[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered global education for the most marginalised.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank all hon. Members for their attendance this afternoon. These days—and today of all days—it feels like our focus is relentlessly on Brexit, yet there are other pressing issues on the agenda. I am particularly grateful to fellow members of the all-party parliamentary group on global education for their support and for being here this afternoon. I thank RESULTS UK for its excellent and informative briefing ahead of this debate. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, specifically to the fact that I took part in a delegation to Tanzania in September 2017. It is largely my experience in Tanzania and the work of the Send My Friend to School campaign that motivated me to apply for this debate.
Some folk watching are probably wondering why the MP for Glasgow East was in Tanzania, not Tollcross, just a few months after a narrowly fought election contest during the general election. It was precisely because of my experience during the general election that I wanted to dedicate some of my time as an MP to international development and advocating for the most disadvantaged in our world. During the election campaign, I faced a number of relatively hostile questions about the 0.7% target. I was asked why we bothered with international aid. Some folk even reeled off soundbites such as, “Charity begins at home.” As a first-time candidate, I was faced with an instant dilemma: did I keep my head down and just nod along, agreeing with those uninformed, right-wing, reactionary arguments, or did I stand up and speak out, demanding that children in eastern Africa get the same level of education as my children in Glasgow East? During my time in Tanzania, my eyes were truly opened to the shocking educational inequality that the world faces.
Before I come on to the substance of my remarks, it will be useful to set the scene and provide a bit of context about my concerns and why I applied for this debate. We know from UNESCO data that 262 million children and young people are unable to access education; that 387 million children of primary school age do not achieve the minimum proficiency levels in reading; that twice as many girls as boys never start school; that half of all children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries do not go to school; and that refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers. Crucially, many of the furthest-behind children experience several factors of marginalisation at the same time, in overlapping and reinforcing ways, which increases their exclusion.
Girls in conflict-affected countries are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school than those in countries that are not in conflict. The poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the richest. That is an incredibly stark statistic. We all agree that education is a universal human right, but due to inequality, millions of children are still locked out of education simply because of who they are and where they live. Members of Parliament would not countenance the idea that the children in the poorest parts of our constituencies do not go to school while those in more affluent polling districts get an education, but on a larger scale that is essentially what is happening in the world today.
In 2017, I had the privilege of joining a parliamentary delegation to Tanzania alongside the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and Lord Watts. I want to reflect on some of what I saw on the ground as I travelled through Dodoma, Sigita and Dar es Salaam. To understand better the challenges we face in global education, let us drill down and see why such inequality in education persists. First, unequal education systems around the world perpetuate and reinforce inequality, as the critical early years of education are neglected in development, humanitarian and crisis settings. Put simply, schools that serve disadvantaged communities, despite the fact that they have the greatest needs, have the poorest teaching and learning environments because they are under-resourced and under-supported. Disadvantaged communities are more likely to suffer from a shortage of schools and only have schools that are of the poorest infrastructure quality. Basic things such as a lack of sanitary provision at schools means that there are further consequences for young female students, in particular.
Secondly, inadequate domestic resources mean that education systems are under-financed. Far too many Governments still fail to meet the internationally recommended allocation of 15% to 20% of total public expenditure allocated to education. Education budgets are often spent without enough sensitivity and attention to reaching the furthest-behind groups. That often creates a situation in which households have to bear the significant financial burden of paying fees to send their children to school. Fees remain a major barrier to education for the world’s poorest. We need greater and more effective international financing, as aid to education is stagnating. In short, domestic and international education financing should be underpinned by progressive universalism and expanding provision for all, while focusing on the furthest behind.
Thirdly, many children are locked out of learning because their identities are culturally devalued or because of a lack of political representation. Discrimination can be explicit through laws and policies that exclude certain groups of children from learning, such as national education systems that prevent refugee children’s access to education, or implicit through social and cultural norms, such as taboos and myths about menstruation, which prevent girls from attending school, or the perception that children with disabilities are unable to learn.
I was appalled to learn that young girls in Tanzania miss at least one month of the school year due to menstruation. According to the Netherlands Development Organisation’s baseline survey report on schoolgirls’ menstrual hygiene management, about 84% of schools have no hand-washing facilities. Village girls either use inappropriate materials to manage menstrual flow or simply miss school altogether. We see period poverty on a massive scale, with hugely detrimental consequences. Many girls struggle to complete their studies because of teenage pregnancies. A 2010 reports from the United Nations stated that about 8,000 Tanzanian girls per year are forced to leave school due to teenage pregnancy. We know from experience how difficult it is for them to return.
I want to turn to children with disabilities. When I visited a school in the Bahi district, I witnessed a child with a hearing impairment sitting at the very back of the class with no hearing aid. I questioned the logic of that with the teacher. There are also issues relating to how we resource teachers, and the training and resources they get. For example, Bahi Makulu Primary School had 804 pupils and just 12 teachers, whose training was extremely limited, not least regarding additional support needs provision.
