There’s great news to share…

Friends,

After eight years at the helm of our Foundation, I believe the time has come to pass the baton onto a new leader who can to take our organisation forward with the ambition and vigour it needs for the next stage of its life.

So, today, after a momentous journey working with an incredibly talented and dedicated team, I am formally stepping down as Chief Executive of The Varkey Foundation.

My deepest thanks are owed to Sunny Varkey for placing his faith in me and giving me every support in establishing the Foundation. He gave me a once in a life-time opportunity to make a difference to the education of children throughout the world.  I’ll always be truly grateful for this privilege.

I am, also, delighted to announce that Cate Noble, our current Chief Operating Officer, will become our next CEO.

Cate carries a wealth of experience and is finely placed to lead the Foundation into new project areas. Her expertise in educational development is world-leading and I know, from our working relationship to date, how determined she is to extend the reach and weight of our voice, as well as our impact on the ground. I am certain she will make a great success of her new position.

It has been an incredible privilege to have led our organisation since its inception, and I am honoured that the Varkey family and Trustees have now asked me to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. I look forward, in this role, to helping shape its future strategy and provide as much support as I can to its vital mission.  We are a Foundation that has much to be proud of and that has so much more to give.

Together, we elevated subjects such as teacher status from the preserve of policy-makers and panel discussions into issues that seized the imagination of the public around the world.

We have stimulated debate, informed decisions, and taken action to better the life chances of some of the world’s most underprivileged children. For example, our programmes in Uganda, Ghana and Argentina, are helping to improve the capacity of the teaching profession, disseminating learning and raising awareness of key subject areas, including leadership, girls-ed, and student centred pedagogy.

We have also lead in understanding complex education debates through publishing groundbreaking research on teacher status, parental attitudes on education and the hope, fears and ambitions of generation z.

Many well wishers have told me that our greatest contribution to education debates is the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), and who am I to disagree?. The highlight of my year is always the final evening of the GESF when we announce the winner of the Global Teacher Prize and the eyes of the world are rightly focused on teachers.

Five years ago, when we launched the Global Teacher Prize none of us could have imagined what we would achieve together. It has not only unearthed thousands of stories of teacher heroes but has given me some of the most humbling moments of my life. I have met some of the world’s most inspirational, selfless and resourceful people, who could have applied their talents to many other things, but have chosen to devote their lives to the next generation.

I have never been more aware of how teachers are responsible for the future – to the world that will be shaped by the children they teach.

It has been an incredible journey, where I have learnt a lot. I have many questions that remain unanswered, mainly around the subject of technology and the promise it holds. For this reason, I am honoured to have been asked by Sunny Varkey to establish an organization that seeks to build further understanding about the role of technology in education.

At the Foundation, whether it was the delivery of high quality satellite enabled teaching into classrooms in refugee camps, or in rural locations to reach marginalized girls using an interactive platform we invented, or our first online course on school leadership going live in Argentina, technology has been a great force multiplier, which is why I remain curious as to why despite the marketing of many ed-tech innovations none have really broken through.

I will be setting this new organisation up to advance the case for education technology but also to understand fully the context that is required for it to fulfil its potential. I hope to work with all stakeholders and experts in this endeavour.

As an example, we know teachers are central to education. How can tech support them better so that they can be more effective in their classrooms?

This is especially important in middle and low-income countries that have not yet benefited from the fruits of tech development.

The new organisation will also investigate new technologies and how they can break down barriers to education in deprived parts of the world, and, as a base point, will build upon this year’s discussion at the Global Education & Skills Forum, which looked at how we can marry western-centric development with the explosion of innovation and start-up entrepreneurs from the global south.

I have, as many of you will know, half-joked in the past about the old fashioned pencil and paper being the best tech resource in constrained environments, and I am often pulled up on this by those that say that the mobile phone is now common place.

If this is, indeed, the case, then my question is how can we improve the life chances of those who, at best, have only an android device and a 3G connection? The conversation we’ve been having through the Broadband Commission about 5G becoming standard in these areas is all well and good and gives a positive message about the future – but we do need to bear in mind these constraints and that they currently apply to a very large group of people throughout the world today.

