Throughout this series we have explored the facets of our Healthy Futures investment theme, outlining the challenges, but also the investment opportunities, arising from companies providing innovative solutions.
Healthy Futures has a wide scope encompassing all areas that impact our health; from the healthcare we receive, the steps that support healthier lifestyles and disease prevention. The last area we touch upon in this series is a key, yet perhaps overlooked, factor in our health and future; education and reskilling.
Guiding our future
Education is a human right, yet sadly one that is not available to all globally. It has a vital role in the health and progression of populations, escaping poverty by increasing access to better quality jobs. The Global Partnership for Education estimates that 420 million people would be lifted out of poverty if given access to secondary education, this would reduce the number of poor globally by half.
We have already discussed in this series how children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to be obese, increasing risk for a plethora of diseases. It was the affordability of higher quality nutrition, sports equipment and less access to outdoor spaces that remained barriers. Not only can education stop the transference of poverty through the generations it can enable and educate for healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.
However, across the world, access to education has been threatened by the pandemic and educators have had to quickly adapt to ensure continued learning for our future generations. The job market is also seemingly shifting, with furlough jobs that may never return as the digital jobs market soared during the pandemic. This makes equipping pupils with digital skills and reskilling those in displaced jobs highly important.
A new way of learning
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April, 1.6 billion children across over 160 countries had their education impacted as a result of closures and restrictions1. Just as other industries have had to quickly adapt to a new virtual formats, education has had to evolve to connect students in a socially distant world. Microsoft, an Amity International Fund holding, has been instrumental to the architecture for online learning with Microsoft Teams a new mainstay for delivering online classes. The company also offered Microsoft FastTrack services for free, to help setup schools and their staff remotely with technology training also available.
The increased reliance on technology however, has perpetuated inequality. A survey by LSE found that in April, 38% of state school pupils had full school days, in private schools this was over double at 74% of pupils2. Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds have been more likely to experience negative impacts from the pandemic. Microsoft has programs to help vulnerable students, in partnership with UNICEF is The Learning Passport, originally created for displaced and refugee children but expanded during COVID-19 school closures. The platform contains digitised curriculum in national languages that children can access from devices at home. Additionally through the global Microsoft’s Refurbisher program, businesses donate office devices no longer in use which are then refurbished, preinstalled with Microsoft software and given to students in need.
New jobs for a new economy
Education is also at the heart of the job market, as industries evolve reskilling is essential for employment and along with upskilling, ultimately leads to higher quality longer term jobs. The pandemic has disrupted the jobs market as an estimated 1 in 10 people aged 16-25 lost their job over the coronavirus pandemic. In the UK, an estimated 2.6 million will be unemployed by mid-2021 as furlough schemes close and some hospitality industry jobs may never return3.
Economies were turning digital prior to the pandemic and relevant skills in great demand. COVID-19 has accelerated the digital evolution, therefore the digital jobs market also. Reskilling is vital to allowing those unemployed to pivot into a new growing jobs market. China-based Tarena (Amity International holding) provides professional educational services specialising in IT training for an ever digitalised world. Microsoft is also offering free online course to help 25 million get new digital skills for the digital economy post COVID-19.
Framing the opportunity
Clearly education and reskilling are essential tools within our global society for the eradication poverty and breaking down of socio-economic divides. Both are enablers for more people to lead healthier futures by increasing access to skilled, in-demand work that ultimately provides a better standard of living.
As responsible and sustainable investors, we see it as important to identify and invest in the companies that are widening access to education and enabling this transformation. Whilst firms like Microsoft are not obvious examples, the services that they provide around education and reskilling clearly still have a critical role to play in the provision of a better, healthier future for all.
Reaching a Healthy Future
Whichever aspect of our Healthy Futures investment theme we explore, we consistently find opportunity in innovative companies who are at the cutting edge of improving the healthcare sector, or who are helping to relieve it from its long-term challenges.
The pandemic has highlighted those companies acting in socially responsible ways, responding to the crisis and cognisant of the needs of the most vulnerable members of society. It is clear the pandemic is catalysing a faster pace of change but with change comes huge opportunity; for us to have a role in creating even better, healthier futures.