Skip to main content

Universal Primary Education

Volume 482: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2008

The global primary net enrolment ratio increased from 84 per cent. in 1999 to 89 per cent. in 2006. However, the latest estimates show that 75 million primary-aged children worldwide—41 million of them girls—are still not enrolled in school, and further progress is needed to achieve the target of universal primary education by 2015. We are working with the international community to accelerate action towards meeting that millennium development goal.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Can he confirm that Department for International Development staff are implementing the education beyond borders policy changes and ensuring that education is core to any humanitarian responses? With particular reference to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and notwithstanding the large sum allocated last year towards education, will there be extra funding for education as part of the UK’s humanitarian relief programme for that region?

I can confirm that the 2007 DFID initiative, education beyond borders, is being implemented. In relation to the DRC in particular, more than £10 million of £55 million to be provided over a five-year period goes towards access to primary education. We continue to assess the growing humanitarian difficulties afflicting the troubled area of the DRC. We made an immediate announcement of an additional £5 million at the weekend. I have had discussions with the Foreign Secretary since his arrival in the DRC. We continue, of course, to talk to our teams on the ground in the DRC to assess what further assistance is required.

My right hon. Friend will be confident that many African countries in particular are working hard to meet their millennium development goal commitments on education. Recently I have been working in Tanzania with people on education, and I should say that it is also important that we pay attention to the quality of the education experience in such countries as well as to the numbers receiving it. Tanzania is doing a great job in increasing the numbers of its children in primary education, but can the Secretary of State assure us that the Government are also working with that country to improve the quality of the education through better teacher training and teacher support?

I am happy to give that commitment to my right hon. Friend. Like her, I have visited schools in Tanzania and I have seen for myself the tangible difference being made by extending access to primary education for the young people of that country. Enrolment in Tanzania has doubled. Now, 98 per cent. of children there go to primary school; the figure used to be 60 per cent. My right hon. Friend is right, however, to recognise that there should be no contradiction between issues of quantity and quality. We are looking at the issue of retention; in Dar es Salaam I spoke with President Kikwete on exactly those challenges. I assure my right hon. Friend that it is one of the issues on which we are working in Tanzania.

The Secretary of State rightly identified the need for equality of opportunity for both sexes in education, and he will know of the tremendous improvements that there have been in Afghanistan. However, such opportunities are not available in other fundamentalist Muslim states. What is the Department doing to encourage those states to provide equal opportunity in respect of education for girls and young women?

The focus of our work at the Department for International Development is not dictated by the majority religious views of any one country but the requirements of the country for support in tackling poverty. We are working with Governments in a number of different countries; the hon. Gentleman mentioned Afghanistan, and we have contributed about £60 million to the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund specifically for education. Where we are working we are in regular dialogue with Governments about improving the lot and opportunity of young girls in particular. To take one example, today about one in six of young girls around the world not in education are in northern Nigeria. That is why we are engaged in dialogue with the Nigerian authorities to see how we can extend opportunities to young girls and the disabled. It is necessary to get them into education if we are to see the progress that we want on the millennium development goals.

In townships, there is sometimes no electricity and no water, but there are always mobile phones. BlackBerry, Nokia and Vodafone have substantial educational trusts. Will the Secretary of State consider convening a meeting of mobile phone operators? Using mobile phones for content could be a way of increasing primary education.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are fully aware of the potential of what is widely seen in Africa as a leapfrog technology. Many countries that did not have fixed land-line telephone systems now have a number of mobile operators. Recently I discussed the potential of mobile telephony with Mo Ibrahim, who deserves huge credit for having expanded opportunity and built a hugely successful business in Celtel in recent years.

Will the Minister comment on the opportunity cost to the goal of universal primary education of the Government’s generosity to small-scale projects in emerging super-economies? Does he agree that that money might be better focused on areas of the world that are not blessed with natural resources or emerging super-economies of the sort that we see in China or, indeed, even in India?

China continues to be afflicted by considerable challenges in poverty reduction, notwithstanding the welcome growth of its economy in recent years. That is why we continue to work in China, although we are due to close our bilateral programme shortly. We are continuing to work there partly because any serious assessment of the role of China in Africa recognises that now is exactly the time to try to exert influence over the Chinese authorities to ensure that their engagement with the continent of Africa in providing infrastructure and new opportunities is benign in the years ahead.