The success of our Foundation in highlighting many of these educational inadequacies, and identifying solutions, has been remarkable, and is directly attributable to the Varkey family, our incredible team, our dedicated partners, friends and well-wishers, like you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

There is more to do, and, together, I am sure we will continue to do everything we can to help make a difference to the education of children around the world.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to have served as the first CEO of our Foundation, and I ask, now, that you extend a hand of friendship to Cate, like you did for me. Please join me in wishing her all success as our next Chief Executive.

With gratitude and best wishes,

 

Vikas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philanthropy cannot substitute government aid

n the last few decades, philanthropy has enjoyed a renaissance. United States citizens contributed $390 billion (Dh1.43 trillion) to charity last year, while 150 billionaires around the world have signed a pledge to give away at least half their wealth. We will see the energy of this movement first-hand at the sixth Global Education & Skills Forum, taking place in Dubai later this month, when more than 40 philanthropic organisations will discuss how they can make the greatest impact with their resources globally.

Our discussion comes at a time when philanthropy is besieged by criticism. The current fractious mood over global inequality means that large-scale giving by the world’s wealthiest individuals is often seen as suspect. There has been a vicious backlash, with, according to one study, a 15-fold increase in negative coverage about philanthropy between 2000 to 2015.

One frequent criticism is that philanthropy is substitute for government aid, allowing governments to decrease their aid budgets and avoid radical political solutions. However, this ignores the resources of government aid compared to philanthropy: The reach of even large philanthropic foundations is still much smaller than that of government aid, and most foundations cannot undertake large-scale humanitarian or social projects on their own.

Rather than a substitute, philanthropy can accomplish goals that, for structural reasons, governments find difficult. Insulated from the electoral cycle, philanthropists can fund change over many decades. In a Harvard Business Review analysis of 15 social-change movements — from polio eradication to the Fair Food Programme — nearly 90 per cent of historically successful social-change efforts were found to take more than 20 years.

Governments also have a greater number of restrictions on the types of intervention they can support, and the speed with which they can react. Government spending requires rigorous auditing and consensus building, which can limit how bold they can be. Philanthropic foundations can implement disruptive solutions without filtering every decision through layers of bureaucracy.

However, for all its advantages in principle, philanthropy must still do more for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Too often there is competition between philanthropists when collaboration would allow resources to go further. Philanthropists working alongside each other has the greatest likelihood of creating long-lasting systemic improvements. A new organisation, Co-Impact, has been founded in order to bring philanthropists together to pursue bigger goals, help them pool their resources more efficiently, and match newer donors with ambitious social projects.

In my own area of interest — education — we need to gather more evidence about what works. The impact of philanthropy across vast areas of policy in many countries is simply unknown, according to a study by NGO 3IE. Programmes ranging from teacher training to computer-assisted learning are often carried out without knowing whether they are effective. Despite expectations, measures in Kenya to halve class sizes and provide more textbooks did little to improve results. Meanwhile, unorthodox methods such as cash transfers to the families of poor children increased attendance for children of all ages across different countries.

Second, we must not become intoxicated by the promise of new technologies. Donating laptops sounds attractive, but will be ineffective if schools have an intermittent electricity supply and no access to broadband. Any technology must take into account local conditions — and be judged as a success or failure by how far it improves basic skills. Instead, we must not lose sight of basic, well-evidenced measures, such as providing food to children at school. For example, the Akshaya Patra Foundation programme is making a huge difference by serving fresh lunches to 1.6 million schoolchildren across India every day, facilitating education and encouraging children to attend.

Third, we need to improve our communication of education issues. Contributions to global health vastly outweigh those given to education: one study found that US private philanthropy contributed 53 per cent of its grants to health, but only 9 per cent to education. This is partly because, over the past few decades, global health has communicated its message with an emotional punch. This is no criticism: the progress in lowering the death toll from disease has been one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century and the result of effective campaigning.

However, the same toll of despair associated with poor health comes just as surely from a poor education. Failure to learn in school is a cancer that spreads — weakening individuals, societies and nations in every conceivable way. It is an invisible threat. The story of a malnourished or sick child can be told through a single picture, but there are no stark images that convey the squandered talents, the frustrations, and the loss of hope that come with an education denied. All involved in education philanthropy must find a more compelling way of telling this story.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, achieving results requires collaborations with Government: In fact, according to a study by Harvard Business Review, 80 per cent of successful initiatives also require changes to government funding, policies, or actions. Only by working closely with governments can we strengthen public systems of health and education to achieve a positive and lasting impact.

