It’s cyberbullying, not fake news, that social media giants should fear the most

After hearing the range of discussion sparked by Anti-Bullying Week last week, I was particularly struck by the Duke of Cambridge’s passionate speech at the BBC Broadcasting House in London where he called on tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to tackle the growing problem of cyberbullying. He raises an important point: no-one should duck their responsibilities on this issue.

One thing is certain, we need solutions urgently. Studies show bullying is a major risk factor for serious and long-term mental health problems in children that can last into adulthood, and although in-person bullying has lessened over the last decade, cyberbullying is on the rise. The figures are alarming. In the UK, incidents of cyberbullying have grown 37% year-on-year according to a report from internet safety company Smoothwall, and one recent study by international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 17% of British children have been victims. Elsewhere in the world, the picture is very similar. For example, a new Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviours.

While in-person bullying can often be effectively tackled within school premises, cyberbullying is more pervasive – victims can be targeted anywhere, at any time, and can feel like there’s no escape from the abuse. Cyberbullying, therefore, presents a different challenge that involves stakeholders across not only education, but wider society as well, not least tech giants and social media companies. Are they doing enough to help? Most agree with the Duke of Cambridge’s view. In the Ditch the Label survey, 70% of teenagers thought that social media companies do too little to prevent bullying, and, according to the Smoothwall report, 77% of teachers thought the same. Just as UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently called on large tech companies to do more to drive a technological revolution in education, so to do they need to take more responsibility for the products that they produce for young people.

Photo of a teenager holding a phone looking sadly out of a window

But the answer isn’t so clear-cut. The problem of cyberbullying isn’t so far removed from the complex debates currently raging around hate speech and free speech, trolling and fake news that take place on the social media sites we use. For example, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced an anti-cyberbullying bill after a high-profile teenage suicide, but the law was later removed by the courts for violating free speech, demonstrating the difficulty in using legislation to curb the problem. We’re still grappling with our relationship to the new hyper-connected communication media available to us, and what it means to use these responsibly.

This ability to use technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways – often termed digital citizenship – is a vital competency for the 21st century, though we’re still some way from seeing the topic introduced into national curricula. So far, non-profits are taking up the task. Common Sense Education, for example, offers a free K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum that has cyberbullying as one of six core curriculum topics, with over 500,000 teachers now using this resource worldwide. Meanwhile, The DQ Institute, an international think tank that provides solutions and policy recommendations to help nations build ethical digital ecosystems, have created a Digital Intelligence Quotient, or DQ number. Derived from eight core digital citizenship competencies – digital safety and cyberbullying management one of them – the DQ number aims to set an international standard of digital citizenship, and I believe this level of global integration and awareness is needed if cyberbullying is to be tackled effectively.

Both teachers and parents share the same concerns about online safety. This year, a back-to-school campaign launched by UK non-profit Internet Matters revealed that 73% of Year 7 parents were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships, and 80% were concerned about cyberbullying. But schools and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the problem: the Smoothwall study found that 62% of teachers do not believe they are fully supported to tackle the issue, and 84% believe the government should be doing more to help train them.

Photo of a young person's hands holding a phone

Clearly, there’s no easy answer to the growing problem of cyberbullying, the responsibility falls on many shoulders. Certainly, banning social media or certain apps doesn’t work – that would be like trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Instead, we need a coordinated response from those across education, government and industry. Tech companies should be looking to collectively commit to tackling the problem and agree on industry standards of what constitutes abusive content. We need to advance the digital citizenship agenda so that both adults and children learn the digital skills necessary to navigate internet safely. And, as part of this, the government must listen to schools and teachers who call for more training and resources on how to teach students to be more responsible digital citizens, as well as consider introducing more online safety-related material into the curriculum.

But for any measures to be effective, different stakeholders mustn’t just point fingers of blame at each other but rather approach the problem of cyberbullying from the same angle. Parents, educators, governments, tech companies, and of course students themselves must reach a common understanding. It’s a challenging project, and the only way forward is to foster communication and cooperation between groups who may not ordinarily find themselves talking to each other. Most importantly, this could scar another generation of children who are on the cusp of owning their first smartphone. But this is a defining moment for social media companies too. The daily attacks from fake news to foreign interference in elections could become a genuine existential threat. But it is cyberbullying, a threat every parent understands, that could evaporate the fragile consent the public lend to social media companies.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on Innovate My School on 23rd November 2018

A continental shift in education technology?

