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Sustainable Development Goals (Education)

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 2 July 2015

I beg to move,

That this House has considered education and the sustainable development goals.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Walker. I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about education and the sustainable development goals and financing global education, hot on the heels of the recent debate initiated by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who I am glad to see here in the Chamber. I am glad to see the Minister, too. I speak today as co-chair of the all-party group on global education for all. I believe that we cannot raise these matters too often, not least because the sustainable development goals will be finalised at the United Nations meeting in September.

I praise the great Send My Friend to School campaign, which many hon. Members will be aware of in their constituencies. Last week, I was delighted to welcome to the Jubilee Room representatives from schools across the country, including schools in the constituency of the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who with impeccable timing has just arrived in the Chamber, along with young ambassadors who represented the UK in Ghana. I have visited schools in my constituency, as many hon. Members do, most recently—last Friday— St Padarn’s school in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, where I met children from years 2, 3, and 4 who have been engaged in the cause of getting the 58 million children across the world who are out of school into education.

The World Vision group has declared that the success of the post-2015 framework that replaces the millennium development goals must be measured by its ability to reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in the hardest places to live. Trips I have undertaken with the all-party group to Nigeria and Tanzania in the past two and a half years have convinced me that any new goals on promoting global education will not be delivered by simply doing more of what we are already doing.

Significant progress has been made in recent years in improving the state of the world’s education systems, with the number of children out of school dropping by 48 million since the MDGs were agreed in 2000. However, 58 million children of primary school age still remain out of school; 59 million adolescents are out of secondary school; and, critically, 250 million children—I say this as a former primary school teacher—are in school but failing to learn the most basic of basics. UNESCO has described this as a “global learning crisis”. Adult literacy levels globally have barely improved: between 2000 and 2011 there was a decline of just 1% in the number of illiterate adults. I cite those figures because the majority of the world’s out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan Africa, where many of the Department for International Development’s target programmes—commendable projects—are located.

Education remains the key to successful development, and in that context this year is critical. Last year, the UN’s open working group on sustainable development set 17 goals and a total of 169 targets, to be identified and prioritised in September, which will carry on the work of the MDGs. Education rightly has its own stand-alone goal—goal 4—to

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

The long list of targets covers universal primary and secondary education; pre-primary, technical, vocational and tertiary education; skills for employment; universal literacy and numeracy; and enabling targets on school infrastructure and supply of qualified teachers. In short, goal 4 of the proposed SDGs is about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education.

Underpinning the new goals and targets, the current Government and the previous one have led calls for a framework that leaves no one behind, ensuring that

“no target is considered met, unless met for all social groups—with progress on targets disaggregated by wealth, disability and gender.”

In May, the declaration made at the World Education Forum in Korea reaffirmed education as a human right, a public good, and main driver of development in achieving the other proposed SDGs. It set financial targets of 4% to 6% of GDP and contained positive language on access, equity and marginalised groups. There is a strong commitment to teachers who are

“empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported”.

The Global Partnership for Education was specifically acknowledged and recognised in the document, with a recommendation that it be part of the future 2030 education agenda.

This is all very positive, but there is concern that with so many goals and targets, laudable though each and every one is, Governments will in a position to pick and choose the ones they work on, and people will be left behind. Will the Minister update us on the outcomes of the separate negotiations on education for all that took place in Korea, and the broader SDG framework? Do the Government regard the two frameworks—the SDGs and education for all—as consistent, or is there risk of mismatch and duplication? We need to clarify that we are moving beyond MDG 2—getting more children into primary school—and doing so in an achievable manner that provides a good-quality education. How is DFID ensuring that the “no target is met unless met for all” principle is underpinning all discussions about the SDGs?

Turning to funding, DFID has a good record of supporting 10 million children in primary and lower secondary education, and particularly in prioritising the most marginalised children in hard-to-reach places, such as children with disabilities and those in conflict areas. I commend in particular the work it has undertaken on the girls’ education challenge, a programme that aims to support an additional 1 million of the world’s poorest girls into school and learning. I have seen at first hand in Nigeria how that works and how it draws young girls into schools, despite the many pressures on them to do otherwise.

I reiterate plaudits for the UK’s pledge of up to £300 million over four years for the Global Partnership for Education. I am sorry to have missed the Welsh-born chair of GPE, Julia Gillard, who was in my constituency on Tuesday getting an honorary degree from Aberystwyth University—a well deserved award.