Yet, governments everywhere are making deep cuts to aid budgets. This year alone, the EU has proposed a 6.5 per cent cut to the 2018 aid budget compared to 2017 spending. Education has been particularly neglected — with international aid levels falling since 2010. At a time when the number of children out of school in developing countries is rising again, Governments are choosing not to prioritise education aid. However intelligently they work, philanthropists cannot plug this gap alone.

Vikas Pota is the chief executive of Varkey Foundation

The article appeared in the Gulf News on 15th March 2018

To tackle Britain’s social mobility crisis, we need to raise the status of teachers

Before their resignation yesterday, the Social Mobility Commission’s published their annual state of the nation report. It shows that in 2017, where a person grew up and went to school continue to be determining factors on their life chances today.

Measuring the prospects of children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in adult life across England’s 324 local authority areas, the report makes for grim reading.

While London and its surrounding commuter belt are tearing away, remote rural areas and neglected coastal towns are falling behind.

It’s little surprise Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea are performing well. Yet even in poorer areas of the capital like Tower Hamlets and Hackney, good education and employment opportunities for disadvantaged people are providing them prospects not afforded to those in the country’s left-behind areas.

But the Commission finds that in areas as different as West Somerset, Newark and Sherwood, Weymouth and Portland, Corby, and Carlisle, the barriers to success for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are far higher, and they are going on to face lower pay, longer commutes and fewer job opportunities.

This should be a national scandal demanding urgent attention. The very bedrock of meritocracy, espoused by Conservative and Labour governments for decades, is that talented people, no matter their background, should be able to succeed through study and hard work. Why is this not happening?

The reasons are multifaceted, but one fundamental issue across many areas is a lack of teachers and good schools.

As the report finds, a secondary school teacher in the most deprived area is 70% more likely to leave. This correlates with findings from Cambridge University presented to the Sutton Trust two years ago, showing that teachers in the most advantaged fifth of schools have on average nearly a year and a half more experience than those in the least advantaged schools, suggesting that the most effective teachers are not staying in schools in disadvantaged areas.

According to National Audit Office research published in September, more and more teachers are leaving the profession and many schools around the country, particularly in disadvantaged areas, are struggling to find good teachers to replace the ones who leave. Just 52% of teaching jobs in secondary schools and 46% in primary schools in 2015/2016 were filled by teachers with the required expertise and experience.

In England’s most deprived areas, as in the most deprived areas of the world, we urgently need more good teachers. Addressing chronic overwork is vital. And we need to see good teachers who are passionate about helping turn around the lives of children in disadvantaged areas be rewarded for their efforts.

Research from the Varkey Foundation found that only 25% of Brits would encourage their children to become teachers. That means policy makers need to consider initiatives to bolster the modest social status of teachers in the UK.

The Global Teacher Prize is one attempt to do that – a $1 million (£746,000) award presented annually to an exceptional teacher, who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession and to the lives of the students and communities around them. The prize seeks to highlight the importance of educators, celebrate their efforts, and raise their status, with the Top 50 shortlist coming out this month.

We know that teachers matter – a good teacher can make all the difference in whether a child from a disadvantaged background succeeds in life or not. Raising the status of teachers and rewarding them for their work and their efforts in disadvantaged communities is a vital first step to addressing the shocking lack of social mobility. The resignations over the weekend are just one sign the need to do that is urgent.

Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared on the Left Foot Forward blog on 4th December 2017

‘The failure to educate a child anywhere in the world risks instability for us all’

Unesco, the UN agency charged with improving global education, has recently been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Rows over alleged anti-Israel bias following the admission of Palestine as a full member have led to the withdrawal of US and Israel from the organisation. Even the appointment of the former French culture minister, Audrey Azouley, as the new director-general was reported in terms of her family background and the voting machinations behind her appointment.

This white noise is distracting attention from the urgent mission of Unesco. It is the only global body, supported by most of the world’s governments, which can be mobilised to solve the global education crisis. During her tenure, Ms Azouley must avoid the political squalls that have dogged the organisation and communicate to the world the importance of education – which has fallen down the world’s priority list over the past decade.

