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Vikas Pota: The business of business is education

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Vikas Pota: The business of business is education

It is generally agreed that spending on education can produce a virtuous circle for development, yet not so much corporate social responsibility is devoted to the sector.   Stephen Williams spoke to Vikas Pota, CEO of GEMS foundation to find out why.

Last month, when the economic consulting firm EPG conducted research amongst the top companies in the US and UK, it found that over $15bn is being spent on corporate social responsibility (CSR), but spending on health far outstrips that on education.

The value and needs of Africa’s educational sector suggest far more needs to be done to underpin teacher training programmes, and improve the status of the teaching profession across the continent.

Business Backs Education is a special global campaign group. The former US President Bill Clinton, together with Co-Chairs Jim Hagemann-Snabe, CEO of SAP and Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum, launched the campaign at the Global Education & Skills Forum in March 2014. Unesco, the Varkey Gems Foundation, and Dubai Cares lead the campaign under the auspices of the Global Education and Skills Forum.

VIKAS POTA, CEO OF THE VARKEY GEMS FOUNDATION SELECTED AS YOUNG GLOBAL LEADER BY THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

VIKAS POTA, CEO OF THE GEMS FOUNDATION

It is seeking to raise the proportion of CSR spending by companies that is going on education from its current less than 10% level to 20% or more.

That is quite a tough ask as the number of business bosses that see CSR as lacking a business focus seems to be declining, and those that do subscribe to CSR fundamentals use in-kind donations, rather than cash.

However, Varkey Gems Foundation has launched a low-cost teacher training programme in East Africa, backed by a $25,000 donation from Standard Chartered Bank (Ug). By May of last year, more than 100 head teachers had been trained in improved classroom practices and 1,180 teachers had also been trained. The initial intake of head teachers then passed on their skills to 500 of their peers while the teachers also cascaded their knowledge down to their students.

This is, however, just a drop in the ocean as Varkey GEMS Foundation has estimated that as many as seven million newly trained teachers are required almost immediately in the developing world. But if there is any hope to be had, then it is in this “cascade” training model that we must pin our hopes.

Irina Bokova, the head of Unesco, which is partnering the Business Backs Education initiative, has said that, according to its EFA Global Monitoring Report, there is an annual funding gap of $26bn to achieve basic education for all children in low-income countries.

What are the main challenges you see in the education sector in Africa?

In Africa you have a big challenge in the quality of teachers. We all agree, I think, that teachers are front and centre of any education system. Varki GEMS Foundation is committed to making sure that it impacts the lives of the underprivileged by providing a focus on education. So, we are committed to programmes for the training of teachers in Africa and the developing world. We have in the past year trained 7,500 teachers in Uganda and we are shortly to embark on a huge programme in Ghana as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Teachers actually have a lot of motivation and they are there for the right reasons, but the framework to support them is sometimes lacking. So, for example, you have critical issues about teacher’s pay and a teacher’s status. You have the general regard for teachers, and professional development. All these issues have a big impact when it comes to looking at educational outcomes and, therefore, I see one of the big areas to be around the quality of teachers in schools in Africa.

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