I am posting from Madrid, Spain where I am presenting a paper, Hacking Away at the Pearson Octopus, at the International Conference on Learning. The movement to stop the Pearson octopus' stranglehold on education is global.
In April, protesters from teacher unions and global justice groups stormed the gates at Pearson's annual general meeting held in London. Protesters accused Pearson of turning education into a commodity and profiting from low-fee private schools in poverty-stricken regions of Africa and India. They claimed is making millions by privatizing education in the global south. Pearson's Chief Executive Officer John Fallon, forced to respond to dissidents, declared his enthusiastic "support free public education for every child around the world." However he did not offer to provide Pearson's educational services for free. In 2014, Pearson reported an adjusted operating profit of £720 million (approximately $1.1 Billion) on sales of £4,874 million.
A joint letter from Great Britain's National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the organization Global Justice Now, declared "From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the 'test and punish' efforts in the global north, to supporting the predatory, 'low-fee' for-profit private schools in the global south, Pearson's brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education."
ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: "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." Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, added the voice of American teachers to the protest movement. "We fight this kind of profit making to get kids a good education and fight for governments which gives students a high quality education."
A major player in the anti-Pearson campaign is a British organization Global Justice Now (GJN). GJN is committed to "a world where resources are controlled by the many, not the few." The group champions social movements that "propose democratic alternatives to corporate power." GJN accuses the British government's Department for International Development (DfID) of having a too cozy relationship with Pearson and using government aid money "to set up private healthcare and education in Africa and Asia which has benefited British and American companies." The DFID is heavily promoting private schooling in Pakistan where its Chief Education Representative is Sir Michael Barber, who is also Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. Barber is also chair of the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Under pressure because of this conflict of interest, Pearson claimed it had granted Barber a 30 day unpaid leave while he was advising the DFID in Pakistan.
According to the Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden, "aid is being used as a tool to convince, cajole and compel the majority of the world to undertake policies which help big corporations like Pearson, but which detract from the real need to promote publicly funded services that are universally accessible."
Dearden also argued "Aid should be used to support human needs by building up public services in countries that don't have the same levels of economic privilege as the UK. So it's shocking that DfID is dogmatically promoting private health and education when it's been shown that this approach actually entrenches inequality and endangers access."
GJN presented research by ActionAid on Pearson's use of tax havens to avoid tax laws and enhance corporate profits. Although it is a British company, in 2013 Pearson had at least ninety subsidies incorporated around the world in low tax areas regions including Delaware, Ireland, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Singapore.
According to Kishore Singh of India who works for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:
"At the beginning of the new millennium, the international community made a commitment to achieve universal primary education for all boys and girls. Today, 15 years later, we find huge gaps between these commitments and reality. Across the world, 58 million children still don't have access to schools, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Millions more fail to graduate, or fail to learn what they need to participate in society meaningfully. Capitalising on the inability of governments to cope with rising demands on public learning, private education providers are mushrooming. I see this not as progress, but as an indictment of governments that have failed to meet their obligation to provide universal, free and high-quality education for all. Education is not a privilege of the rich and well-to-do; it is the inalienable right of every child. The state must discharge its responsibility as guarantor and regulator of education as a fundamental human entitlement and as a public cause. The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative."
"The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative." A very good reason to hack away at the Pearson octopus.