On a visit to Tanzania with the all-party group, I saw GPE’s work at first hand. Its ethos—being a partnership of Governments, civil society, international organisations, students, teachers, foundations and the private sector, all working together—is the correct one: it is genuinely about partnership. However, despite the UK making the largest pledge by a donor, GPE fell well short of its funding target, with $2.1 billion pledged of a target of $3.5 billion. The UK’s pledge is contingent on the UK making up no more than 15% of total donor contributions, and there is concern—perhaps the Minister can reassure me—that the UK is placing more conditionality on the pledge, potentially reducing further the amount of money to be delivered to GPE.

I am told that the £300 million target, which is conditional on other countries’ pledges, amounts in reality to £210 million—not an insignificant sum, but some way short of £300 million, and it is, of course, consequential on the Government’s getting other countries on board. What success has the Minister and his Department had in getting other countries on board and making pledges and increasing them? In that spirit, I encourage the Government to use their strong position at the third international conference on financing for development in Ethiopia—the hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned this during business questions in the House today—to ensure that more finances are available to make the SDGs work.

Last December, my noble Friend Lady Northover, then a Minister in the Department, launched the disability framework, which I welcome. I know that work is ongoing, but the framework is an important pledge that the UK will prioritise disability more systematically in overseas aid. The need is clear. There are 93 million disabled children globally, and in most countries they are more likely than any other group to be out of school. In some countries, being disabled more than doubles the chance of a child never going to school, and disabled children are less likely to remain in school.

For far too long, this has been a niche area of development policy. With 80% of disabled people living in developing countries, it is staggering to think that disability was not even mentioned in the millennium development goals of 2000. Disability is a cause and a consequence of poverty. The UN has called the disabled the world’s largest minority, yet in the schools I have visited overseas, there is little evidence of provision for the disabled or any differentiation in treatment or special provision in any guise. The issue needs to be addressed.

Critically, DFID has said that it will work with the GPE, UNICEF and UNESCO and others to improve data on disabled children, and will also share learning and good practice on inclusivity from its programmes in Pakistan, Tanzania and Rwanda, and the girls’ education challenge. What progress has been made in the six months since the launch of the disability framework? If the framework is to be updated and republished annually—an important principle—will the Department consider further commitments on education, such as, for example, ensuring that UK-funded teacher training programmes include inclusive education, if they are not already doing so?

Early childhood development was the subject of a visit to Tanzania by the all-party group and Results UK, the charity that supports the group, at the end of 2013. We produced a report, “You can’t study if you’re hungry”, with which the Department may be familiar. Its central message was that nutrition and early years learning are intrinsically linked. The World Bank has estimated that 200 million children in developing countries under the age of five will not reach their potential. Research and practice are increasingly highlighting the importance of better integration across development policy areas from health and nutrition, education and social protection to water, sanitation and hygiene. The concept of early childhood development and that holistic approach should therefore be a central component of the new SDGs. We were mindful of that in our visits to Tanzania and Zanzibar. Is the early childhood development approach being reflected in DFID’s programmes? How does that work at country level?

Of the 58 million children of primary school age who are out of school, about half—28.5 million—live in conflict areas. A new generation of children hit by emergencies and protracted crises are being deprived of education. As we speak, that is affecting 65 million children in 35 countries, yet last year only 1% of the overall humanitarian aid and 2% of the money from humanitarian appeals went to supporting education in those settings.

Education does not just equip children for the future; it protects them in the present. Children in school are less likely to be trafficked, forced into early marriage or exploited as child soldiers, and they stand a better chance of escaping poverty. More than 30 countries around the world have been affected by widespread attacks on schools. Last year, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack published new international guidelines to reduce the military use of schools and universities during armed conflict and to minimise the negative impact that armed conflict has on student safety and education. What consideration has the Minister’s Department given to signing up to the guidelines to prevent schools from attack and military use?

This is a vast subject, and I am grateful for the House’s indulgence on a hot Thursday afternoon in allowing me a full 15 minutes or thereabouts to make my case. The size of the subject presents DFID and the international community with huge challenges. The case for education is unquestionable, but it is important that the new goals and the plethora of work towards them are achievable. It is important that the SDGs on education clearly address the case for inclusivity in relation to gender and disability and the issue of conflict areas. Sheer numbers are crucial, and I do not in any way minimise the achievements over the past 15 years, but so too is the standard of education being delivered. We need to measure success and improvement.

