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Business, development and education

The Global Business Coalition for Education launched its ‘Business Backs Education’ campaign last month at the Global Education Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai. The campaign challenges business to commit 20% of its philanthropic spending to education projects by 2020. The campaign has sparked a number of different conversations around the Think Global community.

Firstly and centrally, what is the role of business in development, and in education as part of that? Talking about the Business Backs Education campaign, Hani Ashkar, Managing Partner for the Middle East for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said:

“We [the business community] are increasingly becoming more than an end user of education, and we must play an active role in shaping the debate and influencing what our employees of tomorrow are learning.”

In the UK, we have businesses running academy chains and delivering Ofsted inspection and education contracts, including the Global Learning Programme (which Think Global is involved with too). The Business Backs Education campaign is just one way in which business is involved in education around the world. What are the benefits and challenges of business as an actor in education here and in developing countries? At Think Global we think this is a really interesting and important question and one we’re putting more thought into.

How much do we, our colleagues and our students know about the role of business in development? In my last blog, I mentioned forthcoming BOND research which shows that members of the public don’t have an understanding of the role that business plays in the development process. Business Backs Education is an indication that business can have significant voice in development debates. What are the implications of this? How can we get teachers and students exploring this question? What do you think?

Finally, what’s the relationship between education as an individual right and a public good, and education as supporting economic growth? We’re interested that the Business Backs Education campaign positions itself as designed to bring business in line with UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which recommends that Governments should spend 20% of their budget on education. In doing so, it aims to tackle the fact that 57 million children worldwide are out of primary school (half of these in sub-Saharan Africa).

However Vikas Pota, CEO of the Varkey Gems Foundation and convener of the Global Education Skills Forum, indicates that the campaign equates the public good of education with providing talent for business to enable economic growth:

“Business can and should play a much greater role in developing the public sector’s ability to improve education access and learning quality in both the developing and developed world. Not only because Education is a public good but because if business is unable to secure future talent then it will harm economic growth worldwide.”

The question of the relationship between social good and economic growth is central to development discourses. It’s one we’re currently supporting teachers on our on-line training to grapple with, as they explore different approaches to development within global learning in schools.

Where do debates on global learning meet debates on global skills? Our research with business leaders indicates that UK corporates feel that broadening young people’s horizons and teaching them about our globalised world is vital in preparing them for the world of work. But can, and does, developing inter-culturally aware workplace assets also mean preparing young people to reflect on and question their decisions and that of their employer?

Can we help young people make informed and critical decisions about who they want to work for, as well as helping them be more employable? Are young people developing the skills they need? This is a big question for us, and one we’re planning to return to – watch this space!

By Kate Brown, Head of Programmes at Think Global

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