Fourthly, there are issues relating to accountability. Unless decision makers are held accountable for the progress of the most marginalised in education, the learning crisis will persist. Accountability for the most marginalised children in education is difficult, given that there are few countries that collect sufficient data to identify and track the children who are falling furthest behind. Too many children remain invisible in datasets, including children in conflict and crisis-affected contexts, and children with disabilities. Decision makers must commit to collecting more data and using it to map how inequalities intersect and overlap, and to plan interventions and investment accordingly.
Having comprehensively set the scene, I want to turn to the action we should take. I commend the schools in the east end in my constituency and those right across the UK that will be joining Send My Friend to School in its “Unlock Education for Everyone” campaign by creating paper keys depicting the inequality in education around the world. They will present those keys to Members of Parliament and will call on the UK Government to unlock education for everyone.
That brings me nicely to some of my asks of the Minister. I sent them to her in advance, so I am not just about to bombard her with lots of questions. What can the British Government do? I believe that they should reaffirm and champion the “leave no one behind” pledge in education and lead on its implementation. They should also use international meetings and events, including the G7, G20 and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, to press other Governments and international organisations to take action to address intersecting inequalities in education. In determining global policy, we should engage and collaborate with disadvantaged and marginalised children and their families at the grassroots level. That should include engagement with teachers and their unions, developing partners and networks, including the organisations that represent local people, and locally based community groups.
On our work with other countries, the UK Government should work with developing-country partner Governments and other key stakeholders to support inclusive gender and disability-responsive education sector plans and budgets, to ensure that no child or young person is left behind. For our part, we should ensure that all UK-funded education programmes, including development and humanitarian programmes, disaggregate data by age, socioeconomic status, gender, immigration and disability, and where possible, by ethnicity and locality.
We should also build measures for evaluating the impact and effectiveness of programmes in addressing intersecting inequalities in all education programmes. That should include specific measures to evaluate their impact in including and providing quality education to the marginalised. We should also promote the importance of holistic, cross-Government and cross-sectoral commitment and action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, particularly across Ministries of education, finance, gender, health and child protection, in tandem with civil society.
When it comes to ensuring that we invest equitably, the Government should commit to increasing financing for education and ensuring that it reaches the hardest to reach. That can be done, for example, by renewing and increasing the UK’s commitment to Education Cannot Wait. We could support the inclusive education initiative and advocate for additional donors to support the fund. We should support the Global Partnership for Education financially and through critical engagement with its governance and operations.
We should encourage any new mechanisms in the education financing architecture that would deliver on the “leave no one behind” education pledge, including through adopting equity-based stepping-stone targets. We should accelerate progress for hard-to-reach adolescent girls through continued support for the girls’ education challenge and by strengthening its approach to addressing intersecting inequalities.
Having set out that long list of asks and questions for the Government, I will round off, not with clunky data or questions, but with a case study. Aquira is head girl at her community school in rural Zambia. She says:
“When I was younger, my uncle took me to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, and his wife made me into a maid. I did the housework, cooking, and looked after their children. After some time, I was 10 years old and I contacted my mum and said Uncle wasn’t taking me to school so she said she would come and get me. But my Uncle refused.”
Aquira was eventually able to return to school, after contacting her mother again, but she continues to face obstacles. She says:
“Sometimes, I stopped coming to school because of money.”
Aquira faces many barriers in her education journey, including a rural location, gender discrimination, employment and fees. None the less, she is supported by her family and her community to go to school, so she can realise her dream of becoming a nurse. That is Aquira’s story.
Hon. Members have perhaps noticed that I have been wearing a rather wonderful tartan tie throughout the debate. It is the school tie of Mount Vernon Primary School in my constituency. I have visited that school on a number of occasions and I know that the children there receive a first-class education, which they get because we as a society have chosen to invest in their education and provide them with the resources that they need. The distance from Mount Vernon Primary School to Aquira’s school in Zambia is well over 7,600 miles, but in an educational sense, they are probably even further apart.
My message to the Government today is crystal clear: let us get to a place where children like Aquira receive the same high-quality education as the children at Mount Vernon who proudly wear these ties. With political will and the support of hon. Members, as well as that of our constituents, that is not an unachievable aim, but one towards which we should all be proud to work.
The debate can last until 4 o’clock. I am obliged to call the Front Benches no later than 3.27 pm, when the SNP, Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Minister will each have 10 minutes. David Linden will have three minutes at the end to sum up. Until 3.27 pm, we will hear Back-Bench speeches. We will start with Henry Smith.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me in this important debate on global education for the most marginalised. It is a pleasure, once again, to serve under your chairmanship. In the light of those time constraints, I will attempt to be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate and on the powerful message in his speech.
