of the aisle.
To understand the dynamics that underlie these concerns, Pearson conducted a poll with Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series, seeking to examine Americans’ views on these issues. The results were revealing: More people than ever believe they don’t have a reasonable shot at creating opportunity in this country. Shockingly, and in contrast to the basic tenets core to the United States, fewer than half of all Americans—just 44%—believe that anyone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed.
When you start to break this down along demographic lines, faith in the promise of American opportunity becomes even more strained. Fewer than 40% of African Americans believe that someone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed. The research shows that Asian and Hispanic Americans are still hanging on to the American dream, but are only marginally more confident that they have a real shot at success.
While this data is discouraging, there is hope. The poll results evidenced a shared view in the promise of education and the belief that if people have access to education designed specifically to improve their skills, their views of the opportunity would improve. Almost three-quarters of Americans—72%—believe they would be able to get a better job or a higher paying job with more education or training.
Two-thirds of Americans believe the economy would improve by increasing the number of well-trained workers and people see investment in education as the best way to improve the economy.
It’s clear that people of all backgrounds see education as the gateway to a better life.
While educators, policymakers and employers are key in helping people prepare for the workforce, companies who are focused on education, like Pearson, have an important role to play. Building the tools to lead people to better jobs and a better life is fundamental to Pearson’s mission. We’re especially focused on closing the skills gap to give people more access to jobs and better opportunity. At schools like Texas Southmost College in the Rio Grande Valley, we are providing digital curriculum that prepares graduates for high tech and health care jobs in their local communities. Across the nation, we are working with colleges and universities to move degree programs online, often putting up the capital to get these programs off the ground. And, we are supporting adult learners with the GED and our professional testing services.
There are urgent educational and economic needs across this country. That is never more evident than when people feel opportunity is out of reach, and the American Dream is out of sight. Together we can meet these challenges and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.
Here are some other highlights from the full poll results, which you can read in full here.
Now that the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union has been set for June 2016, lots of organisations and people are asking what Pearson thinks about the issue.
First and foremost, we think this is a decision for the British people to make, and no doubt there will be a range of opinions within Pearson, as there are across the country. Each of us in the UK has a vote, and will use it as we see fit.
We have though been asked by some organisations on both sides of the debate what Pearson's position is and we think it's right to take a view.
Only a small proportion of Pearson's business relies directly on trade between the UK and the rest of the EU. Nonetheless, we have carried out analysis of how Britain leaving the EU would affect Pearson across a number of regulatory and financial aspects. This analysis has concluded that Pearson would be better served by the UK remaining part of the EU.
As part of Britain and Europe's education community, we see the considerable value that British membership of the EU brings to universities, colleges, schools, teachers, students and pupils.
As a global business based in the UK, we believe that Britain, its businesses and its people are, on the whole, better off as part of Europe.
One of the less visible victims of the Syrian conflict has been education. The war has left almost three million Syrian children out of school - those that have stayed and the refugees who have fled. As the crisis continues to worsen, we need to focus on how to educate these children before they become a "lost generation". I attended a discussion this morning in London as part of the Supporting Syria event led by the governments of the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations. Education was, rightly, high on the agenda.
It is not enough to sit around and say that something must be done. It is not enough to leave it to governments, to hope the private sector will invest, or to rely on NGOs to bring assistance and order. It is not even enough for those of us with the power and responsibility to ‘act’. We have to act together to make the biggest impact we can.
For Pearson, that means sharing our expertise in delivering educational products and services at scale. We have the know-how - every year our products help many millions of teachers and students, of all ages, all over the world. But we have little experience of operating in conflict zones or refugee camps or dealing with the trauma of those who have been affected by war.
That’s why we launched “Every Child Learning” nearly a year ago - a three year partnership with Save the Children that’s increasing educational opportunities for Syrian refugees and their host communities. The partnership has already provided two education centres in Amman, Jordan which are educating 1,400 Syrian five to 13 year olds. We’ve also committed £1m to research, to understand the sort of learning experiences that are needed and will work on the ground.
If our partnership can have a positive impact for Syrian child refugees, we'll move on and see how we can help teach children affected by wars and emergencies in other parts of the world too.
Education in emergencies and conflicts remains the most underfunded of all humanitarian areas. According to UNESCO only 2% of global humanitarian aid was allocated to education in 2014. Yet improving the provision of quality education in these settings will often be the catalyst to peace and stability. The challenge may be great, but the prize is much greater.
All of us involved in education have a responsibility to ensure that there's no lost generation in Syria, or anywhere else in the world. At Pearson we’ll continue to work with others on all sorts of challenges - our allies in the Global Business Coalition for Education, our partners in Project Literacy, our business colleagues at the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund - anyone who believes like us that the best way to help people make progress in their lives is through access to quality education. It’s a responsibility that eclipses sectors or politics or ideologies. It is, very simply, a battle for the basic human right to learn.
In Kenya, many children who attend Bridge International Academies are getting results in the top 5% nationally. In India, what began as a single classroom helping children in slums to learn English has grown into 800 schools serving 200,000 students who outperform ‘traditional’ classrooms by between 20-60%. And over 3,000 children in the Philippines are benefitting from being at schools where teachers received a 100% pass rate on their licensure tests.
These are just some of the extraordinary outcomes being achieved by a new generation of education entrepreneurs around the world – entrepreneurs that Pearson has been helping to guide.
In recent years the debate around how to fix global education has shifted. It is no longer enough just to talk about getting every child into school (though alas not because that has been solved.) Just as important is what happens when they’re there. When the world pats itself on the back that 43 million more children now go to school than five years ago, someone needs to keep asking, “what next?”. In other words, is the increase in access leading to improvements in progress?
Through the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) we are helping local entrepreneurs across Asia, Africa and Latin America to go further and faster in improving education in their local communities. From Ghana to India, our team has found brave innovators, exploring how new teaching and learning approaches can serve their communities. As my colleague Katelyn Donnelly, who heads up PALF, says: “It was clear everywhere we went—from Pakistan to Ghana to the Philippines—parents, students, and heads of state saw education and skill development as a critical gateway to a more prosperous life and a stronger economy. What was lacking was organization, knowledge and capital.”
Where governments are sometimes unable to take on risks, entrepreneurs and startups can focus on the most difficult challenges in education—job readiness, early childhood education or teacher training—and make a big difference in a short space of time, from which the public sector can eventually benefit.
Launched in May 2012 with an investment in Omega Schools in Ghana, PALF has now invested $15m in 10 education companies in five countries. With our partners we have helped educate 350,000 people, many of whom would not have had an education, let alone a good one. And importantly, they are all solutions that are based on sound business plans, so are sustainable, scalable and replicable.
By getting behind local entrepreneurs, with our money and our know-how, we’re also helping to stimulate thriving communities - not just business people, but teachers and parents and anyone who relishes the opportunity to take on the trickiest problems in education.
The late Professor C.K. Prahalad, a Pearson author and board member, said: “The big challenge for humanity is to get everybody, not just the elite, to participate in globalisation and avail its benefits.” The work of PALF is heavily influenced by that belief in inclusion, and in allowing everyone, not just those at the top of the pyramid, to have a chance.
My colleagues in PALF have just published their first report into the impact of the investments they have made. It is well worth a read.