The agency is losing a director-general in Irina Bokova, whose steady hand has helped guide the Sustainable Development Goals. She has supported international gatherings of education ministers where they can share expertise and priorities – including the Global Education & Skills Forum. Through incisive reporting, Unesco has also highlighted the gap between where global education is and where it needs to be in the coming years.

Addressing this gap will require all of Ms Azoulay’s reserves of creativity and energy. In the current media climate, dominated by explosive presidential tweets and a cacophony of shrill voices, important long-term issues are being drowned out. Ms Azoulay needs to be bold, framing the global education crisis in a compelling way to cut through in this world of short-attention spans, instant journalism and fake news.

Unesco must rally governments and build momentum, just as the UN did prior to the Paris climate talks in 2015.

The truth, which isn’t widely known, is that progress on improving education among the world’s poorest children has stalled. Up to 2011, the number of children out of primary school had been reduced to 57 million from a high of 102 million in 2000. By last year, this number had risen again to 61 million, with a total of 263 million altogether out of school.

Of these, 34 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than a fifth of primary-age children are out of school. However, the challenge is not just at the level of school coverage: in many countries, teachers are poorly trained and supported, meaning that learning outcomes are poor. The effect of this is that around 175 million young people in poor countries – equivalent to one quarter of the youth population – cannot read a sentence.

The decline in education aid funding

Changes are coming in the world economy that will hit developing countries hardest. As machines take over tasks from humans – in everything from textiles and agriculture to administration— the impact on current patterns of employment is likely to be devastating. A report from the Oxford Martin School estimates that a staggering 85 per cent of currently existing jobs in Ethiopia risk being lost to automation, along with 69 per cent in India and 77 per cent in China.

In order to stay in the game, countries must now begin to educate their citizens differently. As well as traditional academic skills, future labour market success will require creativity, communication skills and lateral thinking. The main obstacle is that many developing economies are currently ill-equipped to train their young people in these skills. Teacher numbers are falling annually in Ethiopia, Pakistan and Cambodia, and class sizes frequently reach 60 pupils. Unesco says we need 68.7 million extra primary and secondary school teachers in order to get all children into education by 2030, which will require $39 billion (£30 billion) every year to fill the funding gap.

This means Unesco needs to be even bolder in calling governments out on this issue. Tragically, there has been a decade-long decline in education aid at precisely the time at which it was most needed. One option would be to call on all governments to sign legally binding agreements to increase education aid for the next decade. World leaders, especially in the G7, must understand that there is only a short time in which the destructive impact of automation on the poorest countries can be avoided. Regrettably, education is still often thought of as something to be addressed only once poverty has been eradicated, hunger ended and healthcare improved. Yet, none of these problems can be fully remedied without reliable, quality education provision.

Changing attitudes requires some fearless advocacy from Unesco, which, representing the world, can still speak with a moral legitimacy that others lack. And yet, in recent years, it has ceded ground to other organisations that are doing important work but cannot speak with the kind of mandate that can shift the international community’s direction of travel. The millennium development goal of “universal primary education” was missed, despite progress. The sustainable development goal of an “inclusive and equitable quality education” will not be reached for generations if current trends continue. Ms Azouley’s most important duty in office is to persuade governments that are backsliding on their commitments to think again – either through calling them publicly out or behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

Ms Azouley must find ways of making the public understand that a failure to educate a child anywhere in the world will, in the end, create instability for us all – through irregular migration and the potential growth of extremism and conflict – whether we are in the developed or developing world. Unesco must rise above the political squabbles that have sometimes defined the organisation. Its duty is to avoid another generation facing the crushed ambitions and hopelessness that follow when any child is denied a decent education.

Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the TES on 7th November 2017

‘The “march of the machines” and the teacher recruitment crisis together make for a disastrous cocktail’

Today is World Teachers’ Day and in the coming years, we will rely on teachers more than ever. Without their guidance, the UK workforce will not be equipped to face their greatest challenge since the industrial revolution – the unrelenting march of the machines.

