This article is by Dr Saima Rana, who is Principal/ CEO of GEMS World Academy Dubai and Chief Education Ambassador for the Varkey Foundation.
In Eton school library they have an original Shakespeare Folio which every student who wishes can examine. When the boys at this most privileged of private school’s study English Literature they often do so in a room where there is graffiti by Shelley, the great Romantic poet they are likely to be studying at some point during their time in the school.
What such cultural objects give to the students is a perspective and a horizon. They are allowed to suppose that Shakespeare and Shelley are in some intimate way part of their own lives and education, and that they can believe that they too can press forward into a future of high achievement and reward.
What to less privileged students are distant and perhaps even unknowable figures are, to the boys at Eton, embodied within the very educational establishment in which they are learning and so are part of their own identities.
Horizons that include Shakespeare and Shelley are broad and thrillingly real and give these students a vast and expansive horizon of opportunity that serves them well.
It is clear to me that giving children limitless ambition and expanded horizons is a vital part of any world class educational provision. Giving children what we might call cultural capital in the broadest sense can open their eyes to possibilities they could never even dream of before so doing.
This then is the challenge for educational establishments all round the globe: how can we help support our students by providing them with this cultural capital? I think one answer to this question is via business.
Relationship of Business and Education
There has been much informed and fascinating talk about the relationship of business and education. Much of this has focused on businesses taking their social responsibilities seriously, and also on the benefits for businesses of involving themselves in education so that mutual needs are met. I think that alongside these initiatives to bring business and education into closer partnerships there is another important role business could discharge in this area.
They could become vehicles for expanding the horizons of young people so that children become aware of the myriad of important and exciting life enhancers that exist just out of their purview.
Children from households with a restricted cultural capital are disadvantaged. If they don’t know anyone who has been to university, how are they supposed to know what a university can offer them and why it might be exactly the right thing for them to aim for next?
If they have never set foot in a theatre and seen live actors performing the latest cutting edge drama or a Shakespearean classic, how are they going to know if a career in drama is for them, or if experiencing live theatre will be a sustaining part of their lives in the future?
If they haven’t been sailing, or even been out in the countryside to climb a mountain or orienteer, or to a zoo, if they haven’t been to an art gallery, if they haven’t been to a ballet or opera or a classical music concert, or a jazz club, then they are deprived of a rich cultural repertoire that will for most of them remain hidden from them forever.
They won’t dream of achieving in these fields, or want to be part of them in some way, because they won’t know about them, and will have never experienced their richness.
So many young people are deprived in this way. They strive for the best they know but what they know isn’t the best. To me, a great education is one where this kind of deprivation is banished. Education must continually work to open up the horizon to all children so that they can choose from as wide a menu as possible.
Schools strive to do this all the time. But not all schools are as wealthy and have the history of an Eton. So they need help. And this is where I think the business community can play an invaluable part.
Every large and successful business has access to enormous resources that schools everywhere would benefit from using. I can give anecdotal support for this kind of initiative. When I was a Principal in a West London school serving a community with little access to such things, I sought the help of the business British Land to help encourage my students to love and appreciate art.
How could they do this? They loaned me masterpieces they owned by the likes of Picasso, Hockney, Rego and Goya. I was able to display them in the foyer of the school. They had guest lecturers come and talk about the art-work and run workshops with the students. And what a difference this made. The school was buzzing with excitement. Everyone felt that that art was no longer a secret garden which shut people like them out, but was now an essential part of themselves and their own culture.
This is just a small example of what can happen when business and school collaborate. Businesses can use their considerable access to things like art galleries, theatres, foreign travel, sailing and the like to help students experience a world much bigger and more exciting than the one they initially know.
Just as we ask Universities to begin working with schools to engage children at a young age with what they offer, businesses can open up a new world to youngsters who might never have such opportunities without this help.
Business partnerships with education are vital and as I indicated at the start of this article, the relationship needs to go much further than making young people and their schools aware of the particular business and what it requires.
The role is one of curating destinies for young people who might never have such
opportunities without the rigorous support of a school/business relationship mutually committed to broadening the horizons of the young people in their care.
The world continues to be complex and challenging, requiring sophisticated, imaginative, clever and ethical citizens. It is with this in mind that I suggest that businesses and schools begin to collaborate in order to ensure that every child is able to appreciate, experience and engage with the very best our societies can offer them so that everyone commits to making the future the very best one we collectively can bring about.