Earlier this month, I received an email from the assistant headteacher of Northgate Primary School in my constituency, to let me know that, like many schools up and down the UK, it will take part in the Send My Friend To School campaign this year. The school has invited me to its year 5 assembly in support of that cause. I was delighted to accept the invitation and I look forward to meeting the pupils and teachers at the school in a few weeks’ time. I will share with them a copy of Hansard so that they can read this debate for themselves.
Half of all children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries do not go to school at all. I know that I am not alone in my experience of visiting schools in the developing world—the hon. Member for Glasgow East mentioned our visit to Tanzania with RESULTS UK—and I echo the concern about the many children, particularly those with disabilities such as visual or hearing impairments, who are often at the back of a very large classroom. I have seen classrooms of over 100 students where those with special educational needs are marginalised. They really need to be at the front, especially in a classroom environment that would be challenging for any of us given the numbers involved. There is also more deliberate exclusion, with certain groups of children sometimes being blocked by laws and policies restricting their access to education, as we heard in the introductory speech.
Northgate Primary in my constituency and hundreds of other schools across the UK are supporting the call to “unlock education for everyone”. Through its support for the Global Partnership for Education and the Girls’ Education Challenge, the UK has supported 11.4 million children, including 40,000 girls with disabilities, to gain a decent education. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State places a high importance on the role of education, and I urge her to continue to ensure that the UK Government use forums such as the G7, G20, the UN and others, to keep this matter at the forefront.
It must never be forgotten that UK aid is of course British taxpayers’ money. UK support for education in the developing world goes far beyond what the Government can do. My constituency of Crawley is home to Vision Aid Overseas, which, for more than 30 years, has helped some of the world’s poorest people to see more clearly. Their Christmas appeal last year exceeded its target of raising £50,000 to help provide school-based eye health services across Ethiopia, Zambia and Sierra Leone to over 180,000 children. Crawley can be proud of the contribution that a locally based charity is making globally.
Vision Aid Overseas has been supported by the Department for International Development, with a three-year project to help improve the livelihoods and educational outcomes of adults and children across rural Ethiopia—a country where up to 10% of children have easily correctable vision problems. More than 184,000 patients were screened during the programme, with almost 15,000 of them receiving glasses and over 5,000 being referred for minor surgery. The organisation also trained more than 700 teachers to be able to identify common eye issues in their students, which has resulted in more than 2,500 children who previously struggled to see receiving new prescription glasses. Almost three quarters of children surveyed at the conclusion of the programme showed an improvement in their grades, reaffirming that promoting eye health in schools can improve children’s attainment in a tangible way.
That is only one example, but a reminder of what can be done to support and empower some of the poorest and most marginalised. Up and down the UK, such efforts are being made by groups such as Vision Aid Overseas in my constituency.
I hope that the students of Northgate Primary School in Crawley will be able to look at this debate to see how seriously we are taking this issue across the House. Schools in this country realise the importance of ensuring that all young people get a chance of an education, which will better help a more secure and prosperous world for all our futures.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate off the back of a new report from the Send My Friend to School coalition. One of the recommendations in the report is:
“Ensure Official Development Assistance to education is free from commercial interests, does not support for profit providers, and ensures education is free and universally available at the point of use.”
On that basis, I want to use this opportunity to add to the debate by speaking about the people I met in Nairobi, as their voices are not in the room.
Last year, while in Nairobi, I heard at first hand from parents and teachers about the problems they face with low-fee private schools. Parents spoke about unaffordable fees, and teachers spoke about poor labour standards. The situation was so extreme that they felt driven to lodge a complaint with the World Bank about Bridge International. The report findings are echoed by the International Development Committee. Its inquiry into DFID’s education work expressed concerns about the inability of Bridge to reach the poorest and most marginalised children, and questioned the sustainability of the costs of providing education in that way.
Supporting a model that leaves out the poorest and most marginalised means that we would fail in our commitments under the SDGs to ensure that no one is left behind. I am pleased that DFID no longer uses official development assistance to fund Bridge schools, but I want reassurance. First, do the Government agree with Labour that that model of low fee for-profit education is not the way to deliver education to the most marginalised children? Secondly, will the Minister, in her summing up, guarantee that the Government will commit to not supporting such education models in future?
I welcome the recommendations of the new Send My Friend to School report, in particular the one calling on the Government to ensure that education ODA is “free from commercial interests” and does not support for-profit providers, and that
“education is free and universally available at the point of use.”
I recognise that children in the global south deserve the same standards that we expect for our children in the UK.
As I come to a close, I will echo what the hon. Member for Glasgow East said. I too believe that no one in this debate would disagree that all children in the UK have the right to access free public education, regardless of their postcode. I also believe that that standard should be core to our overseas development work on education.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is also a great pleasure to follow all three of the previous speakers in this debate.