While the sector is currently dominated by the US and China, Europe can be the powerhouse helping edtech come of age, says Tmrw Digital’s Vikas Pota

Last month I attended a rooftop event in London hosted by Edspace.io, where a cross-section of European edtech startups and VCs gathered to discuss the latest innovations in education. The talent, energy and enthusiasm of those in attendance was palpable – a sign of the growing confidence within Europe’s edtech sector, a market holding immense potential for companies looking to make a global impact.

Indeed, Europe is the second largest worldwide market when it comes to education spending, totalling over €700bn each year for its 110 million students. The pedigree of its countries’ education systems is world class, with relative minnows such as Estonia, Ireland and Finland consistently riding high in the OECD’s PISA rankings.

Yet, despite 3,000 edtech companies currently active across the continent, they receive just 8% of worldwide investment in the sector. Instead, the US and China dominate, with more than 58% of all edtech funding in 2017 going to US companies and 19% to China. It’s no surprise, then, that the members of edtech’s unicorn club – those with valuations worth more than $1 billion – are either Chinese (such as Hujiang or iTutorGroup) or American (such as Coursera or Udemy). India’s Byju’s is the sole exception.

Can Europe add a name to this list and stand alongside its other tech titans such as Sweden’s Spotify or Germany’s Zalando? Sceptics will argue that lack of access to funding and a fragmented market of 44 countries – many with complex school procurement processes – will hold it back. I take a more positive view. For example, from 2014 to 2017, investment in European edtech start-ups more than tripled in size, from €140mn to €490mn. Yet transactions per year have remained broadly consistent, meaning that investors are devoting more significant sums, in more mature projects. While €490mn represents but a third of the venture funding invested in US edtech last year, just four years ago it was a tenth. Clearly, the historical reluctance of investors to back European edtech companies is abating.

UK stands tall

Attracting 35% of this €490mn figure, the UK stands tall as the main player on the European edtech stage. Of course, Brexit uncertainty poses challenges – particularly to the workforce in the UK tech industry – yet the country has some natural advantages. At the top level, the government is engaged, establishing a national computing curriculum and recently calling on tech companies to help revolutionise the education sector, identifying five key areas of focus. The UK is also home to a host of world-class universities and publishers that can act as key local partners and collaborators for entrepreneurs. And, with its influential Tech City community, London is unparalleled in Europe as a launch pad for edtech start-ups, ranking as a global top five edtech hub.

Other European cities are also rapidly establishing themselves. Paris, for example, is developing into one of the most dynamic edtech ecosystems in Europe. The edtech Observatory, which comprehensively lists French edtech players and researches major trends in the industry, was recently established in the city, as was the EdTech France association. Two venture capital funds dedicated exclusively to edtech investment – Brighteye Ventures and EduCapital – were also recently launched in Paris, closing almost €100mn between them.

Take Helsinki, too. Finland’s education system has created a world-class “’ade in Finland’ brand, with Finnish edtech companies developing best-in-class products that are highly regarded for their quality and innovation, particularly in gamification. Importantly, edtech start-ups in the city have access to one of Europe’s leading edtech start-up accelerators, xEdu. While the US leads the field with more than a dozen such structures dedicated to edtech, Emerge in the UK and LearnSpace in France are examples showing Europe is heading in the right direction.

Europe’s natural advantage

Assuming a European startup achieves success at home, scaling up to become a unicorn requires international expansion. This is where European edtech companies have a natural advantage: its diversity and deep historical links to the rest of the world give it a uniquely international outlook. While Chinese and US startups understandably tend to focus on their large domestic markets before taking products overseas, European companies have an incentive to capture the considerable opportunities overseas.

There are huge markets in the developing world with young, growing populations clamouring for edtech – India, for example, has 300 million children aged 6 to 17. This is where European companies can step in.

A European edtech company that has successfully implemented its product or service across European countries, with different barriers to entry, has proven staying power; if you make it in Europe, the door to the rest of the world swings open. The worldwide popularity of European curricula – such as the International Baccalaureate and iGCSE – further serves to help internationalise European edtech startups. So, too, the similarities of foreign countries’ educational systems to those in Europe, with the UK and Commonwealth a prime example.

