Advancing education

We are proud of our association with the Jacobs Foundation, the ultimate financial beneficiary of the Colosseum Dental Group. This non-profit organization is unwavering in its commitment to giving every child a quality education by supporting research, evidence, EdTech, and education policymaking. Eager to gain a deeper understanding of the Foundation's impact, we spoke with their Co-CEO Simon Sommer. 

Advancing education: The vision of the Jacobs Foundation

Meeting Simon Sommer introduces you to someone who is playing a pivotal role in advancing education on a global scale. As the Co-CEO of the Jacobs Foundation, his ambition is to position it as the leading global foundation focused on improving children’s learning and development, achieved through the development, selection, and promotion of exemplary programs and projects centered around the use of evidence. Additionally, Sommer is dedicated to cultivating talent both within and outside the Foundation, ensuring that the best minds are harnessed to drive real change. Having been integral to the foundation since September 2006, he has served as Co-CEO alongside Fabio Segura for the past four years.

The Jacobs Foundation transcends mere financial support; it actively collaborates with leading researchers, educators, technology firms in the education sector, investors, and policymakers. This concerted effort is instrumental in catalyzing novel research, pioneering innovative funding models, and forging alliances with policymakers to effect tangible advancements in education.

"We're committed to delving into the intricacies of children's learning processes and leveraging research and evidence to enhance their educational experiences," Sommer clarifies, offering valuable insights into the Foundation's strategic direction.

In this article, we aim to delve deeper into the specific initiatives undertaken by the Foundation to foster educational improvement.

Upholding a visionary legacy

The Jacobs Foundation has expanded its influence, staying true to the vision of its founder, Klaus J. Jacobs, and his commitment to equipping young minds with the tools to shape their future with evidence in policy and practice. The Foundation was established in1989 with the goal of improving the education and development of children around the world. For Klaus J. Jacobs, there were two essential elements on which the Foundation's work would be based. First, close cooperation with science, as research clarifies which factors influence the development of children and young people. Second, the promotion of education—Klaus J. Jacobs was convinced that school-based and extracurricular education and teaching were essential fundamentals to ensure that young people thrive. 

"We stand on the shoulders of our founder, whose vision inspires us to empower children to navigate and influence their future world," Sommer reflects, acknowledging the profound legacy that drives the Foundation's efforts.

The Foundation’s strategic vision is built around the concept of individualized education, recognizing the importance of aligning learning paths with the unique needs of each child. Sommer is a vocal advocate for an adaptive educational system, one that is finely tuned to the learner's distinct needs. "Our pursuit is to redefine educational practices to be as unique as the children they are designed for," he stresses, illustrating the Foundation's commitment to a personalized approach to education.

The Jacobs Foundation's work can be divided into three different areas:

Learning Minds

This area aims to understand the development and learning processes of children, with a particular focus on how individual differences impact learning – a concept that the Foundation calls learning variability. The Foundation supports talented researchers and practitioners in pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge about how children learn over time and across various contexts. Situated at the crossroads of science, entrepreneurship, and innovation, their goal is to establish a worldwide, interdisciplinary research community dedicated to this purpose, and to foster dialogue and action among researchers, policymakers, and educators on recognizing and valuing the diversity of children’s learning experiences.

The Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship Program is a prime example within the Learning Minds initiative: As Simon Sommer outlines, the Fellowship is an integral part of the global programs offered by the Foundation. Its aim is to pinpoint and assist the most gifted researchers around the world, especially those investigating the future of learning and development.

"We are committed to identifying the finest and most gifted researchers from top-tier institutions globally, as talent and extraordinary individuals are found everywhere."

The research pursued by these fellows is global in scope and seeks to be applied practically in educational environments. A key element of the program is collaborating with schools to ensure the broad implementation of research outcomes and evidence-informed approaches. The organization partners with international entities such as the International Baccalaureate, which connects with up to 7,000 schools. 

Learning Schools

The Learning Schools program works to place evidence at the core of children’s learning, both in the classroom and through educational technology. The Jacobs Foundation wants to ensure that the global school system – the millions of schools around the world – is grounded in evidence on how children learn best. They believe that evidence should be at the core of teaching and learning practice. It should also guide how educational technology (EdTech) tools are created, funded, and used to improve learning outcomes.