I wish to contribute a comment in my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria. Many Members who have heard me speak before about it will know that I look on that job not simply as one about trade but as one with a wider perspective of the UK’s relations with Nigeria. Education has been a great factor in that.
I will first comment on the figures mentioned, such as our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income to fund foreign aid. If we think about that for a minute, it means that for every £100 that we earn, only 70p goes to foreign aid. That is all that the commitment is, so I find it amazing that it generates such hostile press for some people in the UK. When I looked at the DFID figures—I praise the Department enormously for its work—education took up something like 11% of the budget. I do not know whether the figure remains the same, but it is about 11%, which is a substantial contribution.
Like the two previous speakers, I want to comment on the Send My Friend to School programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) made a comment about the Hansard report, and I found that the response of No. 10 to submissions from schools involved in that programme has been outstanding. It has been very supportive of the whole initiative, which has gone down incredibly well with the schoolchildren.
On that basis, let us look at what we fund and how we should fund it. The first point to make is that, although it is difficult on 11% of the budget to segment the market, there is a need to improve girls’ education, in particular in Nigeria. I have been very pleased to see programmes undertaken by DFID to improve girls’ education. I noticed one in particular, which was intended to improve the social and economic basis on which girls had opportunities to exist in the country.
Why is the role of girls in Nigeria important? We do not have to look far. In recent news programmes, we have seen the kidnap of so many girls in Nigeria, and their use and misuse by Boko Haram, and that is the origin of my fears. I have also made a much broader point to the leaders of that country over a number of years: they will not defeat Boko Haram by military means; they will have to defeat it by giving the people of the area something that they do not already have. One such thing that they can give is education, which can play a great role in that.
It is also important to look not only at education itself but at the other side of the coin, which is the provision of training for teachers. In Nigeria, one impressive project is to train another 66,000 effective mathematicians as teachers, its particular effect being to improve the lives of up to 2 million children. That is something we should all be proud of, because we are talking not just about people—the girls and the teachers—but about the quality of schools, of teachers and of the learning, which all need to be improved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I join my colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this debate and on setting out the case in such a powerful and comprehensive opening speech. He began by talking about the challenge of winning the public argument on 0.7% and our commitment to the poorest people in the poorest countries of the world. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) also made that case very well. Investing in global education is one of the best ways in which we can ensure value for taxpayers’ money, but as my colleague from the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) said, that is often matched by voluntary public donations to charities and other civil society organisations.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on global education. We receive secretariat support from RESULTS UK. Like other Members, I have made a visit with RESULTS, although I went to Liberia, where we looked primarily at some of the health challenges after Ebola. We also took the opportunity to look at some of the education challenges that that country faces. I join others in paying tribute to the fantastic Send My Friend to School campaign. It is a remarkable coalition that mobilises children and young people in this country in solidarity with children and young people in some of the poorest countries around the world. I am especially pleased that Send My Friend has decided this year to focus its efforts on the most marginalised children—hence the focus of today’s debate. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the recommendations in the Send My Friend report.
Every child deserves an education, but as the hon. Member for Henley rightly reminded us, they deserve a quality education. The shift in public policy on global education to greater priority on quality alongside quantity is vital. Millions continue to miss out on that basic human right to a quality education simply because of who they are or where they live. Existing inequalities in societies are reinforced when the various exclusion factors overlap. Education is crucial if we are to tackle the twin evils of global poverty and global inequality. Rightly, it runs through the core of the sustainable development goals, most explicitly in SDG 4, which commits the world to improving access, quality and equity in education. It is worth mentioning that the sustainable development goals are universal—they apply here as well as in other parts of the world. We still have challenges in our country to do with addressing inequalities and quality in our education system.
After the 2016 general election, the International Development Committee decided to complete its predecessor’s work, which led to the publication in November of that year of our report “DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?” We reached the conclusion that the Department for International Development has prioritised investment in education in a way that many other donors have not. We welcome that priority, but we also said that if global goal 4 is to be achieved, all donors must considerably increase the amount of aid allocated to global education. For that reason, we called on the UK to go further than the 10% or 11% of recent years, to commit to allocating a larger proportion of our overseas aid to education.
As part of that inquiry, we visited refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, mostly to look at how they provide education to children who have fled conflict in Syria. While we were in Jordan, we visited a very impressive United Nations Relief and Works Agency school for Palestinian children. Last month UNRWA launched its 2019 emergency appeal and budget requirement, which totalled more than $1 billion. That is the amount it needs simply to maintain last year’s level of service. At a time when the Trump Administration have cut their support for the UN Relief and Works Agency, we need to work with our international partners to ensure the funding gap left by US reductions is closed, to protect services for Palestinian children.
The Committee’s attention on education for the most marginalised has continued; next week we will publish our report on forced displacement in Africa. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East said in his opening speech, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than children on the whole; in fact, the majority of registered refugee children around the world are simply not in school. Children caught in crises that are not of their making should not be denied their right to an education, but humanitarian finance suffers from being short term and unpredictable.