Let us not forget the cultural richness and variety of lifestyles on offer in Europe’s major tech hubs, from the uber-cool Berlin startup scene to the more relaxed Barcelona. The continent is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and ideas like no other, where budding entrepreneurs from all over the world flock to make their big break. Indeed, with President Trump’s H1-B visa program crackdown, and with many European countries creating startup visa programs making it easier to hire foreign talent, Europe is ideally positioned to continue attracting the brightest tech talent.

Over the longer term, if Europe can play to its natural strengths, it could nurture the next generation of start-ups and help edtech truly come of age.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on the Education Technology website on 29th October 2018

The Rise of the “Teacher-preneur”

Why educator involvement in edtech isn’t merely a nice idea.

Last week we held our inaugural event in London, where two inspirational edtech entrepreneurs spoke about how they made the leap into starting their own businesses, what drove them to take on the challenge, and how they achieved remarkable results in such short spaces of time. They had one thing in common: both used to be teachers.

The growing trend of the “teacherpreneur” is timely, and a potential solution to the impasse afflicting educational technology – edtech – in its current state. Despite all the hype, it’s fair to say that edtech isn’t living up to its potential.

Addressing the Facts

In the developing world, governments and NGOs have had little impact so far in addressing the shocking fact that over 260 million children and young people are not in school, and that of the 650 million primary school-age children that are, 250 million are not learning the basics.

Meanwhile, across the developed world, many edtech products are not yet making the educational impact many had hoped for. For instance, in 2015, an OECD report found that there was no noticeable improvement in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science in countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. And in the US, only 33 per cent of parents surveyed by the Learning Assembly agreed that their child’s school did an “excellent” job of using technology to tailor instruction. The sector is not yet producing the sort of innovation that will bring about macro-level changes in how education is delivered across the globe to those with fewer resources.

A Key Ingredient

A key ingredient that could make a huge difference to this apparent lack of progress is the involvement of teachers in edtech development – educators are all too often left out of the picture by the current norms of the sector. In all the conferences I have attended around the world, I’m struck by the absence of teachers at edtech roundtables, discussions, and panels – which usually revolve around policymakers, CEOs, tech entrepreneurs and investors. It’s a shame, since the conversations I have with teachers who are on the front line, in my experience, are always the most productive.

Teacher involvement is crucial, in part because one of the main reasons that many edtech initiatives fail is a lack of grounding in the real experience of students and teachers. Designers and developers often miss failings that would be obvious to those on the front line. By contrast, teachers know first-hand what students need, and what they themselves need as educators – a crucial element in the design process. They also understand the distinction between a superficial innovation and one that will actually help pupils, and they know how the education sector works from the inside.

Edtech’s Next Paradigm Shift

Now, trailblazing teachers are taking innovation into their own hands, bringing the knowledge and insight gleaned in the classroom to the world of edtech. This is a profoundly positive step, and there are good reasons to think that the next paradigm shift in edtech will come from teachers who combine their classroom practice with edtech development.

With such a large role to play, people are looking for teachers to enter this debate, and it was therefore heartening, but also no surprise, that last week’s event was oversubscribed, where we listened to Colin Hegarty and Emma Rogers tell their stories (pictured above; Colin middle, and Emma, left).

In 2011, while working as a maths teacher in London, Colin started making YouTube videos explaining important maths concepts for home study and revision, which eventually attracted millions of views from around the world and grew into Hegarty Maths – an online platform that teaches, assesses and tracks everything a child needs to learn in maths from upper primary to IGCSE level. Colin, a Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize Finalist, emphasized at the event how important it is for students to not only receive quality instruction, but for teachers to be supported in helping their students develop metacognitive awareness of how they study – which is why Hegarty Maths offers in-depth student tracking and analytics for teachers to use.

Similarly, Emma Rogers was a school Head of Department and a children’s writer and illustrator before founding Little Bridge, which helps children learn key English skills through its immersive digital world containing hundreds of carefully designed activities, stories and characters. Emma noted that too many products solve a problem that students and teachers don’t really have; her advice to attendees was to find an actual, specific problem – and then solve it.