One particular group concerns me—the unseen, uncounted and invisible children. That point was brought home to me graphically at the end of 2013, when I visited a street project in Dar es Salaam with the former Labour MP Cathy Jamieson. She did excellent work on this issue when she was in the House. The project was for teenage boys who had a talent for dance. It was located in a deprived district of Dar es Salaam, and the boys performed for us, showing their breakdancing skills. Mercifully, neither Cathy nor I were asked to participate. In that naïve politician’s way, I said to one of the boys, who was probably 15 or 16, “If you are ever in London, come look me up. Come to the Houses of Parliament.” He was intelligent, inspirational and had a dynamic personality, and he responded—not in a hostile way—by saying, “How can I, sir? I have no identity, no birth certificate and no passport. I don’t exist.” That graphically brought home to me the challenge of invisibility and the scale of the problem, but it also brought home to me the potential.

It is an honour to serve under your excellent chairmanship, Mr Walker.

Send My Friend to School was brought to my attention by two very articulate youngsters—Lauren and Aiden, from Bishop Vaughan school in my constituency. So involved were they with that wonderful project that they came to Westminster last week to a reception hosted by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams),whom I congratulate on securing this important debate.

I will re-read the list of statistics that the hon. Gentleman has already shared with us, because they are important. In 2012, 58 million children of primary school age were out of school, half of them in conflict-affected countries; the number had decreased from 100 million in 2000. Some 63 million young adolescents around the world are not enrolled in primary or secondary school. More than four out of 10 out-of-school children will never enter a classroom. Some 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. An additional 1.6 million new teachers need to be recruited to achieve universal primary education by 2015. In a third of countries, fewer than 75% of primary school teachers are adequately trained.

Those figures caught the imagination of the young people in my constituency. They get up every morning to go to school. They understand the benefits of education, and even when issues hinder them from attending school, such as illness or caring responsibilities, there are mechanisms to help them to receive an education. For the pupils of Bishop Vaughan, the statistics I just read were a shocking reflection of the fact that life in other parts of the world is very different from theirs. That stark reality check led to their involvement with the Send My Friend to School campaign, which works tirelessly to do just that—send young people across the globe to school. We talk about helping and supporting countries with fewer resources and less wealth than ours, but the basis of that support should be about doing all we can to help young people have an education. There is yet another statistic about lack of education: 774 million illiterate adults—a decline of just 1% since 2000. Almost two thirds of those people are women.

The UK is one of the largest bilateral donors for basic education, and the largest contributor to the Global Partnership for Education. In June 2014, developing country partner Governments pledged a $26 billion increase in domestic financing for education. Donor countries pledged $2.1 billion of support for the GPE, but we still need to do more.

Last Friday, I visited Bishop Vaughan school and was welcomed by a class of year 7 students who, although not yet old enough to start their GCSE courses, are already acutely aware that the lack of global education is causing great disadvantages. They had each made a cardboard figure that represented a world leader, and each spoke as if they were world leaders. The speech from each leader had different words but the same message: let us get all kids into education.

I promised the class two things. First, I would deliver their message today and ask their question: when will world leaders be able to ensure that every child has access to and the opportunity for an education? Secondly, I promised that I would ask the Minister whether he would meet them to receive their cardboard world leaders—at a convenient time, of course.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way in the middle of a very good speech, and I also thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for introducing the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a great deal of hope in these parents, governors, school teachers and children—such as the year 6 pupils at Garth primary school who have sent me their information—because, on a deep, human, personal level, they understand the importance of reaching out? If we could convey that message to many of our constituents on their doorsteps, that would be a great cause for optimism.

I entirely agree. We could indeed learn great lessons from the children of our country.

Members present know that reality and principle can be very different. On principle, we would all wish for children globally to be educated. The young people at Bishop Vaughan, as well as at the other schools involved in the project, have a valid point. As politicians, it is our duty to ensure that we provide them with an answer that shows that we share their maturity in acknowledging and understanding the issues. We must do more—everything that we can—to ensure that their principle is a global reality.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I declare an interest, as I did at the start of my debate on the sustainable development goals a couple of weeks ago: until the election I was employed by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, and I was a member of the Scottish working group on the sustainable development goals, so I have a considerable personal and professional interest in this subject area.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on bringing this issue back to the House so soon and for giving us the chance to explore in more detail the education aspect of the sustainable development goals. He made a very thoughtful contribution, and I agreed with a lot of what he said, especially on financing, to which I will return; on the importance of data disaggregation for monitoring the goals’ impact, particularly disaggregation by age for education; and on the importance of nutrition in schools to enable children to learn effectively.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on highlighting the fantastic Send My Friend to School initiative. One of the first pieces of mail I received as an MP was from St Charles primary school in Kelvinside in my constituency; it included pictures of the world leaders who young people throughout the country—indeed, around the world—want to see act on their behalf to make progress on global education. The point made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) about solidarity among young people is a lesson for us all.