Education Cannot Wait tells us that education in emergencies gets just 1.9% of all humanitarian spending—that is less than one fiftieth. I welcome the leading role that DFID has played in the development of Education Cannot Wait. The Minister will know that Education Cannot Wait is due for replenishment this year. I echo the hon. Member for Glasgow East and ask the Minister to give a commitment that the Government will continue to support Education Cannot Wait. Indeed, I will go further and ask for an increased UK commitment to Education Cannot Wait, and an early announcement, so that we can trigger additional support from other donors.
Save the Children reports that more than 70% of Rohingya children who have escaped genocide in Myanmar are out of school in Bangladesh. UNICEF warned that
“if we don't make the investment in education now, we face the very real danger of seeing a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children”.
In our report, the International Development Committee recommended a long-term strategy for education in emergencies. The tragic reality is that as conflicts become more protracted, if education provision is ignored, the futures of those children are put at real risk.
A number of Members, most notably the hon. Member for Crawley, who is the Committee’s rapporteur on education, reminded us that disabled children face some of the greatest barriers to education. That is the case in our constituencies, and it is even more the case in some of the poorest countries in the world. Recent analysis estimates that half of disabled children in low and middle-income countries are out of school. In some countries, the figures are even worse, with an estimated 90% of disabled children out of school according to UNICEF.
When the Committee visited Kenya as part of the education inquiry, we were hugely impressed by the Girls Education Challenge project in Kisumu, which is run by Leonard Cheshire Disability. Through such programmes and its disability framework, the Department for International Development is making good progress, but it needs to ensure that the framework is implemented across all DFID’s education programmes. After what we saw in Kisumu, the Committee reflected, on a cross-party basis, that we want more of those sorts of programmes to be funded, because it felt like the very best of UK aid reaching those who are often the most left behind, and the best value for money for UK taxpayers.
The Department should use its influence to shine a light on the needs of disabled children, just as it has done very successfully with regard to education for girls and young women. As we believe this area is vital, we recently launched an inquiry into DFID’s broader work on disability. If we are to reach the most marginalised, it is vital that we do more to encourage developing countries to invest in education. Last year, the Department committed £225 million to the Global Partnership for Education. That is a very welcome UK commitment, though it was below the amount that civil society organisations had been calling for.
The GPE takes an approach that deserves great respect and commendation. It says that before it will work with a poorer country, it wants a commitment from that country’s Government to increasing the amount they spend on education, ideally to 20% of the budget. That is a challenging figure for many countries, but it means that the support that comes from the multilateral organisation triggers further domestic resource mobilisation through taxes in the country concerned. Four in five of the countries that GPE partners have maintained their education budget at or above a fifth of public expenditure, or increased their education budget in 2016—the most recent year for which we have figures. Some 41 million additional girls enrolled in school across the partner countries between 2002 and 2016.
To give just one example, Niger in Africa was one of the first countries to join the Global Partnership for Education in 2002. It has increased its spending on education from 5% of public spending to 22%, despite an extraordinary backdrop of political instability, recurrent drought and conflict. In 2009 only 40% of children in that country completed primary school, but eight years later the figure had increased to 73%, showing remarkable progress in one of the poorest countries in the world. The International Development Committee has called on the Government to use their influence with partner countries to secure greater domestic spending on education, and I want to repeat that call today.
I will finish by saying something else about the way in which we can raise the money needed. As various colleagues have said, aid on its own will not resolve the matter. The scale of the challenge is such that even if all the wealthy countries of the world matched our 0.7% commitment on aid and prioritised education, as I wish they would, it would not provide the money that is needed. Alongside increased aid, we need to look at other mechanisms that mobilise resources for education. The international finance facility for education, which has been promoted by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was first recommended three years ago. It has been given support in principle by the British Government as well as the United Nations, the World Bank and regional development banks. The aim is to multiply donor resources and motivate countries to increase their own investments. I genuinely believe that the facility, once up and running, has the potential to help deliver better-quality education to millions of the most marginalised children. It aims to raise at least $10 billion of additional finance to help meet global goal 4 and thus—to remind ourselves—guarantee that by 2030 every child has access to quality primary and secondary education, and, crucially, quality pre-school learning. We know from all the evidence that early investment in education makes the largest difference to life chances. I know that the Secretary of State has offered her support in principle to the finance facility. I hope we will hear soon that the British Government are able to match that principled support with financial support.
