What's the problem with a little logo when you're helping a child learn?
Should the corporate sector be involved in supporting childhood education? It seems that some are more fearful of company logos than improving our schooling system.
The latest furore over big corporate getting involved in schools centres around a free maths online tutoring program sponsored by McDonald's. With a membership of half a million Australian students, the program provides students with a range of numeracy exercises.
The number of students in advanced maths is falling, and more young people are arriving at universities mathematically challenged.
The latest NAPLAN testing results show a mixed performance across the states and territories for students achieving agreed numeracy benchmarks.
Yet the concern somehow is focused on company logos and the impact of them on children. These concerns overlook the role that the private sector and non-government organisations play daily in helping our young people to learn.
In fact, one of the great strengths of Australian education is its diverse mix of service delivery and funding. About 34 per cent of students are educated by not-for-profit Catholic and independent schools.
With the cost of public education growing over time, the availability of a non-government alternative lifts a potentially great fiscal weight off the shoulders of taxpayers.
From feeding the students their daily bread right through to providing the latest laptop technology on their desks, corporations provide a vast array of ancillary products and services.
The proponents of public education at best routinely ignore this beneficial corporate role.
McDonald's and many other private enterprises have taken an interest in children because it is an effective way of being good corporate citizens.
For instance, the Ronald McDonald house provides free accommodation for families with sick children in hospitals and also provides tailored tuition for children who have missed school owing to illness.
The critics argue companies like McDonald's should not be permitted to provide a free maths online tutoring program because they sell cheeseburgers, French fries and fizzy drinks.
From this perspective, the concern is about what the corporate is selling rather than what they are giving.
The difficulty with this is how far should one take the argument? For example, should all participants in the food industry be banned from sponsoring school education?
If the company that made the wrappers for the Big Mac offered to provide our children with free online education in exchange for advertisement would we also turn them away?
For decades various advocates have pressured companies to become more socially responsible entities. Yet at the first instance they attempt to do just that they get pilloried from all comers.
The risk is that such criticism will lead potential corporate sponsors to become less inclined to fund education or other community initiatives. This is not in the best interests of the community.
A cursory glance at the maths online website shows that it is not a free-for-all in terms of access. Parents play the gatekeeping role of registering their children at the outset.
Nor is the site an advertising blitz. The corporate logo is inconspicuous compared to the wealth of mathematical instruction provided by the site.
If anything there's a trade-off between students seeing a small pithy logo on the login page for a matter of seconds in exchange for entire sessions of maths tutoring with the prospect of providing years of benefits.
Even if the site was plastered with food advertisements, there is no guarantee that users would switch off their PCs and buy Big Macs. After all, a burgeoning literature in economic psychology suggests that children are economic sophisticates who discriminate against brands and products repeatedly.
The notion that corporate involvement in education is nothing but a ruse to sell products also gives parents insufficient credit for their role in determining what products land on the kitchen table or in their homes.
Corporate sponsorship provides funding and support for programs in flexible ways that governments cannot. Governments have been notoriously slow at reversing the decline in mathematics education in schools, and so other players creatively step in to fill the breach.
In these times of deficit budgets, governments find themselves in a position where they cannot fund everything.
It is for these reasons that we should welcome company sponsorship that leverages taxpayer funds for a better education for young Australians.