As I said, I have some personal interest in and experience of this matter. Between 2004 and 2005, I had the great privilege of living in Malawi, where I worked as a teacher in St Peter’s secondary school in the capital of Malawi’s northern region, Mzuzu. The school was founded by Father Nazarius Mgungwe, who has become a very good friend of mine, and it has gone from strength to strength over the 10-plus years during which I have been connected to it. The school has sister schools in Scotland—perhaps later I will say a little more about the connections between school communities and how they affect the education of children both overseas and at home. I probably learned more from the pupils and my colleagues in the school than any of them did from me, but if anything my experience brought home the absolute value and importance of education in tackling global poverty.

Education is fundamental to development and ending poverty, as we can see from our own histories. In Scotland, we are very proud of the historic enlightenment that our country went through and the establishment of free education, as a matter of principle, from parish schools through to university level. That has led to some of the inventions and contributions of which we in Scotland are rightly proud. Ahead of the debate, I saw some analysis that described the educational systems in many developing countries as being a least 100 years behind ours. In some ways, we can see that that is the case, but we must not wait 100 years for international developing education systems to be brought up to the level that we expect and appreciate in this country.

It is worth touching on the importance of education for girls. There is no silver bullet when it comes to eradicating world poverty, but if there is something close it is investing in education for girls. As more young women receive a formal education, that has knock-on effects across the whole spectrum of development indicators. It leads to healthier, longer, more productive and more fruitful lives—not only for the individual concerned, but for their families and whole communities. Educating girls must be a key priority in the sustainable development goals for education. I should say that I know some very valuable projects in Malawi with just that focus—one is run by my very good friend Janet Chesney, who runs a school in the north of the country. It would be remiss of me if she found out that I was speaking on education and did not mention that.

The fact that there has been progress in education— 80 million more children are in education than before the millennium development goals were established—is testament to the success and importance of the MDG framework. Nevertheless, as we have heard from the statistics and as the Global Partnership for Education said, there is “no chance whatsoever” of meeting the goal of achieving universal primary education in time for the MDG deadline. That is why it is so vital that that goal is not only retained but enhanced in the successor framework. In the sustainable development goals we have the opportunity to get it right and to go further by extending the right to education to include secondary school education and by focusing on quality.

In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Ceredigion was absolutely right that funding for education is going to be crucial, so I will repeat to the Minister the question I asked the Leader of the House this morning: when can we expect to hear from the Government who will represent the United Kingdom at the financing for development summit starting on 13 July? I appreciate that we are very close to the Budget statement and there is a lot of pressure on the Chancellor’s time, but the UK’s global leadership, of which the Government are proud, will be enhanced if a senior figure from the Treasury team can join international development colleagues at the summit and show the global leadership that is needed.

Finance is going to be vital. One example from my experience in Malawi is that when the country became a multi-party democracy in 1994, one of the first things it did was to introduce free primary education for all. That was a hugely significant and important move, and it has made a big difference. However, the school system really struggled, and continues to struggle, to cope with the number of pupils. The secondary education system is still fee-based, which limits access, even for talented pupils.

I mentioned the Scottish Government’s work on the sustainable development goals. A very positive working group of the Scottish Government, DFID officials, NGOs and academics is looking at the negotiation and implementation process of the sustainable development goals—including how to fund appropriate programmes, perhaps including education. The group is also considering the domestic aspect of the sustainable development goals and a universal framework. There is a responsibility for us at home to consider how we make progress on these issues. One of the important ways of doing that in education lies in the roll-out and improvement of global citizenship education in our schools, whether they are under a devolved Administration or not, as was discussed in the main Chamber earlier.

The Send My Friend to School campaign that we discussed earlier is a good example of development education in action. In Scotland, there is a fantastic network of development education centres. I do not know whether there is a similar network south of the border, but this one gives schools and pupils the tools and opportunity to access resources. Pupils learn about the experiences of international development, which helps to bring issues alive and promotes understanding.

I spoke briefly about the community links that exist in Scotland between many different communities—schools, parishes and community groups—and our counterparts in Malawi. Again, that builds a sense of solidarity and helps to promote education.

