US Education Is Challenged: Is There a Bigger Role for Businesses to Play?

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US Education Is Challenged: Is There a Bigger Role for Businesses to Play?

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New #PwC CR Blog: US #Education Is Challenged: Is There a Bigger Role for Businesses to Play?
Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 3:00pm

CAMPAIGN: PwC US Corporate Responsibility


A former national director on the PwC US Office of Diversity team, Charlotte Coker Gibson has leveraged her diversity and external corporate social responsibility experience and 10-year tenure with the firm in various internal roles, including both regional and national roles in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and Human Resources and for the past year, as a Director on PwC’s US Corporate Responsibility (CR) team. Her responsibilities include the firm’s US CR youth education efforts, the Earn Your Future commitment and student and educator outreach, Project Belize program, educator seminar, national youth education partnerships, and other youth education efforts.

There is something that keeps me awake at night – our children’s education. I am not a parent, but I’ve been blessed with nieces and nephews and godchildren whom I love abundantly. I want nothing more than to see them grow into happy, healthy, smart, educated, financially secure adults and successful professionals and productive citizens. How children are learning today has evolved tremendously since my parents were in school and even since I was in high school. Despite immense progress and education reform, our education system is experiencing enormous challenges, ranging from poor student performance, high dropout rates, lack of quality teachers, and resource mismanagement. Too many children are graduating without the academic basics and skills needed to succeed in the workplace and in life. I am worried and with good reason.

Consider the education landscape. The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study shows US students continue to trail other countries in math and science. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong all outpaced the US, as did Finland. The trend continues as the US placed 17th (out of 40 countries) in education in the developed world according to a 2012 global education report by Pearson. Substantial disparity in achievement by gender, race and socioeconomic status continues, further widening the gap for underserved students. The need for good teachers also remains high.  For a profession that has profound influence on our greatest asset – our youth – we struggle to give teachers the status and ongoing training opportunities similar to that of other respected professions or set clear goals and expectations for performance accountability. Better pay is important, but higher salaries alone, accomplishes little by itself.

The US K-12 education system is huge; public schools serve nearly 50 million students while private schools serve another six million. We spend twice as much per full-time student on higher education and 38% more on elementary and secondary education, yet our students perform poorly and know less at the end of the learning process than those of other countries.

The obstacles and issues are complex and cannot be addressed by government alone.

At PwC US, we are investing our resources, both financial and the time and talents of our people, in youth education, with an emphasis on addressing financial literacy through our Earn Your Future initiative. With a talent pool of over 38,000 partners and staff, our people are devoting their talents and volunteer time to tutor, teach, mentor students and help train educators and support youth education on a number of levels. Recognizing that today’s educational challenges require multiple efforts, we are also collaborating with a diverse range of schools and non-profit organizations to reach students and educators from various communities across the country.

Other businesses are also leveraging their resources, skills and vested interest in education to help close the educational gap in unique ways. For example, a global innovation company fosters enthusiasm for science by collaborating with a digital content media provider to encourage and inspire young scientists through a national competition. The contest challenges 5th to 8th graders to create a short video communicating the science behind an innovation or solution for an everyday problem and selects ten finalists annually to bring their ideas to life through an extended mentorship component with science professionals. This program has engaged thousands of aspiring scientists since its launch.

A leading global technology company is leveraging its skills and resources to change the education model through public and private sector partnerships that have resulted in the creation of a school model that focuses on a rigorous science, technology, engineering, math (STEM)-focused curriculum. Students graduate with a high school diploma and a free associate degree upon completion, coupled with reinforced learning through 1:1 mentor/protégé relationships and first in-line job consideration for entry-level positions. Within two years, this model is quickly demonstrating success with one school established in New York and four in Chicago; roughly 98% of students are promoted or on track for promotion from grades 9 to 10 and are demonstrating academic readiness. These are just a few examples. But, they’re not enough.

Public and private sector partnerships are critical to helping overcome obstacles, expand access and resources, and drive innovation in the education sector and broaden opportunities to prepare young people for college and careers. Through collaboration, businesses and educators can produce a greater skilled and better prepared workforce that in turn enhances economic stability and growth, increase employment opportunities for student engagement through internships and mentorship, jobs and hands-on learning opportunities.

As business leaders, we must push the boundaries to think creatively and strategically about the resources we have access to within our organizations and how to tap into them to bring added value to our schools to help transform the educational experience for tomorrow’s leaders. We must ask ourselves, what else can we do? What role can those we collaborate with play in contributing around mutual interests and helping to expand our reach? At PwC, we ask these same questions of ourselves and are continuously pushing our collaborators to stretch themselves to do more and do it better. At the same time, they challenge us to rethink our efforts and how we can continue to scale to create greater access.

Whether we seek job growth, economic development, or a skilled talent pool of employees who are creative, adaptable and have a global mind-set – education is the underlying foundation. Business can do more to help bridge the gaps. The value proposition is obvious. The question is not should we be investing in education, but rather, how do we fully leverage our company’s unique skill set and resources to make a real impact on education? And, where are the opportunities we can make a real difference?

Keywords: Education | Corporate Responsibility | Education | PwC | PwC Earn Your Future | Volunteering | csr | employee volunteering

CAMPAIGN: PwC US Corporate Responsibility