A recent review by Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane concluded that automation would threaten up to 15m British jobs the next few years – around half of the total. This could be solved – assuming that we could fill the resulting employment gaps with new or existing industries not susceptible to automation, such as technological or creative industries. Such restructuring can be a normal part of an economy’s evolution when carried out at a manageable pace. But this restructuring requires a workforce with a deep and flexible skills base. And unfortunately, our two methods of supplying such a workforce – education and immigration – are about to fracture.

Just at the time that we are reducing migration, we will need skilled workers more than ever before. The UK economy is reliant on immigration from healthcare and agriculture to the creative industries. EU citizens account for around 7 per cent of the workforce at both the high- and low-skilled end of the labour market. However, immigration figures for this year so far show a fall of 43,000, with a comparable rise in emigration. The resulting net migration total of 248,000 is a quarter lower than before the Brexit vote.

Net migration was just 5,000 for Eastern Europeans – the lowest since these countries entered the EU in 2004 – and many employers are already experiencing difficulty in filling vacancies. At a minimum, we will need to fill vacated jobs – and new roles – with qualified UK citizens if we are not to see a failure of the labour market in critical industries. But it is not just about the replacement of foreign-born workers. As more jobs become automated – from driving and manufacturing to previously immune professions like law and accountancy – new high-skilled jobs will be needed to replace them.

Not enough teachers

Politicians across the spectrum are united in proclaiming that education is the answer to automation, skills training, and retraining for those whose jobs will disappear. But new data suggests that we simply don’t have enough teachers to teach these new skills that the country will need. As the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in their latest global report on education, released last month, UK teachers are facing stark pressures, leading to ever-increasing numbers leaving the profession.

This was echoed by a National Audit Office report, which showed that the total number of secondary school teachers fell by five per cent between 2010 and 2016, and that, compared to five years ago, more teachers are leaving the classroom for reasons other than retirement.

Meanwhile, acceptances for teacher training courses dropped by 10 per cent this year. Many new recruits into the profession are also giving up: 30 per cent of newly qualified teachers leave within the first five years, and nearly half of England’s teachers plan to leave teaching in the next five years. Perhaps this is unsurprising given a salary fall for teachers in real terms between 2010 and 2015 of around six percent. The Local Government Association claims these factors, along with a surge in pupils, are about to crash the secondary system.

The result is that while many countries face an ageing teacher population, the UK has the opposite issue. In 2005, 32 per cent of teachers were 50 or over. Today the figure is 20 per cent, reflecting a reduction of 37 per cent in this group, the largest such reduction in the OECD.

The UK is losing its more-experienced teachers. If these trends continue, our education system may be incapable of preparing its students for an uncertain economic future in which they will have to draw on a wide range of technical and creative skills. So what can be done to turn the situation around?

UK lagging behind

The reasons for poor teacher recruitment and retention are complex – from work-stress to onerous non-teaching duties – but one of the most important factors is the low status of teachers, both in the UK and worldwide. This, in turn, may mirror the gender imbalance within teaching: around seven out of 10 teachers are women, although this drops closer to 50 per cent at tertiary level (traditionally viewed as higher in status). Men, who are generally found to value the status of professions more, are not being drawn to school teaching.

All the international evidence – from Finland to South Korea – shows that it is impossible to create an excellent education system without well-motivated, well trained and fairly rewarded teachers. For Britain to succeed in an automated world post-Brexit we are going to need our human capital to rise to the challenge.

Unfortunately, the World Economic Forum Human Capital Index released last month shows that the UK is currently lagging behind many of its European counterparts, including Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Automation and a crisis in teacher numbers – together with Brexit – could converge in a way that will have a catastrophic effect. How well we treat our teachers may ultimately determine whether we can turn this human capital crisis around and emerge successfully through the most tumultuous period since the war.

Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the TES on 5th October 2017

Working together for the betterment of education for all…

The Varkey Foundation has over the past many years worked in sub-saharan Africa and Latin America on designing, delivering and funding various capacity building programmes for teachers and school leaders. This is vital work if we are to strengthen public education systems and achieve the sustainable development goals.

Our increasing interests are in a number of thematic areas such as global citizenship education, technology for development and girls education.

We have built strong networks that we want to share along with our experiences and insights.

I am delighted to share with you that the UCL Institute of Education appointed me as a Honorary Lecturer recently. This is an opportunity to both contribute to the work of a world class institution, and give them key insights into ours.