When I was involved in student politics, we used to chant that education was a right, not a privilege. That is as true for a young girl in a developing country as it is for a teenager looking at university courses or a wannabe student politician with their placard. Education is a right and if we can get it right, we will be well on the way to achieving sustainable development goals and building the fairer and more just world that so many of us want to see.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Walker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) on securing today’s debate. I think he said he was co-chair of the all-party group on global education for all, and it is clear that he has great expertise in this area, so I am pleased that he led the debate today. It was also a pleasure to hear such excellent contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady).

Access to education is a fundamental human right. Although in countries such as the UK we may take our education systems for granted, the same is not true the world over. We may understand the potential of education to drive prosperity, create tolerant and inclusive societies and tackle inequality, but the sad truth is that a decent education is still not available for far too many people in far too many countries across the world. I want to talk today about the huge potential that education offers, the progress that has been made to date and the challenges that still exist. I want to suggest to the Minister that the actions of our Government and the international community must be focused on ensuring that the poorest and most marginalised see significant gains in their access to decent education over the next 15 years and that we use the sustainable development goals to make the world a more equal place, reducing the gap between the richest and poorest.

Some people may think that this debate interests only experts in international development and education policy makers, or those who work for international aid charities. My experience tells me something very different. Strange as it may seem, I recall conversations on the doorstep at the election in my constituency of Lewisham East where I ended up talking about the need to improve education in the developing world. I will take a couple of minutes to explain how that came about.

When asked about our spending on foreign aid, I would say that it was surely right to help children in developing countries to go to school. When asked about immigration, I would say that while our world remains so unequal, people will always aspire to move from one country to another to improve their lot in life. I would do it, the Minister would do it, and unless education can drive economic development and prosperity in the developing world, this will remain the case. Unless education can give women information about their own bodies and reproductive rights, we will continue to see enormous population growth in parts of the world that will struggle to deal with it. Unless future generations are educated about the peace and tolerance that lie at the true heart of our big global religions, extremism and radicalisation will be allowed to flourish. It has been said before, but it is worth saying again: education is the most effective vaccine against extremism.

It may sound sensationalist, but education really can be a matter of life and death. Educated societies are less likely to see violence and conflict as the way to resolve problems and differences. On a fundamental indicator such as child mortality, education has a dramatic effect. A recent Lancet study, for example, found that around half the reduction witnessed in under-five mortality every year—4.2 million deaths in total—can be attributed to improved levels of education. It is clear that the advantages of a decent education are vast and unequivocal.

However, the potential of education to deliver change is determined by two key factors. The first is the extent to which education can be accessed by the poorest and most marginalised. If gender, caste, race, disability, religion or sexuality—all characteristics determined at birth—are the same attributes that determine access to education, schooling becomes a further driver in a vicious cycle of prejudice and inequality. The second factor is the quality of education received. Again, if learning outcomes are determined by the wealth of a person’s parents or the community in which they live, education will perpetuate and reinforce pre-existing inequalities.

Although great gains were undoubtedly achieved with the millennium development goals, we can see that we have fallen far short. Although the number of children out of primary education has almost halved in a generation, 58 million children across the world remain outside any schooling system. Of these, nearly half have never once seen the inside of a classroom. We will clearly miss the second millennium development goal’s target of achieving universal primary education by 2015. Perhaps more worrying is that any signs of progress have seemingly stalled: the number of children not in school has remained constant for more than five years. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion has already said, experts are also warning of a learning crisis in the quality of education: children who do attend school are being let down by the standard of learning that they are exposed to.

An estimated 250 million children worldwide are not able to read, write or perform basic arithmetic. That is four in every 10 children of primary school age whose future is frustrated from the very start, and it is the most marginalised children who continue to miss out. Children from poorer families remain five times more likely to be out of school than children from more wealthy families. In west and central Africa, the gap is even wider. In Guinea, two thirds of children from the poorest households will never enter school, and alarming gaps persist in learning outcomes between children from richer and poorer households.

Although overall levels of girls’ education have improved, in many countries the gender gap remains large. In some places—eastern and southern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean—these gaps have not only endured, but widened. Significant gender disparities also persist in children’s learning performance. As has already been said, children with disabilities are not only less likely to be in school, but are more likely to drop out, as their needs fail to be catered for.

Finally, the percentage of children outside the schooling system in conflict-affected states has increased. The image of Syrian children in refugee camps should haunt us all on a daily basis. The legacy of failure will affect future generations. The global education agenda has been the subject of many ambitious summits and global accords—not only the millennium development goals, but the Dakar framework for action and now the SDGs, which is the subject of today’s debate. The Government’s action on that agenda must be welcomed.