One of the central aims of the global goals adopted almost four years ago is to leave no one behind. If we are to achieve that goal in education, it will require the sustainable increase in finance that I have described, but also a relentless focus on access, on the most marginalised and on quality, to which Members in this debate have rightly given priority. There is a worrying trend: despite a lot of progress since the millennium development goals were adopted almost two decades ago, education outcomes among the most marginalised have stagnated in many countries. In some cases, they have even declined, particularly in countries affected by conflict and with resulting displacement. It is incumbent on our country, the UK and the wider international community to step up our efforts to deliver on the pledge to leave no one behind in education.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow East and the Send My Friend to School coalition for providing the House with this opportunity to address such a crucial issue. If we get this right, we can make a massive difference to millions of children and young people, and their families, around the world.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate. I apologise, Mr Hollobone, for not being here on time; I was at the Backbench Business Committee asking for a debate that I will hopefully secure in the near future. The issue is of particular importance to me. I want to put on the record my thanks to the Minister for the commitment and passion that she has shown in her role. We understand that we will get a positive response from her, and I look forward to that. I also very much look forward to the contribution from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill).
My constituents—indeed, all our constituents—have been involved in the Send My Friend to School campaign. I remember taking the petitions, and the massive piece of cardboard that they were put on, to No. 10 Downing Street to hand it over to Prime Minister David Cameron. That was great for the kids back home in the schools, because it meant that what they were doing in the primary schools in my constituency was being heard by the Prime Minister and the Government at the highest level. It was really good news.
Hon. Members know that in my role as chair of the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, I have campaigned for many years on behalf of those who are persecuted for their faith, and indeed those who are persecuted for having no faith at all. The groups are often some of the most marginalised communities in the world. One of the most important ways in which they are marginalised is through the denial of their right to education. I was reading about Send My Friend to School. Particularly young girls have been penalised, unfortunately, and children experience unfair treatment for reasons including having a disability—a point to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) referred—being a girl in a place where gender discrimination is rife; living in a rural area; experiencing poverty; and being caught up in an emergency. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) referred to Nigeria. I pray for the young girl, Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram almost two years ago and has still not been released because she is a Christian, whereas all the others were released. I am conscious of that as well.
I want to speak about three things: the state of education discrimination against religious or belief minorities; the benefits of tackling such discrimination; and what the UK Government can do to address that unjust discrimination. Last year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide produced its excellent “Faith and a Future” report, which examined the state of education discrimination against religious or belief minorities in countries around the world. It found that children and young people from marginalised religious or belief communities are often significantly discriminated against in many different ways when it comes to education.
In September last year, along with colleagues from this House and the House of Lords, I visited Pakistan, where children from minority faith communities are regularly subjected to psychological and physical abuse by fellow students and even teachers. We were able to talk to some of those who suffered discrimination because of their religious beliefs in Pakistan. I am pleased to see that Dr Shoaib Suddle has been appointed to his role; I tabled an early-day motion on that subject. Hopefully he will be able to address some of the issues of minority religious, sex and ethnic groups in Pakistan.
In Burma, non-Buddhist children from Chin State are placed in Government-run Buddhist monastic schools, where they are prohibited from practising their faith and are forcibly converted. In Iran, Baha’i children and young people find their access to education at all levels actively denied by state law policies. I have spoken numerous times about the Baha’is. I grieve for them, because when it comes to education in Iran, they are directly discriminated against.
CSW’s report highlights how intolerance in education systems is often facilitated by school curricula and textbooks, which, at their worst, stigmatise and incite violence towards religious or belief minorities, and at their best simply omit those groups from curricula entirely to paint a picture of countries that have only one religion or belief. There is no country in the world that I am aware of that has only one religion or belief among its constituents, its people, its nation. Such intolerance often leads to violence, both in schools and wider society. Just last week, I heard the heartbreaking story of a young Pakistani boy who was stabbed with a machete by his schoolmates simply for the crime of being Christian. In Pakistan, I met a young lady who has a doctorate, but who was in one of the Christian slums, giving children the rudiments of an education, to give them a chance to better themselves.
DFID has clearly invested large amounts of money in Pakistan, which is a country close to my heart—as many countries are; but I have always had a soft spot for Pakistan, although last year was my first time visiting it. DFID has invested almost £680 million in education in Pakistan, including £122.7 million in 2017-18. I am not sure whether the Minister will be able to respond, but I would certainly like to be reassured that the money is going to people of different religions and to ethnic minorities. It is important that that be on the record.
Is it any wonder that some turn to violence or extremism when they are repeatedly told, from an early age, that certain people are bad and do not even deserve to come to the same school? What message do we expect children to learn if we turn a blind eye to bullying, deny certain belief groups access to education, ignore their contribution to society—they clearly have a contribution to make—and at every level suggest that they are inferior, wicked or unworthy? How can we hope for societies free of the scourge of extremism and violence when school textbooks preach hate against certain communities? That is why tackling educational discrimination against religious or belief communities is so important.
