Corporate Social Responsibility must shift its focus to the global education crisis

Educational inequity is a global crisis. 60% of primary children in low and middle – income countries leave school unable to read and write. Hundreds of millions more, in countries rich and poor, are not developing the ability to navigate the future of work, with its complex problem – solving challenges. Progress on this front is not just a moral imperative, it is vital for putting countries on the path to sustainable development.

How can we solve this seemingly intractable problem? Part of the solution is investing in co-ordinated international efforts – to do for education what investment in international institutions has done for public health for example.

Currently, education is seen as a local or national problem which in our opinion is wrong. To be able to increase education levels for all, it is important to share knowledge and develop leadership across borders. This means governments, entities and private donors working together to create a robust, global education infrastructure.

We know for example that a worldwide strategy is necessary for progress in health-care. We don’t question the fact that vaccination initiatives require co – ordinates knowledge – sharing between scientists, doctors and local and national organizations. The global health-care infrastructure is valued and supported by corporate, donors and governments alike. But there have only been very few global knowledge – sharing efforts on behalf of education. Only 3% of development spending in education is given to organizations whose work could help all nations – compared to 21% in health. There are in our opinion multiple reasons for this shortfall. There’s no equivalent in education to one – shot vaccines where the effects can be measured quickly. Rather, progress requires changing behavior overtime. Solutions must be tailored to local contexts. And there are huge gaps in data, such as global reading and math achievement scores. Fewer than 50% of low – income countries have reported reading or math scores for any grade level since 2000.

We have studied that despite huge differences in local context and cultures, similar roots of educational challenges mean solutions can be effectively shared. Research identified routes to rapidly spread innovative practices from classrooms and education systems.

First, we need to invest more in outputs such as research, data and tools that can be used in multiple countries.

Second, we need to invest in efforts to strengthen local leaders’ ability to understand and implement innovation and translate this knowledge into practice.

Lastly, we need to build networks that let individuals and organizations learn from each other and address problems together.

In our opinion, these steps will spread best practice and innovation, and strengthen leadership.

Until last year for example, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation’s education work was solely focused on the US. In June last year, they announced a 68 million USD investment to provide evidence on how to improve education systems across the world – to learn what works and what doesn’t.

In our opinion, it’s time to ramp up such investments to accelerate innovation and learning. We can’t let the fact that educations solutions are complex lead us to continuously deprioritize them. The development promises we’ve made to future generations require us to face the challenge head on.