Having said that, I am aware of continued issues with the Department for International Development’s delivery of educational programmes in Nigeria. The most recent annual review, for the third phase of the girls’ education project, which has £103 million to support more than 1 million girls to complete basic education, notes fundamental uncertainty about the ability of the in-country partner to deliver that crucial project. That is a full two years after deep and pervasive concerns were revealed in a review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Furthermore, I also share ICAI’s concern that DFID’s withdrawal from India could be happening too fast. In a country where more than 1 million children remain out of school, is it right that all funding should come to an end by March of next year and that all technical advice should be withdrawn only a few months later? I will welcome the Minister’s thoughts on those two specific issues.

Despite that, it must be recognised that the Department for International Development has consistently increased the level of funding that it invests in education. The continued focus on the importance of girls’ learning must also be welcomed, but now is not the time for complacency. The scale of the challenge we face is only projected to grow. In sub-Saharan Africa, already the region with the largest number of children not in schooling, UNICEF estimates that 444 million children will be in need of basic education by 2030, which is nearly three times the number enrolled in schools today. If we are to achieve the transformative change that we all want to see, we must understand the scale and the nature of the challenge we face, learn from past mistakes and ensure concerted global action to deliver decent education for all.

To that end, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that tackling inequality is embedded in his Department’s work in this crucial area? What will he be doing to ensure that children in the most marginalised communities are targeted first, under the sustainable development goals agenda, and that those children and their families are given the necessary support not only to enter school, but to excel in it? Increased funding alone will not achieve that. Instead, smarter and more targeted resources, coupled with disaggregated data to measure outcomes, will be needed to ensure that the SDGs achieve their full potential and that no child is left behind. What will the Government be doing to ensure that that happens and how will we galvanise the global action that such a crucial issue deserves?

I mentioned earlier that this debate will be of interest not only to policy makers and students of international development, but to people up and down the country. The Send My Friend to School campaign has already achieved a couple of mentions in the debate, but I want to inform Members about my visit to Rathfern primary school last week. When I turned up in the playground, a long line of pupils queued up, each to give me a paper puppet they had made, setting out what they would do if they were a world leader. I have brought a puppet for the Minister—I noticed earlier that it is a female world leader, which was not intentional, but I am quite pleased that is the case. I have plenty more in my office, if the Minister wants to pop by later and collect them.

In the assembly afterwards, I was asked by a 10-year-old child why the UK spends more money on our Army—tanks and guns—than we do on helping children in poorer countries to go to school. Explaining that to a 10-year-old is probably an experience that all Members of the House should go through. The pupils in my constituency instinctively knew that education for everyone is the right thing to do. I look forward to the day when those pupils are our world leaders and when all children, irrespective of their country of birth, the colour of their skin, their gender or the wealth of the parents, receive the sort of education that we in the UK would want for our own.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) for calling this timely debate. We are well served in this Parliament by such an active all-party group, and I look forward to working with it to advance the agenda at such an important time. I will say a little more about that shortly.

Every Member who has spoken has mentioned the fantastic Send My Friend to School initiative. I recall that when I was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, at this time of year I was continually ferrying those cardboard cut-outs to No. 10 Downing Street, and I was always impressed not only by the amount of physical work that had gone into them, but by the effort pupils had made to understand the problem and to advocate a solution. As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said, that is a guarantee of enthusiasm for our future.

I receive a great deal of correspondence from my constituents complaining about the level of international development aid and how much we are spending, so it is excellent that children in our schools are alive to the very reasons why we need such spending. I look forward to the time when they have more influence on their parents in getting that message across, and as they grow up and change the attitude of society generally. I have said in several forums that one of my ambitions for this Parliament is that, by the end of it, instead of being curmudgeonly about the amount that we spend on international development aid, my constituents will be proud of what we are doing and achieving.

I said that the debate was timely. I acknowledge entirely the concern of the hon. Member for Ceredigion that we have 16 goals and 169 targets. Where does sustainable development goal 4 and the seven targets that underpin it fit into that? I acknowledge the problem. Our ambition was for a smaller number of goals and of targets. The United Kingdom Government, with all their sophistication, measure our economic and social progress across about 60 targets, so I wonder how a Minister in Burkina Faso will be held to account on performance against 169 targets.

Our ambition was for something smaller, and we were prepared to expend a considerable amount of political and diplomatic capital on reopening the question and driving the numbers down to something more manageable. Frankly, our allies did not have the will to come with us, perhaps for understandable reasons. There was a genuine feeling that we had got a good set of goals and we were pleased with them, and any attempt to reopen the question and to narrow the numbers down, perhaps by combining some items—a whole process of reopening negotiations—might lead to a loss of some of the gains made. So we are where we are.