That leads me to my second point. In the long term, if we want to reduce conflict and build cohesive communities that are resilient against violence and extremism, both in the UK and around the world, we must invest in education systems that celebrate diversity and encourage mutual respect. I thank the Library for its comprehensive and detailed background briefing for the debate, which contains many helpful comments. It quotes a speech that seems to me the key to the debate, or its core:
“People—children—are not broken just by the wave that submerges the life vest or the convoy that does not make it to the besieged town. They are broken by the absence of hope—the soul-crushing certainty that there is nothing ahead for which to plan or prepare, not even a place in school.”
Today’s debate is about giving them hope and opportunity.
“What holds them back is not just their location, their homelessness, and their poverty—but the death of their dreams. The only way to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of every child at school is for a child’s real passport to the future stamped in the classroom—and not at a border check post.”
That is the key to what we are trying to achieve.
Apart from the obvious benefits of tackling educational discrimination against marginalised religious or belief communities, the other principal benefit for Governments is the economic growth that can come from giving whole communities the skills and knowledge to participate in the workforce. In 2012, a UNESCO report found that for every $1 spent on increasing education, as much as $10 or $15 could be generated in economic growth. That is the sort of considerable return on an investment that we all wish for—a 1,000% or 1,500% return. It is also a considerable investment in young people and the education that we want them to have.
Another speech quoted in the Library briefing states that
“your education stays with you. It defines your future path, whatever start you may have got in life. Wherever you go in the world—this is a universal truth.”
It mentions Malala, the young girl who was shot in the head in Pakistan:
“Remember what Malala told the UN after being shot in the head for going to school: ‘The terrorists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them.’”
That is another reason for pushing education and giving everyone who really wants it the opportunity to have it.
I want to finish within the timescale you asked for, Mr Hollobone, and to set out five things that can be done to tackle educational discrimination. First, DFID can invest more resources in training programmes for teachers around the world that will teach them how to promote tolerance and respect in the classroom. We can all probably identify a teacher or teachers who had a significant impact on our lives. I am no different; I can do so quickly. There were a number of my teachers who promoted tolerance and respect in the classroom, and we need to do that. That focus is my No. 1 point.
Secondly, the UK could work with Governments to develop school curriculums that promote respect for others and include the contribution of minorities. How greatly that is needed! I automatically think of the example of Pakistan, because of my visit last year; the Government there sets aside 5% of jobs for religious minorities and ethnic groups, but if a person does not have the educational achievement, they cannot get one of those 5% of jobs, and will end up doing the most menial of jobs. Let us give those people the opportunity for educational attainment, so that they can achieve and get jobs. There are jobs, including jobs for nurses, but training is needed if people are to get those jobs and move forward.
The UK can show its commitment to the endeavour by doing the same in UK schools. The Government could take the lead by ensuring that the contribution of minorities—such as the Commonwealth soldiers from India and elsewhere, who fought and died for the United Kingdom in the great wars—is recognised in the British school curriculum. DFID could make funding available to non-governmental organisations that provide education to those in marginalised religious and belief communities, seeking them out and helping them to achieve that remarkable goal.
The last of my suggestions is that the UK could encourage countries such as Pakistan to commit to temporary measures to address educational discrimination, such as having quotas for people from religious or belief minorities in educational institutions. We want members of Christian and other religious minorities, and ethnic minorities, to get the chance to be teachers in schools. Would not that be a wonderful opportunity? What an achievement it would be if some of the people DFID encouraged could do that for children around the world.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this important and timely debate and for his insightful reflections on his time in Tanzania, which obviously proved incredibly fruitful. They were an education for all of us in the Chamber, and for those who are watching the debate. It has been a pleasure to hear all the speeches this afternoon, which have put the highest value on education. I am reading a speech that I have written, and many people in the world will never have the opportunity to do such a thing. It goes without saying that I and my colleagues, and the Clerks and anyone else working here, would not be here without the essential education that has been provided. Another thing that goes without saying is that education is a human right—and not only that: quality education should be a human right for all.
Without doubt, education can be the most valuable tool in the fight against global poverty. Public health, skilled workforces, economic prosperity, civil society and peace all benefit from sustained development of global education. Yet some of the world’s most vulnerable people have no access to education, which leaves millions of children locked out of learning altogether, because of humanitarian crises across the world.
It was nice to hear Members reflect on their time in local schools. I was at Camperdown Primary School two or three weeks ago, and a programme was being run there on what it is to be a global leader. Homelessness, peace in the world and prosperity were highlighted as priorities, but everyone prioritised education. Those were P5 to P7 children, so I am looking forward to sending my speech to them after the debate—because it is for people in my own communities that I am speaking, as well as those around the world who have no education.
The UNHCR has reported that
“over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from just under 34 million in 1997 to 68.5 million in 2019.”
