‘Education is a right, not a commodity’ – message to Pearson’s AGM today

Janet Downs's picture
Members of national and international teaching unions and global justice non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) lobbied the Annual General Meeting of global education and publishing giant, Pearson, today.

In the UK, just one of 80 countries where Pearson operates, Pearson owns the Financial Times and published 50 Shades of Grey. But traditional publishing is becoming less profitable. According to This is Money, Pearson is ‘moving to more lucrative learning and education activities’.

The global education market is worth $4.2 trillion and Pearson, along with other ‘edu-businesses’ wants a slice. Pearson’s education arm in the UK owns examining board Edexcel and manages marking for primary national curriculum tests in mathematics, reading and grammar, punctuation and spelling. In the USA, Pearson is, among other things, part of ‘the fast-growing virtual school segment’ after acquiring Connections Academy which, the blurb says, will give Pearson ‘the opportunity to apply Connections Education’s skills and technologies in new segments and geographic markets.’

The expansion into ‘new segments and geographic markets’ promises profit. But when market forces get involved in education then equity is at risk. In 2012, the Belgian delegation told the International Summit on the Teaching Profession* 'Commercialization of education is a serious threat to equity, equality and democracy.'

This was echoed by Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers when discussing Pearson ahead of today’s lobby:

‘Pearson’s activities around the world indicate its intention to commercialise and privatise education at all levels. Pearson needs to end its involvement with fee-paying private schools in the global south, stop all practices that promote and support the obsession with high-stakes testing…Education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society not private profit.

Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL, said:

‘Education is the second largest global service after healthcare, with spending at $4.5 trillion in 2012/13. It is not surprising, therefore, that for-profit companies, such as Pearson, should seek to expand their services to governments in the provision of schools, curricula and tests. The danger is that this expansion undermines and perverts the core function of education - to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, appropriately assessed, which enables pupils to develop the skills and abilities needed for a successful and productive life.’

No one should forget that education is a human right which should not be perverted by the profit motive. School curricula should not be patented and charged for. Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed. Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people.’

Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said:

‘Pearson’s profit-driven agenda of pushing private education in the global south is at odds with the universal right of education that all children have. There is significant evidence to show that private education, even when ‘low cost’, ultimately increases segregation and marginalisation in society because access and quality depend on ability to pay. It’s even more disturbing that Pearson is getting UK taxpayers’ money in the form of aid from DfID** to subsidise them in this process.’

Those lobbying Pearson today are asking the company to call for an end of high-stakes consequences that are predominantly based on test scores and to reject all practices that promote and support the testing obsession in the UK, US and other parts of the world. These practices include, but aren’t limited to, monitoring of personal social media accounts, gag orders, and retaliation against those who express opinions regarding testing or Pearson products or services.

The lobbyists also want Pearson to stop promoting, supporting and advocating the creation and expansion of ‘low-fee’ private schools which exploit for profit parents’ desire for their children (or one of them, usually the eldest boy, because that’s all they can afford) to be educated. They want Pearson to use its strength, expertise and resources to help develop and strengthen free, public, high-quality education for all children, not just those who can pay.

To follow the lobby on twitter go to #tellpearson.

This is a companion piece to ‘The GERM: a virus which is killing the world’s schools’ and ‘Teachers, parents and students fight to the GERM’.

NOTES *To see the presentation of the Belgian delegation to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, click on ‘Closing country and regions presentations’ in sidebar here.

**Department for International Aid and Development.
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John Mountford's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 15:33

Janet, if any readers are really interested in some background on Pearson, this thread from Nancy Bailey, though long, is well worth their time.


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