Emma and Colin’s backgrounds were instrumental in how they developed their products, as is the case for Adam Still, a Teach First alumnus who recently founded Ripple Education, a digital lesson-planning tool designed squarely with teachers in mind. Adam observed that lesson planning – crucial for developing high-quality lessons and driving positive student outcomes – is currently a major time sink for teachers who tend to do it by themselves. Ripple’s easy-to-use and comprehensive platform aims to address this problem, freeing up precious time for teachers – who spend over 50% of their time outside the classroom – to let them do what they do best: teach.

A First Step

To encourage and support this growing trend of teachers using their expertise to build the next generation of edtech products, I will be guiding the new Tmrw Institute to help bring the worlds of education and technology together.

Founded by Sunny Varkey, the Institute will aim to increase teacher involvement in edtech, explore the edtech innovations that make the most difference, and tackle the problem of global education capacity using the best ideas from the edtech world.

Last week’s event was just the first step of our journey – hopefully it inspired and informed potential entrepreneurs and helped place teachers at the heart of edtech.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital.

This article appeared on EdTech Digest on 1st October 2018

To succeed, edtech companies must listen to teachers

Technology can revolutionise teaching – but only if its creators integrate learning or pedagogy, and consult with teachers first

Technology today has an unprecedented power to transform how we work and interact, from social media and Twitter politics to remote working and the digital economy.

But one area whose potential has not yet been explored to the full is technology in education – even though it could help us meet the serious educational challenges facing our world.

For decades it seems that governments and stakeholders have been discussing the lack of quality educational provision, particularly in the developing and emerging world. The damning statistics should be burned into our consciousness.

It is a scandal that in 2018, nearly 263 million children and young people are not in school, and of the 650 million primary school-age children that are, 250 million are not learning the basics. To meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all, we will need to recruit 69 million more teachers by 2030.

With no realistic sign of politicians being able to solve these deep-rooted problems we have to hope that edtech can help bridge this education chasm. Teachers should be able to use technology to access hard-to-reach pupils as well as helping pupils access educational content for the very first time. Time is running short for another generation that are being denied their birthright: a quality education.

Even here in the UK, where pupils have good access to teachers, it is hoped that technology will play a role in improving the quality of education through personalised learning, smart feedback, and improved access to information, networks and resources. Celebrated apps such as Remind, ThingLink, Wonder Workshop and ClassTag for parents are all just the tip of the iceberg.

The growth in the global edtech market over the last few years should be enabling even bigger and better innovations. In 2015, funding of edtech startups reached $3.3 billion, and overall sector investment hit $9.5 billion in 2017; the market has been forecasted to grow 17 per cent year-on-year (20 per cent in China) to an overall value of $252 billion by 2020.

Importantly, this growth is also reflected in developing economies: for example, in the last decade India has become the second-largest edtech market in the world after the US, and an estimated eight-fold increase to $1.96 billion is predicted by 2021.

Despite this huge potential, however, there is a sense that edtech products are falling short. The recent failures of some edtech companies to deliver on projects are well documented: sometimes these occurred because the original aim was too ambitious – or not grounded in the real experience of students and teachers.

However, the problem is not merely individual companies “getting it wrong”. A 2015 OECD report found that even countries that had invested heavily in information and communication technology (ICT) for education had seen no noticeable improvement in their PISA results for reading, mathematics or science.

And in the US, only 33 per cent of parents surveyed by the Learning Assembly say that their child’s school did an “excellent” job of using technology to tailor instruction.

There are many reasons for these failures but three stand out for me. The first is that some edtech startups may not be fully integrating the science of learning or pedagogy into their products. Some companies even confuse market research with educational research.

There needs to be a much greater focus on bringing the education into edtech; in particular, there needs to be a deep research-based understanding of how edtech can usefully augment educators. One piece of meta-analytic research from 2014 showed that improved outcomes in edtech principally depended upon three factors: interactive learning, exploring and creating, and crucially, the right blend of teachers and technology. Edtech is most successful when teachers also play their unique roles as curators, mentors, and facilitators of meaningful peer interaction.

The second is a related issue about the economics of tech entrepreneurship. Some new entrants to the market hope to launch a product that will scale quickly and potentially allow them a lucrative exit.

