School leaders are used to being told where they’re going wrong, and prominent among their critics are businesses. But if business wants better schools, it should dig deeper.
For according to a report published this week, few businesses are doing much to contribute, despite having a vested interest in a thriving education system.
Analysis by the Varkey Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dubai-based GEMS education group, shows that for the top 500 global firms, only 13% of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) budget went on education.
That is a long way from the proportion devoted to health-related projects. A 2012 study by the Center for Global Prosperity found that 53% of philanthropic spending by U.S. companies went towards health and medical services.
Few would disagree with health taking top priority, but the disparity with education is significant. And it is even more telling when you consider the role education can play in lifting people out of poverty, and away from the sort of conditions where disease can thrive.
But what makes it a matter of contention is that business is among the harshest critics of our education system.
Schools, business leaders tell us, are failing to teach functional literacy and numeracy. They are not turning out students who are ready for work. They are not producing enough scientists and engineers, let alone enough IT experts.
And yet, while business is quick to criticize, it is slow to put its hand in its pockets.
Of course, there are notable exceptions. The Varkey Foundation reports that the Global Fortune 500 still spend the not insignificant sum $2.6bn on education each year.
And there are some big funders among them, as the table below of the top 10 education contributors shows:
Top 10 companies by education CSR spend
|Ranking||Company||Total education CSR spend ($U.S. million)||% of CSR spent on education|
|1||Banco Santander (Spain)||196.5||79|
|4||Exxon Mobil (U.S.)||115.5||39|
|9||Rio Tinto Group (U.K.)||81.6||27|
|10||Wells Fargo (U.S.)||81.6||24|
(Source: Varkey Foundation)
But while these companies can be justly proud of the amount they spend on education, there are many more for whom it appears to be of peripheral interest.
Many companies seem content to point out where schools are letting them down, but lack a willingness to help put it right, even when it is their long-term self-interest to do so.
Publication of the report was timed to coincide with the build up to the World Economic Forum, taking place in Davos this week, to promote the Business Backs Education campaign.
This campaign, launched by the Varkey Foundation in conjunction with UNESCO and Dubai Cares, challenges business to commit 20% of its CSR budget to education by 2020. This seems not only reasonable but achievable
And it is not just about the money. It’s also about working with schools to devise programs to make young people work-ready. It is about providing placements for students. And it is about making sure there are training opportunities for people to enter the workforce, rather than assuming someone else will pick up the slack.
It’s not good enough just to criticize: businesses need to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.
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