Critical voices at Pearson’s AGM

published 30 April 2019 updated 16 May 2019

Edubusiness Pearson was the subject of much criticism last week at its AGM in London.

Union representatives, challenged giant edubusiness Pearson at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in London, United Kingdom (UK), last week.

On 26 April, protestors gathered before the Pearson AGM, including representatives from the National education Union (NEU), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW/Germany) and Education International (EI). Demonstrators handed out  information and sought to engage shareholders in conversation as they went into the meeting.

New report

To coincide with the Pearson AGM on 26 April, a new report was released. Pearson 2025: Transforming teaching and privatising education data, by Sam Sellar and Anna Hogan, discusses the potentially damaging effects of the company’s strategy for public education globally. It raises two main issues of concern in relation to the integrity and sustainability of public schooling:

  • the privatisation of data infrastructure and data, which encloses innovation and new knowledge about how we learn, turning public goods into private assets; and
  • the transformation and potential reduction of the teaching profession, diminishing the broader purposes and outcomes of public schooling.

The release of the report was supported by a week-long social media action (22-26 April) leading in to the Pearson AGM by EI and Member organisations A statement was given to all shareholders as they arrived at the AGM

Union members addressed the AGM

KNUT General Secretary Wilson Sossion asked why Pearson continues to support and invest in Bridge International Academies (Bridge) when their establishments have been declared illegal by the courts in Nairobi. Pearson Chief Executive Officer (CEO) John Fallon conveniently chose to ignore the issue of illegality. He insisted that the investment in Bridge is a very small part of Pearson’s investments and proceeded  to praise Bridge. Sossion refuted the claims about Bridge.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) was also raised during the AGM. The Pearson CEO was queried about its position on AI, a question asked in response to a 2018 Forbes magazine article that said, “When there is something highly complex and the student needs help, the human can interfere.”

Whilst Fallon had previously claimed that AI “empowers” teachers, he said that AI can develop an algorithm to mark essays based on how a teacher has marked an initial set of essays. This, he said, would empower teachers as it would leave more time for teaching. However, that sentiment was not shared by the teachers in the room.