The recent award of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Peace to Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi was an important endorsement of the principle that education is a basic right of all children. Now, the spotlight is moving to ask how business can contribute more to achieving this goal, with the Business Backs Education campaign renewing its push for companies to commit more of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets to education-related projects. According to the campaign, led by UNESCO, the Varkey GEMS Foundation and Dubai Cares, only 9 per cent of the total UK business CSR budget goes toward education. The need for companies to redress the balance is clear. There are many education-oriented projects around the world in need of support, with the likes of The Global Fund for Children, CARE International, Oxfam and ActionAid, for example, all supporting education. But it isn’t sufficient for business just to invest in individual projects. For a CSR initiative to have sustainable impact, there must be two-way engagement. One sector that knows this, is that of independent schools.
Their partnerships to help children in need often offer growth and development opportunities for their own pupils and staff. It is this mutual element that gives their CSR efforts impact and sustainability. Take one of last year’s Independent School Awards winners, Sunninghill Prep in Dorset. It has a formal partnership with schools in the Dorchester area to support better opportunities for all children, regardless of which school they attend. Another example is Wellington College, which has received much praise for its sponsorship of The Wellington Academy. Once a failing school, the academy has been transformed into the highest performing state secondary in Wiltshire. What these projects show is the power of direct involvement. Another, Stamford American International School in Singapore, has sent teachers to help set up an early learning centre in rural Indonesia, in partnership with the social enterprise East Bali Cashews. Such experiences instill a deeper understanding of what it means to be a global citizen, and make an important contribution to a rounded education. Schools in more developed societies like the UK, with children from homes which provide them with love, food, and shelter, are showing they can respond to the pressing need to support less privileged children globally. They are also educating our children about how their counterparts often struggle to eat or stay healthy, let alone get a good education – just as Malala has shown us all in recent months. Now it’s the business world’s turn to respond to this challenge and contribute more for education worldwide, by engaging in projects that can make a difference for less privileged children.
Even though the housing and utilities there are far inferior to here, the fact that they were cheap made them better. It was one less thing to worry about. Perhaps the greatest cultural shock to them was the morality difference. So were they better off? From their point of view they were not. They could not hope to realize the dreams they had held from childhood in Canada, and they could not find new dreams to adopt. Many immigrants from many countries come to Canada with a history of success in their countries, by their standards, and are suddenly unable to practice trades in which they were highly respected professionals at home. They cannot practice medicine, for example, with even years of experience, until they undergo re-education, and pass many tests. While I do not disagree with this practice, because it protects the Canadian public from those with possibly inferior educations, it does work a hardship on immigrants who come here with skills.
Happily this is not the case for most immigrants to Canada. Most of them are coming from very poor countries, and restrictive societies. Most of them do make the necessary cultural adjustments to integrate into the Canadian mosaic. Yes they often have to change certain practices because they are either unacceptable or illegal here, as in the case of female circumcision. The older immigrants often miss their homes terribly, and wish they could return to what they know. However, they realize that the future for their children will be much better here than they could ever offer them in the old country, so they stay. They know that our free education system will acculturate and help their children to integrate, even as it also influences them with our own brand of political and social propaganda. So are immigrants to Canada better off? If your yardstick judges this question by their health, freedom and opportunity, yes.