Finding the Right Corporate Friend - Opinion
22 December 2004 at 12:12 pm
As more schools are turning to companies to boost their resources, Corporate support of schools should not be viewed as a grubby pairing according to Heather Le Roy and Kylie Lane from the Australian Education Foundation.
Kylie Lane is a Ronald Henderson Research Foundation intern based at the Education Foundation and Heather Le Roy is CEO of the Education Foundation, a philanthropic trust that encourages and manages private investment in new educational opportunities for young people in public schools.
Below is an extract of their opinion piece published in the Melbourne Age Newspaper recently.
Just as in the arts and health, the quality and standards that we require in education cannot be met by government alone. School principals nationwide are starting to enlist the support of companies to boost school resources, be creative with their curriculum and help provide quality, diverse post-school options for students.
The partnerships benefit businesses by increasing satisfaction among employees, enhancing a firm’s reputation and fulfilling corporate objectives of social responsibility.
Communities benefit from schools being able to produce students
ready to take their place in the world.
However, sceptics are right to point out the dangers in these partnerships. There are ethical issues to tackle and hidden costs and risks to consider. It would be unwise to assume that companies are simply being benevolent in their intentions to work with schools.
There will be a business imperative that drives their interest and it is up to the
school principal to determine the motive. If it’s to sell fast food to kids, then there is a major ethical mismatch. If it’s to promote the company as a good corporate citizen or a quality employer, there’s a basis for dialogue.
To determine what is “appropriate”, schools, unions and state education departments should have well-developed policies on how to support schools in their search for the right company partnership.
Beware the cultural divide. Corporate-speak and school-speak are like different languages. A formal contract can make explicit the intention and desired outcomes of any partnership and reduces the chance of misunderstanding.
A contract gets on to paper the expected commitment of resources (financial and in-kind) on the part of the company. Some company executives fear that partnerships with schools can’t produce measurable outcomes. Schools can minimise such angst by making it clear to firms that not all outcomes can be measured.
How a child is affected positively by a program or experience may never be known. We must trust that it makes the student better prepared for the world.
Probably the greatest risk to schools is the time required to manage the partnership. Companies expect a certain level of service in return for their contribution, and in time-poor schools this can be a serious impediment to building a productive relationship.
Schools should only go into the partnership knowing that it’s worth the additional burden on staff. Having made the call, they should ensure the resources are available to get the best from the arrangement.
For example, companies might expect the school to promote their involvement within the school and local media. This need not be a burden on teachers. Marketing and public relations skills can be incorporated into the project and handled by students, with the guidance of teachers.
School-corporate partnerships are often driven within the school by one or two
“champions” – teachers who initiate, drive and maintain the partnership.
To ensure that the program continues even if a key teacher leaves, schools should try to have most of the staff involved and committed to it. Embedding the projects into the curriculum can help absorb the additional workload into the ordinary teaching load of staff.
Despite these hurdles, genuine school-business partnerships can create mutual benefits as long as there is clear communication between the two about their expectations.
Links between local industry and schools can keep young people in the area after they leave school and help businesses recruit staff and reduce skills shortages.
For example, the Education Foundation, a philanthropic trust in public education, recently began a pilot project with the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) to give year 9 and 10 students insights into training and employment options in retail, manufacturing, hospitality and the financial sector.
Another partnership supported by the Education Foundation and Powercor, an electricity supplier, involves students working on local environmental problems with the support of teachers, Powercor employees and community organisations.
These programs have stimulated a new approach to non-classroom learning.
Schools need to be wary of seeing companies simply as cash cows. However, extra dollars enable schools to engage in activities and buy equipment otherwise inaccessible. As the relationship matures, schools can use the partnership to achieve significant additional benefits, such as using the expertise of company employees, industry-level software and site visits.
Partnerships are also an effective mechanism for engaging middle-years students at risk of leaving school early. Teachers involved in the Powercor partnership noted that student attendance and participation increased during the project.
The Education Foundation-VECCI pilot matches students from Norlane High School in Geelong with 26 local businesses to provide pathways in post-compulsory education, training and employment.
School-corporate partnerships also help build relationships between the school and local community. Research shows that social cohesion in a community has a significant impact on early school leaving and year 12 attainment.
Partnerships that focus on community development and involvement broaden there sources and role models available to young people. No school can afford to be a fortress. Preparing kids for the real world requires schools to make real-world connections. It is important for schools to reconsider how school-corporate partnerships can inject ideas, resources and choices into their curriculums.
Of course the ethical considerations and the challenges and costs to schools should not be down-played. But if companies want to work with schools, and their motives for doing so meet the policy of the school and the needs of the students, then schools should be open for business.