Can Business Hit the Grand Slam for Education?
By Kathy Spanogle, Planet Aid
Without teachers, a school is just a building.
Without trained teachers, schooling is not education.
-from GCE Global Action Campaign
The crisis in education is enormous, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, just when more support is needed, the international community has reduced its aid to education. UNESCO indicates there is a $26 billion financing gap for basic education. This financing is needed for capital investment in school infrastructure and to support recurrent expenditures, principally for teacher training and salaries. With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals' deadline looming, the time has come for the business community to step aggressively up to the plate and help hit a home run for global education.
Education should be supported for humanitarian purposes and out of a desire to be more socially responsible. However, there are also obvious business reasons that make education a smart investment. Education can raise literacy levels and improve math skills, which supports the development of a skilled workforce and leads to more disposable income. However, progress in education - particularly girls' education - is also intimately related to advances in child survival, nutrition and other areas of public health. Worldwide, 700,000 cases of HIV could be prevented each year of all children received a primary education. All of these impacts are important for long-term economic sustainability and thus create a stable environment for substantive investment and business growth.
Research has shown that corporations do not yet consider education a priority for giving. Studies cited in the Bellagio Initiative commissioned report "Corporate Philanthropy and the Education for All Agenda," indicate that only 5 percent of corporate philanthropy is directed toward education. Moreover, company investments in education and training do not always reflect national priorities for education policy in the host country. When asked about their top reason for support, US firms involved in education cited improved community relations, social responsibility, brand identification and to support international aid efforts. Moreover, companies tend to step up their investments in education and other social activities when they have suffered "brand damage."
Refocusing Corporate Giving
The focus of corporate giving is in need of adjustment. In the Bellagio Initiative report, author Kevin Watkins indicates that "single input" niche approaches (such as donating computers or text books) have not been effective. Teacher quality is a key factor that has been too long neglected. Systematically training more quality teachers and assessing effectiveness offer companies the opportunity to responsibly support education and build a solid foundation for the future. The UN estimates that nearly 7 million teachers are needed before 2015 to replace those who will leave their post and to reach the 57 million children who are not in school.
More well-trained teachers can provide greater access to education while also improving quality. By working together in partnership with an experienced local NGO and with governments, corporations can build successful, multi-input, holistic solutions in public primary education. The result will go a long way toward helping a region expand its share of world trade, to enter higher value-added markets, and to sustain broad-based economic growth.
The Grand Slam
In a 2011 Brookings Institute and United Nations co-hosted event that brought together business leaders and representatives from government ministries of education, Justin van Fleet of Brookings indicated that "true champions" for education had not yet stepped to the plate from the donor community. Yes, we are in the bottom of the ninth inning relative to 2015, but fortunately there are runners on base ready to score. What we desperately need now is a champion or champions to hit the grand slam and achieve education for all.
Planet Aid invites businesses and individuals to join in partnership with us to make a difference by supporting teacher training across sub-Saharan Africa and India. For more information visit the Planet Aid teacher-training website.
Kathy Spanogle is Corporate Development Officer for Planet Aid, Inc.