Sommer underlines the critical role of integrating and applying improved educational practices within schools and notes that the organization selectively engages with certain countries that they are well-acquainted with. In these nations, their ambition is to effect meaningful change at both political and systemic levels, with a special focus on digitalization and equalizing educational opportunities.

For example, in West Africa, particularly in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, the Foundation aims to support improvements in  educational systems through evidence-based solutions. These solutions are developed with local governments in the driving seat. One such initiative was 'Teaching at the Right Level,' a program originally developed by an Indian NGO and adapted for Côte d'Ivoire in conjunction with local industry and government. This program, which has seen success in India, is now being implemented across Côte d'Ivoire.

Learning Societies

The Foundation also works with countries to improve the use of evidence in policy and practice and ensure that programs designed to increase children’s learning and education are grounded in evidence. They work in partnership with governments, researchers, industry, and communities in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Switzerland, and Colombia to support the generation and application of evidence in policy and practice.

Simon Sommer outlines the Foundation's global strategy, emphasizing the importance of local cultural and educational contexts. “We implement our programs worldwide, but we do so with a nuanced understanding of each community's unique needs," Sommer explains, accenting the necessity for culturally attuned educational reform.

Collaborations with local authorities and communities are central to the Foundation's strategy, aimed at creating educational programs that become enduring features of the local landscape. The Foundation amplifies its impact through strategic alliances. “We’ve built a collaborative network where educators, researchers, and policymakers unite to advance the frontier of education,” Sommer shares. This collaborative approach is vital for transforming academic research into practical educational strategies, ensuring the transfer of cutting-edge educational concepts into tangible classroom experiences.

Simon Sommer stresses the importance of collective effort, acknowledging that a single foundation, regardless of its size, cannot alone make a significant, sustainable impact on education in a country. It requires a coalition of foundations representing various sectors of society, which is particularly emphasized in their work in Colombia. He highlights the importance of South-North transfer, where the goal is not to impose solutions but to foster a two-way exchange of knowledge and practices. The foundation does not dictate methodologies but instead values the profound local insights while also contributing their standards of quality and values to the conversation. This approach aims to counter the criticism of philanthropies being seen as colonialist by ensuring they work in partnership with local organizations and respect local knowledge, which is crucial for addressing unique challenges, such as those faced by Colombia in managing refugee inflows from Venezuela. This mutual learning and support between South and North are core to the Foundation's philosophy and actions.

Prioritizing sustainability in education

Sustainability is a guiding principle of the Jacobs Foundation's strategy. “Our commitment is to advance educational practices that are enduring and that align with our broader responsibilities to society and the environment,” Sommer explains. This commitment reflects the Foundation's aim for educational programs that not only stand the test of time but also foster the holistic development of learners and their communities.

The Foundation's dedication to sustainable education is comprehensive, addressing the environmental, economic, and social dimensions of educational practices to ensure long-term viability and impact.

Outlining a Future Focused on Evidence-Based Education

Looking ahead, Sommer envisions a future where the contrasting worlds of educational research and classroom practice unite. "We have a vision," Sommer states, "to eradicate the gap between high-impact educational research and its practical application in schools." This vision includes fostering daily interactions between practitioners, teachers, and researchers, making the integration of innovative teaching methods and technologies a common reality.

Sommer's outlook for the Jacobs Foundation also includes a rigorous emphasis on evidence-based education. He draws a parallel with the healthcare sector, where treatments undergo extensive testing and validation. Our aspiration, Sommer explains, "is to see this level of evidence-based approval applied within the educational sector, ensuring that all teaching methods and technologies are proven to benefit our children." This approach is not without its challenges, particularly in navigating the current landscape of educational technology, which is often a wild west of untested tools and apps. Sommer is resolute about the need for a shift towards an empirical research perspective, advocating for a system where educational technologies are subjected to the same rigorous evaluation processes as medical treatments.

The path Simon Sommer outlines for the Jacobs Foundation is both visionary and grounded in practicality. It involves not just dreaming of a better future for education but actively working to construct it. This includes developing a deep understanding of what constitutes quality in educational research and empowering educational institutions to implement these findings. With a commitment to bridging the gap between evidenced based research and practice and empowering teachers with innovative tools, the Jacobs Foundation is not just imagining a new future for education; it is actively creating it.