Providing education is a popular theme in many corporate community investment strategies in the region. However, this trend is starting to face critical examination by stakeholders who question its impact. For example, some are asking whether companies have the resources to deliver good quality education.
There is also a divide between those who believe there is a danger that a company’s voluntary actions displace a government’s duty to provide education and others who believe it is necessary as governments in many Asian countries cannot be relied upon to deliver this crucial “right of citizens”.
Corporate education programmes
Companies have a stake in ensuring the delivery of a robust education curriculum to provide a capable workforce that ensures long term sustainability of its business. Talk to any human resource manager in Malaysia and they will bemoan the difficulties in recruiting and retaining talent, as well as graduates who have a poor command of English. Malaysia education policies continue to be in disarray and unable to plug this gap. The recent flip flop on policies with regard to teaching sciences and mathematics classes in English is a case in point.
Silent in these debates to shape education policies has been the voice of the corporate sector. I am not aware of a corporate entity or professional association that has spoken up on the need to do something to prepare the next generation for the borderless economy.
Though it has not entered the debate, corporate Malaysia is actively trying to fill the gaps in education through provision of millions of ringgits to fund a range of programmes each year. These range from corporate scholarships, operating universities, the PINTAR programmes mandated for government linked companies, to smaller initiatives targeting specific marginalised communities. It is not often clear why companies are involved or what impacts such programmes with good intentions have on students (or, importantly, on their business).
Raising the ante
My intention is not to debate whether companies should or should not be involved in education. This is an investment each company must decide on its own. However for those who are involved in education initiatives, it might be timely to reflect on some questions in order to ensure investments address gaps in education and have an impact on business:
1. Are you in it for the long term? Investment in education is not for those interested in short term outcomes and one off initiatives. Impacts can only be achieved through long term investment with clear objectives.
2. Have you built capacity? Not everyone can teach. Employee volunteers need to have training to ensure quality of delivery. Companies may be able to support the cost of capacity building NGOs who may be more suited to carry out the work.
3. Are you only interested in raising test scores? Though test scores are easy measures of success, it does not measure changes in soft skills that may be more important in the development of future human resources. This includes measuring self confidence, articulation of language, self motivation, and creativity.
4. Can you leverage? By bringing other business partners on board, you may be able to have a wider and more sustained impact on your programmes.
5. How have these investments impacted your business? Has the programme helped companies recruit the best talent? Has it improved staff morale and improved engagement within the company?
Photo credit: Flickr user Shell