We need more people working in these areas and I believe this is a way to achieve that.

Building capacity in these areas requires a focus on policy.

For this reason, I’m also pleased to share that the Centre for Science & Policy at Cambridge University have elected me to their Policy Leaders Fellowship, along with Permanent Secretaries and Directors-General from Whitehall and Brussels. If we are to move the needle on many issues connected with education, we stand a better chance of doing so by understanding the diverse range of issues from different perspectives. By bringing together academic researchers, senior civil servants, and leaders from the voluntary and private sector to share best practice and deep-dive on key policy areas, I am sure we will, all, gain immensely in our knowledge and understanding on key issues.

I am grateful to both universities for these opportunities, as well as Harvard Graduate School of Education for appointing me as a Visiting Practitioner last year.

I am confident that working with these great institutions, we stand a better chance of achieving our mission of ensuring each and every child has a more prosperous future.

‘We cannot expect nations on the edge of war zones to shoulder the responsibility of educating the world’s refugees alone’

Writing on World Refugee Day 2017, the chief executive of a global charity has a warning for our politicians: the youth vote is powerful and Generation Z are demanding action on the refugee crisis

The past year in Western politics has been one upheaval after another, from the EU referendum result and Donald Trump’s surprise presidential win to the latest UK election result. The unfortunate side effect of these events is that they have sucked up a great deal of media oxygen from the great long-term challenges of our time.

Everybody remembers the widely circulated photograph of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach two years ago. But what they may not remember is that, one year later, the boy’s father gave an interview in which he expressed disappointment with how little the tragic picture had actually gone towards solving the refugee crisis.

It looks no closer to being solved now than three years ago when people started crossing the Mediterranean in increasing numbers: 1.25 million people applied to claim asylum in Europe during 2015 and 1.2 million in 2016 – easily the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. This year, there have been another 1,300 deaths on the migration route up until May.

It is encouraging that German chancellor Angela Merkel has just hosted African leaders to discuss the refugee crisis ahead of the G20 summit taking place in Hamburg next month, but so far the EU has only managed to relocate 5 per cent of its target for refugees arriving in Greece and Italy. Meanwhile, numbers of refugees continue to multiply all over the world and there is now a total of more than 65 million displaced people globally, with more than 5 million of those from Syria alone.

‘Muddy, feverish and toxic’

It may come as no surprise, then, to learn that a major new report on global youth attitudes shows that the world’s young people want action. Earlier this year, the Varkey Foundation published the Generation Z: Global Citizenship Survey into the attitudes of young people aged 15-21 in 20 major countries. A key finding for the UK was that a large proportion of young people (48 per cent) think their government is doing too little to help solve the global refugee crisis, while only a tiny number (10 per cent) said it was doing too much.

This is doubly interesting when considered against the background of the recent general election. Although the refugee crisis and surrounding issues played seemingly no role in the UK elections, youth turnout was at a high. There is broad recognition that, given this development, the tone of political discourse may have to change and reflect the concerns and priorities of the young more.

Rightly or wrongly, politicians may have concluded that refugees were not a priority for the public – at least in comparison to the economy, housing, security and the usual list of supposedly paramount policy concerns. This has been bolstered by the tendency of some parts of the press and political spectrum to conflate the problems of refugees, economic migrants and terrorism; as a result, the debate around each of these issues has often become muddy, feverish and toxic. These new developments, however, may mean that when the current political crisis in the UK is resolved, there will be more room and more support for an efficient response to problems such as the refugee crisis.

Even examined on a purely self-interested level, the failure to deal with the refugee crisis has high long-term costs for us all because the problem contributes to global instability, weak economic performance and eventually war, extremism and potential terrorism. At the same time, solving the crisis also needs real insight and political will. Throughout the world, people are now displaced on average for between 10 and 20 years.

A roundtable organised by the Varkey Foundation last year underlined that refugees need to be able to carry on with life – whether that means education or employment – and may also need help to negotiate the complexities of applications and regulations. As a worldwide community, we cannot expect a short list of nations situated on the borders of war zones to entirely shoulder the responsibility of caring for and educating the bulk of the world’s refugees.