The important debate on much of what the hon. Gentleman discussed begins now. There is a continuing conversation to be had with him and the all-party group about how we should proceed. I extend to him an invitation to meet and continue the discussion with my fellow Minister of State at the Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who will be dealing with the matter. What underpins the targets are the indicators—the indicators that will be measured to see whether the targets have been achieved—and that discussion will get under way more substantially and be agreed in March next year, so this is a good time for the all-party group and for the Government to consider what the indicators should be and what we believe needs to be counted.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East is right to draw attention to the huge question about the statistics and how we are to disaggregate them in order to be able to measure the very things that we need to measure. For example, we need to know how many disabled children there are and the nature of their disabilities. We have to be able to disaggregate and break down all the statistics to measure properly. We are ahead of the game—indeed, the British Government have been driving the agenda forward—but we all know the political reality: if we cannot count it, it will not count. It is vital that we get the metrics right in order to hold Governments to account for whether they have met the targets.

We have seen what was millennium development goal 1 morph into sustainable development goal 4. The hon. Member for Ceredigion was quite right to express a measure of disappointment about our achievements in relation to the original aim of getting all children into primary education by this year. That will not be achieved. We can say that 90% of children have at least got some sort of education, and he was right to draw attention to the fact that whereas there were 100 million children out of school, that figure is now 58 million—notwithstanding an increase in population, which could mean that the measure is better than it would appear on the surface—but the hon. Gentleman was right indeed to draw attention to the fact that, under those headline figures, there are some real worries, particularly with regard to sub-Saharan Africa and girls’ education. On the latter, if we take the headline figure for those at school, the balance is about 50-50, but there are places where the education of girls is greatly lacking. That has to be dealt with. The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) is absolutely right that if we are looking for an investment to reduce poverty, the best thing to do to have the greatest impact is secure education for girls.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion was right to suggest that we focused too much on enrolment rather than on the quality of education. As the hon. Member for Lewisham East pointed out, it is all very well to have 250 million children in school for four years, but if they come out unable to read, write or count, the whole enterprise will have been a waste of time. It is a question not just of access but of outcomes. It is worth repeating the sustainable development goal:

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that half of the expenditure on our relevant multilateral programmes is on teacher training. Concentrating on quality is key. I know one of his particular concerns is the need to get away from chalk and talk and to have much more engaging education for children. I entirely support that agenda.

The Minister is right—that is a great interest of mine. Is he satisfied that DFID-promoted teacher training programmes are moving away from chalk and talk and more into diagnostic methods of teaching? That is particularly important for inclusivity with regard to disability. When one travels to schools—something he has done far more than I—one can see the great omission in that respect.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. Those are the key issues. I share his concerns about the way we teach. I was a teacher myself once; I used a great deal of chalk and talk, and I regret it.

On disability, we have imposed a framework on our Department, after a great deal of thought and a huge amount of consultation, especially with disability groups and their advocates, on the grounds that there should be no decision made about them without them. An enormous effort went into the framework, and it is a living document, to be continually updated and reviewed and republished annually. We have doubled the number of staff working on disability and appointed a champion to take forward the agenda, which will inform absolutely every project that we undertake. Every DFID project must now consider disability on the principle of “nobody left behind”. The hon. Gentleman asked whether our teacher training work takes disability into account. Clearly, the answer ought to be yes, absolutely, because that requirement is now a condition on which the whole Department has to operate.

We are stepping up to the plate. We are spending about £800 million a year on our education effort—a figure that has risen since last year by £180 million. Generally speaking, ICAI’s follow-up report gave us pretty good marks for how we are dealing with education. Our target is that by the end of this year we will have trained 190,000 teachers and educated 11 million children through primary and early secondary school, and I am confident we will meet that target. The manifesto commitment of the new Government is to do that for another 11 million children by 2020.

The principle on which DFID works in delivering our education effort is to combine learning with equity. By learning, we mean that all boys and girls are to gain a foundation in skills to further their education and employment and realise their potential. That means a quality education that delivers what it is supposed to. As I say, that is done on the basis of equity. The hon. Members for Ceredigion, for Glasgow North and for Lewisham East all rightly drew attention to that agenda. It is the key principle.

