One of the biggest interruptions to normal life caused by Covid-19 is the shutdown of schools and universities. At time of writing, more than 1.5 bn learners worldwide have been affected by these closures, according to data from UNESCO.
For teachers and students, the pandemic has led to a global crash course in digital education. In England, for example, the number of primary schools using an online learning platform rose from 20 percent to 50 percent in two weeks, according to a survey by the Teacher Tapp app.
Pearson, the global education company, saw the disruption early in the year through its business in China. Like hundreds of companies around the world, it decided to offer support to help deal with the outbreak.
‘We took immediate action to ensure the large numbers of students impacted by travel restrictions and school closures were able to carry on learning using our digital resources,’ explains Joanne Russell, senior vice president of investor relations and financial communications. ‘As the pandemic spread around the world, we were able to use what we had learned in China to enable our existing courseware and assessment customers to migrate quickly to online learning and testing.’
Among the actions taken, Pearson says it has made a number of services available at zero cost in certain areas. These include online courses, learning resources and training focused on long-distance teaching.
Demand has been sky-high. The company estimates that more than 1.2 mn* students and teachers across China and Italy have accessed its online resources. In the UK, meanwhile, an online product called the Maths Factor, which is free while schools are shut, saw nearly 300,000 subscription requests in one day.
Understandably, investors have shown interest in the shift to online learning brought about by Covid-19, which has helped to balance out some of the negative impact of the outbreak for Pearson. The company's assessment and qualifications businesses are being affected by the closure of schools and exam postponements or cancellations. In addition, lockdowns have prevented people from accessing its professional testing sites.
‘On March 23, 2020, we gave a Covid-19 and current trading update regarding the differing impacts on our business, and where we have seen some improved trading – especially in some of our online learning businesses – alongside more color on which revenues were postponed rather than lost,’ says Russell. ‘Investors appreciated the detail we gave and were curious about the increased appetite for online learning.’
She adds that ‘hearteningly, we have now been able to open some of our professional testing centers in the US in order to ensure key workers in the health sector can operate.’
For Russell, the support offered by Pearson in response to Covid-19 is a reflection of the company’s focus on sustainability. ‘We have a clear purpose to help people make progress in their lives through learning. Community engagement is an important driver of this to ensure we are contributing to wider society,’ she says.
Pearson recently upped its focus on sustainability further. In its 2019 annual report, it announced a new ‘2030 sustainability strategy’ that will see it align its business with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
‘Our board has been very engaged on this because integrating ESG across the company is an important way to drive growth, manage risk and reduce costs,’ says Russell.
* All data in this article correct as of April 8, 2020
This article appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of IR Magazine