Pearson Affordable Learning Fund

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Should education be protected from privatisation and profiteering? Around the edges investment funds are beginning to gather in greater numbers, intrigued by the potential development of new markets in the sector (more on this terminology soon). As we scrutinise the intentions of investors, we ought also to evaluate the potential benefit to learners. It is treacherous country, but it must be mapped. So last night I attended a roundtable organized by Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund (PALF).

David Blunkett was interviewed by education (and now Pearson) guru Michael Barber (who recalled being chastised by the then Education Secretary when celebrating the passing of an education bill, with ‘you haven’t touched the life of a single kid yet’) before a discussion was framed around the question of how PALF can work effectively to bring quality education (profitably) to underserved communities across the world, and who they might partner with. DFID, non-profits, Steven Ball, education entrepreneurs and of course investors were out in force.

The resulting discussions focused around two prospects – low-income private schools and mobile technology – and ideas were proposed in areas including teachers, curriculum, data, assessments, regulatory environments, infrastructure and politics. The outcomes are synthesized here below.

Pearson Graphic

Improving Low-cost Private Schools

  • There are “known risks” (e.g. region, sector, operating companies, regulation) and “unknown risks”, so investors could share knowledge of regional risk in other fields
  • Lack of charismatic leadership in education in the developing world (health as a counter-example)
  • Need to create a regulatory environment that allows parents or government to assess quality and outcomes of schools – perhaps international companies that create the market provide oversight over these (e.g. audit, inspection)
  • Could introduce new out of the box methods to deliver or expedite teacher training across the world, but need to explore more clearly what are new ways?
  • Still a large implementation gap between ideas and reality – how do we build human capital, spread ideas and so on?
  • Open-source global assessments framework that could be accessed by LCPS and or supporting low-cost technologies to be deployed in LCPS
  • New funding mechanisms for growth capital (i.e., huge working capital challenges in LCPS…VC is prob not the way to do it, what are other ways?)
  • Importance of politics and creating a supportive culture (similar to regulatory environment)

Mobile Technology

  • Mobile is now reaching all parts of the world. Although still primarily feature phones not smart phones.
  • Tech is not the silver bullet. We need to think about how mobile solves root issues e.g. teacher absenteeism.
  • Data – key question is how do you make affordable data? Two suggestions: government intervention and regulation and innovative finance models
  • The need for an open data standard – open data for better efficacy. Although maybe we’d do better to think about APIs instead of open data.
  • Content. The real problem is the content. What will be on new devices? We need to encourage more innovative content.
  • Mobile can be seen simply as a constraint – rather see the opportunities to use mobile for what it does best e.g. peer connection, simple data collection.
  • Use of mobile for professional development. We also need to encourage teachers to be more confident with technology
  • Infrastructure – still not great infrastructure in all markets, have to address power as well as content on devices, need low power devices for deep rural contexts.

Ultimately it seems that despite our best the best intentions of the funds, too few of these ideas will actually result in better outcomes for kids. Teaching and learning is ultimately a human capital question. We need to disseminate and share best practices (and we’re not even great at this), but we also need to change human behaviours. This is our business, but is there money in it?

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