On disability, the principle of “nobody left behind” must underpin the delivery of our efforts. It is how we will measure whether the goal and the targets have been achieved, and we are making enormous strides on that agenda. For example, any school we fund has to be accessible by disabled people. However, we do not want simply to make things accessible—it is no good children getting into a school if they are not actually learning anything when they are in there. Disabled children must have the same access to education, which is why we have invested heavily in specific projects dealing with the needs of disabled people—for example, providing Braille resources for 10,000 blind children in Ethiopia and for the Ghana Blind Union. We must be much more alive to this issue in the design of our future projects if we are to meet the targets.

The hon. Members for Glasgow North and for Lewisham East both talked about children in conflict areas, Syria in particular. We have put enormous effort into ensuring not just that no child is left behind but that there should be no lost generation. We have invested a huge amount of resource into ensuring that in both Jordan and Lebanon refugee children can be enrolled, through having two shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon; there are also enrolment targets.

We are also funding the education Ministries. A new funding model is required for these emergencies. It is no good stumping up money and saying, “Here’s our commitment of £50 million” or £100 million, or whatever it is. Ministers who are delivering education in Lebanon and Jordan need to be assured that the finance will be there next year and the year after if they are to have plans. Therefore, part of our effort has been driving forward the agenda of delivering education over the longer term. That will be part of our agenda in Oslo and Addis: to make sure that finance is available not just as a one-off donation, but on the basis of a commitment on which Governments and Ministers can plan to provide for the educational needs as required.

As for the systems that underpin the principles of learning and equity, I have drawn attention to the fact that we need to address a whole series of statistics and metrics—things that we need to be able to measure—in order to ensure that data are used properly to deliver the outcome that we require.

The new SDG is a considerable expansion beyond the primary objective of the MDG. That raises all sorts of questions about finance, and the hon. Member for Ceredigion was right to consider whether we can provide the finance to deliver the goal. I think that we have to take a step back and consider policy and what we can do to address the needs of lifelong learning in a way that goes well beyond the emphasis on primary education. We are already active in that area. We have been supplying early years education for 150,000 children in Burma, and through the organisation BRAC in Bangladesh we have supplied 2.7 million children with pre-primary education, but we also have to address the needs of tertiary education. We are certainly active in technical and vocational education, but we need to consider particularly the concerns of further education beyond that. Most of our fellow donors deal with that through scholarships, but there is a weakness with scholarships in that all the expenditure is carried out in the donor country. It does not actually get out beyond that to the nations that are developing and that require it. How we deliver such things will have to be considered in more detail than perhaps it has been hitherto. There is a great policy decision to be made.

My view remains that primary education is of key importance in building foundations for development. It is one of the things that delivers huge improvements in delivery of other goals. Education is not only a goal in itself, but the door to other SDGs in terms of health outcomes and economic development. If education has not been delivered on, it will not be possible to deliver economic growth and the healthcare benefits that accrue as a consequence of having educated girls, which leads to later marriage and fewer problems with maternal health. All sort of things are transformed because of education. An additional year of education can increase a worker’s income by 10%, with all the effects that that has.

I would go further and say that the huge benefit of an educated population is that it delivers a stable, well governed country that provides for development—for the golden thread of economic development. Countries are poor because their elites choose to keep their people poor, because it suits them to do so and there is not an educated, active, civil society able to hold them to account. Education will deliver so much more than just the delivery of educational results in themselves.

I am grateful to all the hon. Members who have taken part this afternoon. I look forward to facilitating, on behalf of the all-party group on global education for all, the opportunity to see the Minister’s colleague, the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps). Yes, education is the great key to individual prosperity and economic growth, and as people of all political persuasions have said in the Chamber this afternoon, it is the key to global and community cohesion as well.

I am genuinely grateful to hon. Members who have taken part. There has been consensus across the House that although the period from 2000 to 2015 has been one of achievement, it has been one of some disappointment as well. It is incumbent on all of us, in all parties in this House, to carry on making the case, particularly in the weeks and months ahead of the discussions in September, so that the SDGs really are meaningful. I would not want anybody to think that my concern about the multiplicity of targets and sub-targets in any way diminishes the need for them. Those targets have emerged for good reason. My intention in raising this issue is to say that if those goals, however many there are, are not achievable, we will be failing many people around the world.

Finally, the Minister alluded to community engagement. One of the great DFID projects that I visited in Lagos was a system of school-based management committees engaging not only children and their parents in education, but the whole community in the value of education. It was an admirable project, and projects such as that need to be encouraged and developed in the future.

Thank you very much, Mr Walker, and I am very grateful to everybody for participating this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered education and the sustainable development goals.

Sitting suspended.