But those who come to the education sector without an intimate understanding of its economies, timescales and ways of working will struggle – and many companies who have not been aware of this have failed to realise their value or become profitable.  

Edtech investors must have the mindset that they have a rare opportunity that transforms people’s lives. That is a complex task that can take many years of work before they will start to see any results.  

Thirdly, and most crucially, entrepreneurs need to understand that edtech is just as much about people as it is technology. Understanding how the different interest groups involved in education fit together – from governments to parents, policymakers, teachers, parents and students – is key to success or failure.

I have come to believe that we need to make research and consultation more central to the edtech debate. Student outcomes are most improved when innovations work as part of systems that have substantial educational research behind them.

We also need rigorous evaluations of how a new product actually works in the classroom. Furthermore, we have to bring teachers to the fore in everything we do. In all the conferences I have attended around the world, I have never once seen a teacher invited to be a part of the edtech discussion – which often revolve around policymakers, CEOs, tech entrepreneurs and investors.

It’s surprising that the sector hasn’t much consulted the teachers who are actually on the front line: in my own experience, the conversations I have with teachers are always the most productive ones.

To promote this approach, I will be guiding the setup of the Tmrw Institute that will look to answer some of the key questions about the role of technology in education. In particular, I want to look at how edtech can help provide a quality education to the billion-plus young people who are either not in school or have no access to a good teacher.

The institute will aim to infuse edtech entrepreneurs with an understanding of what it takes to shift those educational outcomes. And with a rigorous, evidence-based approach, we have reason to hope that technology can help bring a good education to young people wherever they are in the world.

Vikas Pota is the group chief executive of Tmrw Digital 

This article appeared in the TES on 17th August 2018

In Argentina, a Historic G20 Meeting Looks to Set a Global Education Agenda

In a first for the G20 in its nearly two-decade history, education ministers from G20 member countries will meet in Mendoza on Wednesday to discuss global education trends and policy challenges. The fact that education ministers will have a seat at the table under Argentina’s G20 presidency is an overdue recognition that education is inseparable from economic growth, trade and development.

Adding to the meeting’s significance will be the presence of some the world’s leading education-focused civil society organizations. This group will present the G20 ministers, including U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos, with papers on critical education issues, such as 21st-century labor skills and the role of social media in education.

If taken advantage of, the meeting promises to be a momentous opportunity to better the futures of young people in G20 countries and around the world. 

The challenges at hand demand a concerted strategy. In 2018, it is a scandal that over 260 million children are out of school globally, and of the 650 million primary school-age children in school, some 250 million are not learning the basics. To meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all, we will need to recruit 69 million teachers by 2030.

Latin America merits particular urgency. Yes, there have been some successes: The region has made huge leaps forward in the number of children enrolled in schools. Today, primary school attendance is over 90 percent, according to the World Bank. And since 1970, the rate of secondary school enrolment has more than tripled, surpassing 94 percent in 2016.

But in 2018, young people in the region are simply not learning enough when they are in the classroom.  With a few notable exceptions, Latin American countries languish near the bottom of the PISA education rankings for science, math and reading – and many are outperformed by other countries at a similar level of economic development.   

That education ministers are meeting to address these problems is a vital step in the right direction. However, they should listen to the insights of civil society education experts who will be coming to Wednesday’s meeting with an agenda aimed at keeping fewer students from falling through the cracks.

On their list is a call for the G20 to invest in improved national data systems to track children who are both in and out of school.  Hard data – organized by categories such as gender, age, ethnicity and migration status – is sorely lacking in many countries about where progress is being made, and where gaps in education provision remain. Another recommendation to the G20 borne from experience is their call for the voices of employers to be heard in curriculum design and teacher training. This could help tackle the huge number of young people who leave school without the skills they need to find a job. 

The institutional knowledge among civil society, often acquired over decades and from on-the-ground experience, can benefit ministers who are often constrained in their mission by short electoral cycles. As a result, many barely have the time to make an impact before they move to other jobs. The continuity these civil society groups have builds unmatched expertise decade-on decade.   

Such a long view is necessary: According to a Harvard Business Review analysis of 15 social-change movements – from polio eradication to the Fair Food Program – nearly 90 percent of historically successful social-change efforts were found to take more than 20 years.

