This week’s Letter from Lockdown is the last one in this format and finishes on a very important subject – that of education. It thinks about the UN Sustainability Goals (SDGs) that underpin our Responsible Futures portfolios and in particular SDG 4 – ensuing inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

As I’ve been doing my homework for this exercise (asks herself does homework even exist now that all work is homework), I set myself a question. What is the single most important thing that I have learned throughout the course of my education, from school, University, professional qualifications and the school of life?

Having dwelt on that thought whilst sweeping the kitchen floor this morning, I came up with this answer. No matter what your endeavour, your goal or your race, you should never give up at the first hurdle. Don’t run for cover at the first fail. If you want to get to the end of your journey, its worth at least a second shot if the first attempt doesn’t get you there.

Looking back, I can identify the two times when I quit as soon as the going got tough as my biggest regrets in life. One of these was not the fact that I dropped out of Uni after just 6 weeks when I was  18, but that I then took up a pretty soul-destroying job in an insurance company for 4 years. The best decision I ever made was when I finally quit that job to go travelling and then on to study languages at University as a slightly mature student of 24.

I’m aware that I have been very lucky to have two chances at a University education and both whilst there was some form of grant funding available.  I also feel fortunate every day during lockdown about not having any young children to home-school, whilst simultaneously trying to get my work done.  It has been a challenge for many of my Cornerstone colleagues, only made manageable by the flexible working practices facilitated by company policy and the use of technology.

I asked a few colleagues how their kids had been coping with the challenges of home schooling, and responses were mixed. The children, from pre-school to teenagers miss their friends and their normal routines but enjoy the flexibility of being able to choose when they complete their learning. They also like the fact that mums and dads are a bit more relaxed about the amount of screen time they can have.

Where would we be during the lockdown without our screens, kids at school and parents at work alike? It is however important to remember that online education amplifies the digital divide. Students from wealthier families have the latest laptops, better bandwidths, more stable Wi-Fi connections, and more sophisticated audio-visual gadgets.

Even though my children are older, I listen with interest to news reports about how English schools are preparing for the easing of lockdown and the return of some pupils. The one thing that has struck me is how super-excited all the little ones are to go back to “bubble school”. Almost as keen as we are to start the working day at Cornerstone! According to most of her teachers, my youngest daughter spent most of her school days in some kind of daydream bubble all of her own, so she may have quite liked the new learning environment.

Our current education system is, in my view, far from perfect and maybe suits about 1 out of the 3 main types of child profile that you will find in a school.  I can thank Craig Mathieson, one of our speakers at the official launch of our Responsible Futures portfolios, for that reusable light bulb moment. Craig is an Arctic explorer who runs the Polar Academy charity, taking young adults from challenging backgrounds and inspiring them through participation in Arctic expeditions. His activities and methods have made leaders of young people who were lost at school.

I have long thought that our education system is aimed too much at the academic high achievers (smart kid privilege). This is not to belittle academic achievements; I have one straight A child and I’m as proud as any parent. State schools have also directed attention at levelling up and trying to help the kids struggling at the bottom, which is commendable. However, in my experience this leaves too many drifting at sea in the middle, staying off the bottom but having no chance or aspiration to get to the top and little direction regarding where else they can go.  Some of them may make it to Uni but whether they actually stay the course or get a degree that proves to be of great use in the future is another matter.

During the pandemic, we have talked a lot about how we should value certain occupations a lot more than we do – that nurses and shopworkers are every bit as vital to society as many better paid professions. I hope that long term change will come from this (and really wish one of my children was a hairdresser just now.)

A few years ago, being a member of the Parent Council, I was asked by my childrens’ High School to present at the Careers Evening. I was tasked with suggesting Financial Services as a Career to a bunch of bored looking teenagers who sat awkwardly next to their parents. Discussion soon revealed that some of them were just looking for anything that would get Mum off their back about going to Uni!  In that respect, it weas easy to conclude that Financial Services is a pretty good option.