We need to give financial support to countries such as Lebanon, which has seen its numbers of school-age children needing education almost triple. International pledges of funding have been forthcoming – the London conference on Syria in 2016 pledged a record-breaking $12 billion in overall aid for Syrian refugees – but sadly, as is so often the case, promised funds may be severely delayed or even never materialise. An independent survey by the global children’s charity Theirworld found that, as of January this year, less than a third of the money needed for education has been delivered from all pledges.

Today marks World Refugee Day 2017, and the UN High Commission for Refugees will use the date to launch its #WithRefugees petition, sending a message to governments that they must work together to do their fair share. A hung parliament means we don’t know who our political masters will be next week, let alone in a year.

But all players in contention should remember that the powerful block of new young voters are demanding action on refugees, and if politicians don’t listen, they could be punished at the ballot box. Today would be a good day to signal their intent.

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the TES on 20th June 2017. Further Op-Ed pieces appeared here:

France: Nouvel Observateur; Italy: Corriere Della Sera; South Africa: Cape Times; Brazil: Novaescola

Emerging market youth embrace liberal globalism

What do young people in developing countries think? There is of course a wealth of anecdotal knowledge. It’s commonly said that they value education more than young people in the west and are more religious and more conservative. But there is surprisingly little hard data.

We decided to ask 15- to 21-year-olds in 20 developed and developing countries across the world the same questions about their lives, religious beliefs and views on international issues*. Above all, we wanted to know whether these so-called millennium babies (often known as Generation Z) have a common vision of the world. Or do geography, culture and nation matter more?

We first asked whether young people were happy with their lives. We found that in emerging economies young people tend to be far happier than in the west: 90 per cent of Indonesians and 78 per cent of Nigerians said they were happy compared with just 57 per cent in Britain and France.

They also tend to be more optimistic. The countries with the highest proportions of young people who think the world is getting better are China, India and Nigeria; those where the highest proportion think the world is getting worse are France and Italy. The emerging economy exceptions were Argentina and Brazil, where young people are as gloomy about the future as they are in Europe.

One question the survey throws up is why happiness and optimism levels tend to be so much higher in most emerging economies than in the west. Perhaps a country’s direction of travel is more important than its current economic position. In Europe and the US, living standards are higher than in much of the developing world, but Europeans and Americans have a sense of lost glories as their lifestyles are threatened by global competition.

Young people in emerging economies are emphatic supporters of liberal values — even when those values run contrary to the laws of their country. In India and China more than half of young people think that same-sex marriage should be legal. Around three-quarters of young people in India, Brazil and China support equal rights for transgender people — more than in France and Japan.

Overwhelmingly, young people believe that men and women should be treated equally — with the greatest support for such values in the very different societies of Canada and China. Even in India, more than nine out of 10 young people support the principle that men and women should be treated equally — marginally higher even than in the UK and the US. We can no longer generalise about conservative developing countries and more liberal developed countries.

For all the concern about religious conservatism and polarisation, it is heartening that two-thirds of young people have close friends from other religions, and less than a fifth say a person’s religion is an important factor when deciding whether or not to be friends with them. Even in countries where this figure is highest — for instance India (29 per cent) and Indonesia (31 per cent) — two-thirds do not think a person’s religion is an important consideration when forming friendships.

The old complaint that countries on the rise are too preoccupied with raising living standards to worry about climate change is not backed up by the data. Emerging economies are more concerned about climate change than many western countries. Nearly three-quarters of young Indians and two-thirds of Brazilians, Argentines and Nigerians list climate change as one of the factors that makes them most fearful for the future. As China has the largest carbon emissions of any country, it could matter that its young people are alone in regarding climate change as a greater global threat than extremism.

Equally, emerging economies showed the greatest support for legal migration. Indian and Chinese young people were the most likely to say that their government should make it easier for immigrants to live and work legally in their country. (Turkey is an exception. Under huge pressure from the Syrian refugee flows, it is the most negative country on legal migration). When we asked young people whether governments were doing enough to solve the global refugee crisis, those in Brazil and Argentina were the most likely across 20 countries to say they were doing too little.

As befits this first generation of digital natives, Generation Z places huge faith in technology to solve our future problems. In China, India and Indonesia more than 90 per cent of young people named technology as the factor that made them most hopeful for the future — more than in any western country. They are also more likely than young people in the developed world to worry about the consequences of children not receiving a good education.

