In an August 13, 2015 op-ed in the British newspaper The Economist, Pearson CEO John Fallon declared the company's goal was "Putting technology to work for the millions of students around the world unable to access classrooms could be hugely positive for societies both rich and poor." According to Fallon, "I've travelled all over the world in my career, and parents everywhere say the same thing - they want to see greater investment in education so that their children can gain skills, get better jobs, and succeed in their lives. It's the story of human progress. This burning desire is what powers better education - and is what Pearson is now entirely focused on."
Well everyone does not agree with Fallon that Pearson's burning desire is "better education." In fact many around the world suspect the company's burning desire is to maximize profits with little regard for its impact on the world's poor.
In an open letter co-signed by educators from around the world, Mugwena Maluleke, General Secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), and a former math teacher and Principal of Tshwane's Rodney Mokoena Junior Secondary School, accused Pearson of "turning its back on free public education for all" in its efforts to "commercialise and privatise education at all levels." According to Maluleke, "Pearson's efforts in the global south to make education a commodity to be bought and sold is a serious threat to democracy and will ultimately increase segregation and marginalisation."
Earlier in August, The Economist touted the rapid expansion of low-cost private schools in the Third World, especially in sub-Sahara Africa. The article estimated that private schools education about 20 percent of the students attending elementary school in these countries. According to The Economist and the World Bank, "Given the choice between a free state school where little teaching happens and a private school where their children might actually learn something, parents who can scrape together the fees will plump for the latter." The article called for unleashing "market" forces because "competition" would "over time improve quality for all." It cited a Chilean voucher system set up under a brutal dictatorship during the 1980s as its education model.
In response, Maluleke argues that these private for-profit "schools can take advantage of families who just want what's best for their kids. And they don't just charge burdensome fees to local families, they also undermine the education system as a public good. Education is a human right, and a high-quality education should be free to every child." The South African Democratic Teachers Union is "fighting for a free system, accessible for every child, so that families don't have to worry about which child they can afford to send to a Pearson-backed school. That's what happens too often with these 'low-fee' schools: A family can only afford to send one child. No parent should have to choose which child can go to school."
Maluleke and the South African Democratic Teachers Union are supported by the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT posted an online petition addressed to The Economist and Pearson.
Is Pearson (Always Earning) worried? It should be! Pearson PLC (NYSE:PSO) stock lost .23 percent during the late August stock market rollercoaster, over 6 percent during a four-week span, and almost 12 percent during the past three months. According to the website News Watch International (NWI) Pearson underperformed the S&P index by .85 percent. NWI warned investors to "watch out for further signals and trade with caution."
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