The Pearson Affordable Learning Fund: delivering access and progress

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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.