Members of Generation Z born in emerging economies are more likely to travel and forge friendships in other countries — on and offline — than any previous generation. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that they broadly agree with their contemporaries in the west on a host of personal and political issues, with some notable exceptions (Nigeria is a category of its own for religious conservatism) and, if anything, are greater supporters of the international order. With the growth of nativism around the world, it’s reassuring to know that the generation who will inherit the earth are, in most part, liberal globalists.

*The poll was conducted by Populus, a UK-based research and strategy consultancy, between September 19 and October 26, 2016. Populus undertook 20,088 online surveys with young people aged 15 to 21 in 20 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US.

 

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation.

This article appeared in the Financial Times Beyond Brics Blog on 8th February 2017. Further Op-Ed pieces appeared in Italy’s Corriere Della Sera; The Japan Times; and France’s Le Monde

UN says 69 million teachers needed for global school pledge

I was interviewed for this piece on the BBC on 5th October 2016

Almost 69 million teachers need to be recruited around the world by 2030 if international pledges on education are to be kept, warns Unesco.

The United Nations agency’s estimate is for the number of teachers required to meet the promise of primary and secondary places for all children.

The biggest gaps in staffing are in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

The Unesco report says there needs to be a “seismic shift” in recruitment to overcome “massive shortages”.

At present, the report from the Unesco Institute for Statistic says there are about 263 million children without a primary or secondary school to attend.

This includes about 25 million children who will never set foot inside a school of any kind.

World leaders last year agreed a set of global targets for access to education, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

But the report says that keeping this promise for primary and secondary school for all by 2030 will require a huge increase in teachers.

The most acute pressure is in sub-Saharan Africa, where countries would need to train another 17 million teachers to meet the demand.

The Unesco study warns that there are already shortages of teachers in these countries, as they struggle with rising populations.

“Without urgent and sustained action, the situation will deteriorate in the face of rising demand for education,” says the report.

The report identifies countries where staffing numbers are “getting worse, rather than better”, including Burundi, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.

But there are a number of countries in the region on track to have enough staff to meet the targets, including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Swaziland.

The study highlights the importance of the quality as well as the quantity of teachers.

In countries such as Niger, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, fewer than 60% of teachers in primary school have been trained.

Pauline Rose, professor of international education at Cambridge University, says the lack of teachers also affects class sizes, particularly when the population is rising.

“So in countries like Malawi, it is common to find over 100 children in classes in the early grades of primary school. This has been a persistent problem for many years.”

The lack of pupils completing secondary school in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa further compounds the shortage of teachers.

Prof Rose says that in “some countries around half of secondary school graduates would need to go into teaching to fill the teacher gap, which is clearly not viable”.

There is also a problem with low pay which makes teaching less attractive, particularly to the most able graduates.

Prof Rose says that in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa teachers are “paid below the poverty line, and so not surprisingly they take second jobs to compensate. This has an impact on the quality of their teaching”.

And she says there might be enough teachers trained on a national level, but there could still be local shortages in regions where schools cannot get teachers to apply.

The Unesco report highlights the importance of retaining staff and says this will require teaching to have a competitive salary and contracts which will give them job security.

Vikas Pota, chief executive of an education charity, the Varkey Foundation, said: “We already know that better pay will attract the best graduates into the profession and give them an incentive to stay.

“A 10% increase in teachers’ pay tends to result in a 5% to 10% increase in pupil performance. Given the stretched finances of developing world governments, the international community has a responsibility to help fund this.”

The Varkey Foundation has been experimenting in Ghana with interactive distance learning to try to offer training on a wider scale than would be possible with in-person classes. It is training up to 5,000 teachers over two years.

The UN report says the success of global targets for education will depend on tackling the teacher shortage.

“Such efforts could falter if they fail to prioritise those on the front line: the world’s teachers, who are tasked with the actual delivery of a good quality education for all.”

Last month, there was another warning from Unesco about the delays in creating enough primary school places by the 2030 target.

A report warned that at current rates of progress it would be 2042 before all primary-age children would be able to attend school.

The most limited access to schools was found in countries which were the poorest or most troubled by conflict.

Niger, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, Mali and Chad were among the nations whose children were likely to spend the least time in education.