Ed­u­ca­tion needs so­cial en­ter­prise

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

An es­ti­mated quar­ter-mil­lion young peo­ple in Syria are miss­ing out on col­lege as a re­sult of the civil war there. Now, thanks to the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion, char­i­ties, phi­lan­thropists, and foun­da­tions have united to help refugee stu­dents find higher-ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties, and to pro­vide safe havens for lec­tur­ers and pro­fes­sors per­se­cuted by the Syr­ian regime.

The Plat­form for Ed­u­ca­tion in Emer­gen­cies Re­sponse will con­nect col­lege-ready Syr­ian refugees with refugee-ready col­leges. In time, PEER will serve as a con­duit to higher ed­u­ca­tion for dis­placed stu­dents world­wide, and it will cater to all ed­u­ca­tion lev­els, by pro­vid­ing web-based in­for­ma­tion, points of con­tact, and much-needed coun­sel­ing and sup­port.

PEER is one project the Cat­a­lyst Trust for Uni­ver­sal Ed­u­ca­tion – an ed­u­ca­tion charity founded by for­mer New York Univer­sity Pres­i­dent John Sex­ton – is now sup­port­ing. The Cat­a­lyst Trust is also look­ing at projects to re­think school au­dit­ing, spur so­cial-im­pact in­vest­ing in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, and in­tro­duce cur­ric­ula to en­cour­age interfaith co­ex­is­tence. Any projects the Cat­a­lyst Trust sup­ports will have to prove their scal­a­bil­ity and share the goal of pro­vid­ing uni­ver­sal ed­u­ca­tion, for the first time, to an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple.

With 260 mil­lion chil­dren not in school world­wide, ed­u­ca­tion needs more cham­pi­ons to match the en­thu­si­asm of ad­vo­cates in, say, the global-health and en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ments. There is more room for in­no­va­tion in ed­u­ca­tion than in any other in­ter­na­tional-de­vel­op­ment sec­tor, es­pe­cially as dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and the In­ter­net be­come more ac­ces­si­ble even in the world’s poor­est re­gions.

The ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has so far been too slow to adapt to our chang­ing world. De­spite mo­men­tous tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, class­rooms – un­like work­places or homes – have re­mained largely un­changed since the nine­teenth cen­tury. It is past time for re­forms that em­power teach­ers and trans­form schools into twenty-first-cen­tury learn­ing hubs.

In re­cent years, pri­vate-sec­tor fund­ing op­tions – such as ven­ture cap­i­tal, tar­geted-in­vest­ment funds, and new as­set classes – have opened up count­less new op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­ca­tion-sec­tor so­cial en­trepreneurs. How­ever, as with tech­nol­ogy, the pub­lic and non­profit sec­tors have been slow to keep up; both still need to recog­nise the value of so­cial en­ter­prises fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion.

This gap point to a unique op­por­tu­nity to re­alise so­cial en­ter­prise’s un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated po­ten­tial. To grasp this op­por­tu­nity, we should first ac­knowl­edge that too many ideas em­a­nat­ing from the non­profit sec­tor are still­born or un­fea­si­ble, often for lack of fi­nance. So we should do more to pro­vide seed cap­i­tal for ed­u­ca­tion start-ups like Cat­a­lyst, which can then help to scale up suc­cess­ful pilot pro­grammes.

This strat­egy will cre­ate a vir­tu­ous cy­cle whereby ini­tial in­no­va­tions spur fur­ther in­no­va­tions across the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. Re­form­ers should take a les­son from Sir Ron­ald Co­hen’s pi­o­neer­ing work in so­cial-im­pact in­vest­ing. And, in­deed, the Cat­a­lyst Trust is al­ready ex­plor­ing how best to mea­sure out­comes in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries’ schoolassess­ment sys­tems, and de­ter­min­ing which met­rics are most rel­e­vant to unique ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ments. A team of New York Univer­sity pro­fes­sors – build­ing on pre­vi­ous find­ings from UNESCO and the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion – will work with a global net­work of re­searchers at lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties in sev­eral coun­tries to ex­am­ine the most ap­pro­pri­ate meth­ods for eval­u­at­ing suc­cess and fail­ure in ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems world­wide.

In another ef­fort, the Cat­a­lyst Trust is look­ing at pilot projects in hu­man-rights ed­u­ca­tion across East­ern Europe, the Mid­dle East, Africa and the United States to de­ter­mine how school cur­ric­ula can best cul­ti­vate in­ter-faith un­der­stand­ing. It is time to counter the ex­treme idea, cur­rently pop­u­lar in West­ern pol­i­tics, that co­ex­is­tence is im­pos­si­ble. Schools are the first places where we can and should be pro­mot­ing in­clu­sive cit­i­zen­ship.

A cur­ricu­lum fos­ter­ing in­clu­sion must go be­yond op­ti­mistic ap­peals to uni­ver­sal reli­gious dic­tums such as “love thy neigh­bour” and the Golden Rule. To that end, the Cat­a­lyst Trust hopes to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of cur­ric­ula that teach pupils the value of di­ver­sity for strength­en­ing so­cial co­he­sion and har­mony.

In its ef­fort to help refugee stu­dents, the Cat­a­lyst Trust is ex­am­in­ing how com­pa­nies, foun­da­tions, and pub­lic-sec­tor donors can make re­sources more con­sis­tently avail­able for dis­placed peo­ple. Ev­ery time there is war or a nat­u­ral disas­ter, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity passes the hat for do­na­tions to fi­nance UN peace­keep­ers or World Bank de­vel­op­ment grants. But ed­u­ca­tion for dis­placed peo­ple is lost in this frame­work be­tween hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, which fo­cuses on im­me­di­ate needs such as food and shel­ter, and de­vel­op­ment aid, which tar­gets longer-term projects.

There are many wor­thy projects that de­serve con­sid­er­a­tion by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Cat­a­lyst. One ex­am­ple is a pilot that would help the two mil­lion stu­dents who are blind or vis­ually im­paired, and whose ed­u­ca­tional needs have long been ne­glected. With new tech­nol­ogy, we can now leapfrog the 150-year-old braille sys­tem and in­stantly ren­der text into au­dio record­ings, mak­ing all types of learn­ing ma­te­ri­als ac­ces­si­ble to the vis­ually im­paired. This tech­nol­ogy is ready to be de­ployed so long as we can muster the re­sources to train teach­ers and vis­ually im­paired stu­dents to use the new tools.

For any­one who cares about ed­u­ca­tion, our task is clear: to fur­nish mil­lions of poor peo­ple, es­pe­cially in the re­motest parts of the world, with the in­no­va­tions they need to trans­form and im­prove their lives through learn­ing. As the Cat­a­lyst Trust in­tends to show, a lit­tle so­cial en­ter­prise goes a long way.

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