01/22/2014 03:03 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2014

Planning to Succeed

Since the financial crisis, government and business leaders around the world were forced to take bold action to keep the global economy afloat. At the World Economic Forum this week in Davos, there will be cautious optimism with a sentiment we are heading in the right direction in the winter air.

But at the Education World Forum, a collection of education ministers and leaders, the conversation will have a different tone. As we approach the Millennium Development Goals deadline progress has been made, but there remains much to be done to improve quality and equity in education globally. So we will be discussing the need for similarly bold action: investing in education is necessary to keep the economy growing.

School curriculums and assessments need to be re-imagined to meet with the labor market needs of the 21st century. Technology infrastructure is required to enhance access and help workers returning to learning to re-skill. We need to invest more in teacher development, their status and role in society.

In this high stakes context, it is critical that we have a sophisticated understanding of what a good outcome looks like. It is up to educational leaders, public and private, to rethink the way we approach standards and measure outcomes. The answer: ensuring that the learning materials given to our children do what they say they will.

The notion of measuring effectiveness is not a foreign concept to consumers. Would you take medicine that might not cure your ailment? Would you give it to your child? The answer to all of these questions is "of course not." The same approach should be taken in education.

Our means of measuring success in education must be as dynamic, urgent and ambitious as the learners we hope to develop. Learning generates the skills, confidence and adaptability necessary to seize future opportunities -- things we can't predict yet -- and to adapt and change. Economic plans and financial expectations are important, but we can't be constrained by them.

It is critical to set goals not just for results and returns against a one, five or ten year horizon, but to hardwire in the expectation of continuous improvement, reviewing, reworking and reshaping our goals against the ever changing context and conditions we have to navigate.

When I assumed the role of chief executive at Pearson one year ago, I believed in the idea of measuring effectiveness throughout the education sector. This is easy to say, much harder to do.

Pearson is acting on that simple idea. We hope others will join us. We are holding ourselves accountable for delivering measurable education outcomes through our products and services. We will make these results available in our public reporting. This expectation of impact will guide our plans and we will check back on our success. We extend these principles to the small businesses and start-ups that we invest in through our Pearson Affordable Learning Fund and other venture capital vehicles.

We do this because we think it will create more and better expertise in the area in which we want to add value: learning.

Education has rightly been identified as integral to addressing economic challenges. Yet to shape a world that is both successful in the short term and resilient in the long, all those active in education must commit to defining the outcomes we expect much more precisely than that.