Civil society organizations are invaluable because they have the practical knowledge to advise governments on what really works, and Wednesday’s meeting is a prime opportunity for them do so. As the chairs of the group of civil society representatives convening in Mendoza, we look forward to a productive meeting with the G20 education ministers. However, such meetings of education ministers should not be a once-a-decade occurrence. They should be a permanent fixture at the G20 and G7 every year. Next year, the presidencies of the G20 and G7 fall to Japan and France respectively. It would be welcome to see this format of discussion with education ministers continue.

Esteban Bullrich is a senator for the province of Buenos Aires and Argentina’s former minister of education. Vikas Pota is chairman of the Varkey Foundation. They are co-chairs of a new group of civil society organizations meeting alongside the G20 Education Ministers summit in Mendoza, Argentina.

This article appeared in America’s Quarterly on 4th September 2018

British parents are teachers’ biggest cheerleaders

It’s the UN’s Global Day of Parents, and research shows that British parents have an overwhelming faith in teachers

UN's Global Day of Parents

Today, we mark the UN’s Global Day of Parents, which encourages us to appreciate parents across the world for their selfless commitment to children. I’m sure that there will be innumerable multifaceted discussions around the changing role of parents, their biggest fears for their children and how best to support them in the rapidly changing world they’re entering into.

But our research shows if there’s one thing British parents can agree on, it’s that they think their children’s teachers are doing a fantastic job.

Our Global Parents’ Survey recently revealed that of all the 29 countries surveyed across the world, British parents are among the most positive about the quality of teaching at their children’s schools: almost nine out of ten rate it as “good” or “fairly good”.

What was striking about this overwhelming faith in the work teachers are doing is that it is far higher than the 67 per cent of British parents who view the quality of free to attend schools as good or very good. Therefore, support for teachers themselves outstrips support for the education system as a whole.

What’s more, when asked what they choose to spend additional funds for schools on, 70 per cent of parents said it would be more teachers or to better pay for existing teachers. That’s compared with 44 per cent who wanted to see funds spent on resources and 35 per cent who, even in our digital age, said they wanted to see it spent on technology. This data supports last year’s Ipsos MORI Veracity Index which, as has consistently been the case, showed teachers behind only nurses and doctors as the most trusted profession in the UK, with 87 per cent of respondents saying they trust teachers to tell the truth.

It’s clear there’s a lot of goodwill out there for teachers struggling to make a difference in children’s lives. You only have to look at the outpouring of support London teacher Andria Zafirakou received after she won this year’s Global Teacher Prize. The leading lights and institutions of the arts world in the UK and beyond rallied to her cause of showing the transformative power of the arts in helping prepare young people for the unpredictable world of tomorrow. The public and the media alike, including elite publications the world over, have celebrated her achievements and talked in glowing terms of the great work she’s doing.

But while these things are heartening to see, the unfortunate truth is that teachers are facing more pressure than ever before – and many are caving in the face of it. Department for Education figures out last month show that headteachers are resigning in their droves, with nearly a third quitting within three years of taking the top job. But it’s not just the pressures of command. Overall, in the 12 months to November 2016 over 50,000 teachers in England left the state sector, with one in ten quitting the profession. Many gave up before they even started, with figures showing 100,000 people have completed teacher training but have never taught a lesson. All of this has contributed to a teacher shortfall of 30,000. Fewer teachers mean bigger classes, which means more work and more stress for teachers, which is why many are leaving the profession in the first place.

Parents recognise the pressures teachers are under. The Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index showed in 2013 that only a quarter of British people would encourage their children to become teachers. Moreover, British people recognise the harsh reality that teachers do not enjoy a high social standing. When asked which profession had equivalent status to teaching most UK parents likened teachers to nurses and social workers, unlike in China, where most people saw teachers’ status on par with doctors and where three-quarters would encourage their children to become teachers.

As our Parents’ Survey shows, British parents have many pressing concerns for their children, from bullying and mental health to growing up too soon under the influence of social media. None of these is easily solvable, despite the best will in the world from politicians. But if there is one thing the government can really focus on and find itself almost universally celebrated for doing so, it is supporting and investing in teachers.