I really worry for students and the amount of debt they pile up these days and getting a professional qualification paid for by your employer whilst also earning a salary is an attractive option.  The Financial Services industry has a very well-structured learning system which is widely supported by employers and really helps you progress in your career. At Cornerstone, we have people on all steps of this  ladder, from Harry our Modern Apprentice fresh out of school to me and a few others who have attained the highest qualifications but continue to learn skills in the areas that we specialise in.  At present, I am studying for the Certificate in ESG Investing and dearly hope that I get better marks in that after lockdown than I’ve managed in our weekly general knowledge quizzes!

Whilst our own education system may not score highly in all areas, our children are in the main much better off than those in developing countries. I am sure we have all seen documentaries about children in remote parts of the world who walk tens of miles barefooted  to get to school, and those who couldn’t go due to hunger if Mary’s Meals or a similar charity didn’t provide them with some sustenance.

I have also had the great pleasure of having 5 Kenyan children stay in my home a few years back, whilst they toured Scotland as the Singing Children of Africa to help fund their village school and orphanage.  This is run by the awe-inspiring Scottish charity Educate the Kids headed up by Maureen McIntyre, a retired businesswoman who went on what was supposed to be an at-retirement holiday of a lifetime and instead became a life’s mission.

The charity currently funds an education for up to 700 children a year and I can speak from direct experience about the wonderful work that they do.  The children are happy, healthy and full of ambition – not just to better themselves but to be able to give back to their communities. It is sad to think that at the 2016 enrolment, 300 families came to the school with their children, but only 65 spaces were available.  This is the link to the charity’s website and it is well worth a look -its uplifting and sums up so much of what the UN SDGs are about.

As the UN description of SDG 4 points out, education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty. Over the past decade, major progress was made towards increasing access to education and school enrolment rates at all levels, particularly for girls. Nevertheless, about 260 million children were still out of school in 2018 — nearly one fifth of the global population in that age group. And more than half of all children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics.

Our Responsible Futures portfolios gain exposure to the education theme via a fund run by CPR Asset Management – the CPR Invest Education fund. The concept behind the fund is that, with a rapidly increasing world population and a growing middle class, education will be more in demand from pe-school level to further education courses. At the same time, the technological revolution is shaking up the labour market and quickly making certain skills obsolete. The current curriculum therefore needs a rethink and some people will need to learn new skills.  CPR states that the education market is now worth $5,000 billion a year, or 6% of global GDP. It is sixteen times larger than the luxury goods market and its size is expected to double by 2030. While current funding is mostly public, the megatrends described above will lead to greater private sector spending.

The CPR Invest Education fund is the first listed fund to propose an investment solution dedicated to lifelong learning. This brings me with a smile to the comments of a couple of my colleagues when I asked them about the most valuable qualification or learning that they have acquired to date. Nigel, a former British Airways employee, reflected on the learning that they had sponsored for him and concluded that the Certificate in Wines & Spirits has turned out to be a lot more useful than his Certificate in Management.

Scott Snedden, one of our Chartered Financial Planners, is rightly proud of the high level of qualifications he has achieved in the workplace, despite not having completed a University degree due to personal circumstances. It goes back to my original thought of the day I guess, life will always throw hurdles our way, whether it be a global pandemic or a family issue, but there are always ways to go over, under or round about them.

Although this is the last Letter from Lockdown, we will be back shortly with our #BUILDBACKBETTER Letters, in which we will engage in the debate about what lessons government, individuals and society as a whole have learned from COVID19 and how we will look to regroup and redirect ourselves in 2020 and beyond.

In the meantime, if all this talk of learning has made you want to explore some new Responsible Futures themed facts, why not check out the https://ed.ted.com/earth-school.

This website is running daily quests for learners of all ages to discover, celebrate, and connect to nature in the run up to World Environment Day on Friday  June 5th. Happy Questing!

~ Rebecca Kowalski

Please note that the content of this letter is for information purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation to invest in any particular investment strategy or any individual company.

Although our physical offices are currently closed, we are business as usual from home, and available by phone and email as always. Please get in touch!  

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