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Driving locally relevant and digital education in SA

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While South Africa has made strides in providing access to education, Pearson’s global CEO John Fallon says there is more to be done.

Fallon was recently in South Africa for Pearson’s graduate ceremonies.

Harnessing the emerging talent that the South African youth represents is at the top of the development agenda of government and Pearson, a global learning company, wants to partner with the state to achieve the educational objectives of the country.

“Pearson South Africa boasts a solid educational infrastructure along with skilled local expertise,” says Fallon.  “A substantial part of our offering in the country is to provide text books to the public sector and we’ve built up a solid relationship over the years.”

Pearson publishes textbooks in all eleven official languages, and Fallon says that the company has localised itself in its approach and that the company has specific in-house expertise enabling them to do so. “This is where we are adding the most value to the local education pipeline in the short-term,” he says.

“Even under the most challenging of circumstances, schools can be certain that they will be supplied with world-class learning materials, that are priced appropriately, and that offer good value to both the teacher and the learner.”

In the longer term, Pearson is driving initiatives to change the way educational products and services are delivered across South Africa, making it more personal and effective, thereby improving outcomes for learners.

“That is why local partnerships are hugely important for us,” Fallon says. “We look for partners that will take quality education to more of the people of South Africa. I am working to put the notion of efficacy at the heart of the whole company, ensuring that Pearson will be able to quantify the success of its products and services, which will translate to improved learning outcomes for students all around the world.”

Fallon says Pearson’s international experience and the economy of scale of its international network, allows the company to share more valuable ideas, insights and expertise. Pearson has already established partnerships with the College of Leeds and Arizona State University just to name a few.

“We continuously invest in new initiatives and models of working to move away from the notion of focusing only on the best schools or teachers, but on how to share the benefits better,” he adds.

Pearson has undertaken, amongst other things, the development of digital solutions where learners are able to experience new and innovative ways to learn in an interactive and engaging environment. One of the company’s largest growing global business is virtual schooling, where a pure online experience is offered. “It is presented with the same high quality curriculum and taught with the same rigour as if students were physically attending a learning facility, but they don’t have to be on campus,” Fallon explains.

There is potentially a huge opportunity here to supplement the South African schooling system, which is facing infrastructure and resource challenges. Fallon believes it could be run similarly to Section 21 institutions and independent boards could be funded by the taxpayer.

Fallon explains his vision: “Imagine the opportunity it will hold for a remotely situated learner that could access virtual courses across various subjects, catering for any particular interest and where the shortage of qualified science and mathematics teachers is no longer a problem. It will bring the walls to learning right down.”

Pearson believes that most of the local challenges to education can be addressed with out-of-the-box thinking and application which could help our country’s great teachers become more effective.

“Compared to most other professions, and even despite its importance, education has lacked in digitally transforming itself for the better. Pearson wants to be part of such a disruption for the better, and we believe that we are perfectly positioned to do so,” Fallon says.