On this occasion, politicians accustomed to coming under fire from all directions when formulating policy don’t have to calibrate whether the electorate is completely on their side. Gone are the bad old days when the teaching profession was a scapegoat for so many of society’s problems from anti-social behaviour to economic decline. Any politician or media outlet that tries it on wouldn’t find much traction amongst parents. The old tactic of pitting parents against teachers is yesterday’s politics. If politicians of every stripe were to be as fearless as possible in supporting teachers, then they would find parents fully behind them, united in support of the people who will inspire and skill the next generation.

Vikas Pota is Chairman of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the TES on 1st June 2018

Emerging market parents lead in education help

Attitudes to schoolwork diverge between developing countries and the west

In all the analysis of education in emerging economies, one large gap in our knowledge has been the views of those who have the greatest influence over young people: their parents. It’s common to speculate that for instance, Asian parents are unusually fixated on education or that parents in China might be sceptical of non-state involvement in education, but until now we’ve been guessing. There has been a lack of hard data.

That is why the Varkey Foundation conducted the most comprehensive global study of the hopes, fears and views of over 27,000 parents across 29 countries. We found that in their views on education, parents in emerging economies remain a world apart from parents in the west.

One of the most striking findings is that parents across the emerging world spend far greater amounts of time helping their children with their education than in developed countries. The stereotype is borne out: Indian parents spend more time helping their children with their education than parents of any other country surveyed, with 62 per cent reporting that they spend seven or more hours a week helping.

However, it’s also true in Vietnam – which ranked second highest on the survey – where half of parents devoted the same long hours on their children’s behalf, and in Colombia, where 39 per cent of parents spend seven or more hours helping.

This picture that could not be more different from European countries such as the UK and France, where in both cases only 11 per cent of parents spend seven or more hours a week helping, or Finland where the number is as low as 5 per cent.

A similar pattern emerges when we look at parents’ views on university. Around 90 per cent of parents in India, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico place a high importance on a university education of their child. Compare that to the UK, where only 32 per cent of parents place such importance on a degree. Here we see vast disparities between the emerging world, where university and education are seen as a pathway out of poverty, and Europe where, in some cases, higher education can be a pathway into debt with little perceived reward.

But it is not simply the case that education is revered by parents in emerging economies in a way that it is not by blasé parents in the west. If parents in countries such as Finland with high standards of living and high school performance scores appear more complacent, it’s perhaps because they can more or less trust their economies to offer relatively better life chances for their children and because the schools are rated highly.

The picture in most emerging economies is quite the reverse — in Peru, Mexico and Uganda the figure is as low as one in five or less.

In emerging economies necessity forces parents to be more pluralistic when it comes to who runs their child’s school. In Kenya, for example, 85 per cent of parents approve of charities running schools that are free, versus just 33 per cent in the UK and Spain. Seventy-eight per cent approve of parent groups running such schools in Kenya, versus a survey low of 20 per cent in Japan.

The picture is the same for religious institutions running free-to-attend schools. Eighty-eight per cent in Kenya approve compared to only 8 per cent in Japan. Equally, in India, 72 per cent approve of private companies running free-to-attend schools, but only 23 per cent in the UK. Again in India, 82 per cent approve of groups of teachers running such free-to attend schools, but only 28 per cent approve in Japan. Even in China, where one might expect a great deal of scepticism about non-state involvement in education, 71 per cent would support groups of teachers running these schools.

These are not just regional trends; the figures point to a chasm between emerging and established economies. Simply put, the stigma against non-state involvement in education that is prevalent in the west — and socially democratic Europe in particular — does not exist in emerging nations where parents tend to be grateful for a good school place in whatever form it comes.

Of course, there are exceptions. The US is generally much more open to private involvement in education than other established economies and American parents place greater importance on university than Europeans, despite the astronomical levels of US student debt. But that is not the norm in western economies, where parents’ expectations are that education is the domain of the state and that parents and private organisations should play a smaller role.

For all of us involved in education development, NGOs and governments alike, we have to recognise that we cannot look at emerging economies through western eyes. We cannot understand the hopes and fears of parents in these countries through the lens of western debates on education. We have to be open to new ideas and solutions.

Vikas Pota is Chairman of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the Financial Times on 6th June 2018

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