In other words, in 30 years it has more than doubled and, indeed, is more than the entire population of the UK. That trend is set only to increase with the continuing impact of climate change. Astonishingly, those people include more than 25 million refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 18, and refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers. In the Central African Republic, for example, half a million children are out of school, and in Afghanistan, 3.7 million children—more than 2 million of whom are girls—are being denied an education. UNESCO has estimated that twice as many girls as boys will never start school. Can anyone in this room imagine that happening to their own children or in our society?
My esteemed colleague, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs the International Development Committee, mentioned the 1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, which I visited along with the Committee last year. Some 70% of those refugees have no access to education, which is a great loss for that generation. The Rohingya are in Bangladesh because of the most awful crimes in Burma that were akin to genocide, and because a lack of education in Burma resulted in the targeting of ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya—another reason why education is fundamental for all. The story is the same in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world. The Education Cannot Wait fund has estimated that 75 million children worldwide have had their education disrupted because of conflict in the last decade alone.
As we heard, in 2017, the International Development Committee, on which I sit, published a report on the Department’s work on education, highlighting the global learning crisis. It recommended that DFID increase its share of UK aid for global education and give the full amount requested—$500 million—to the Global Partnership for Education. The report went on to state that the groups most likely to be left out of education are the most vulnerable—the very poorest, girls, disabled children, and those affected by conflict and emergencies. To be sure of fulfilling the UK Government’s commitment to the sustainable development goals, DFID must now focus on those groups and ensure that no one is left behind.
Aid spending has been in the press over the past couple of weeks, and we should be mindful of that issue—indeed, I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) mention the importance of that 70p in every £100. I have been deeply concerned over the past couple of weeks to hear the former Foreign Secretary call for a change in the Department’s purpose from poverty reduction, to furthering
“the nation’s overall strategic goals”.
Last weekend, we learned that private letters have been sent to the Chancellor by a number of international development organisations and charities, warning that UK aid is being diverted from the poorest countries to promote commercial and political interests. I have said this many times in the Chamber, and I cannot emphasise it enough: development spending must be focused on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and on alleviating global poverty, not on advancing the UK’s foreign policy goals.
It is particularly concerning that a recent UNESCO report noted a clear decline in the proportion of international aid being spent on education since 2011, and stated that levels of international aid for education remain much lower than aid allocated, for example, to government and civil society, health, or infrastructure. Last year, the UK increased its support for global education funding in developing countries by 50% to £75 million per year. That is undoubtedly welcome, but to put it into perspective, last year schools in the UK spent more than £75 million just on advertising for new staff. If the UK Government are serious about helping children to access education, they must commit to increase funding, and ensure that it reaches the most vulnerable people. Will the Minister confirm whether her Department will review and increase the UK’s commitment to the Education Cannot Wait fund this year?
The SNP is clear: aid spending must contribute to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality, and there are few better ways to do that than by funding education for the world’s most vulnerable people. If we are to establish lasting peace in regions of the world that are scarred by conflict, education must be the foundation on which that is built. DFID is recognised as a global leader in promoting education in developing countries, and I urge the Minister to consider the needs of the most marginalised children and young people across the world and to put money—as recommended in the Committee’s report—into championing those needs. I want to go home to my constituency and say to the young children I met just a few weeks ago that this country is truly delivering on education and global leadership.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this debate and for his passionate speech. I congratulate the Send My Friend to School coalition on its report, and on its broader work in calling for quality education for children across the globe. I thank the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for his contribution—it is wonderful that schools in his constituency are involved in the Send My Friend to School campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) shared her experience of education provision in Nairobi, and spoke of her concerns about Bridge International, making the point that education should be free from commercial interests. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke in support of the 0.7% commitment for UK foreign aid, which was welcome, and reminded us that for every £100 made in the UK, 70p goes towards foreign aid. I thank him for that contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs the International Development Committee, made a passionate speech to remind us of our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4, not just globally but in the UK. Education in emergencies was a key aspect of his speech, and I thank him not just for highlighting the challenges but for offering solutions. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who chairs the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, spoke about children who are discriminated against based on their faith and belief when accessing education, and he rightly raised concerns about what some children are taught about intolerance of others. He is a great champion in the work he does, and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.
As we have heard, the most marginalised people are not a homogenous group, and we must consider how people with disabilities are treated and catered for, how refugees and internally displaced people may be excluded from formal education, and what impact emergencies and conflict situations have on access to education, especially in countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which may not garner as much international attention or resource mobilisation. Each group deserves to be recognised, and the specific nature of their educational needs addressed.
The World Bank’s “World Development Report 2018” declared an international learning crisis. Across the world, some 260 million children are not enrolled in primary or secondary school, and many of those who are do not receive the quality of education that they need to equip them with the skills required to thrive in adulthood. The report from the Send My Friend to School coalition presents a series of practical suggestions about ways to provide quality education for all.
Hon. Members have rightly raised issues and concerns about the vast number of young people who are not getting the education they deserve. Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that girls living in poverty in Pakistan and Nigeria spend an average of just one year in school, and in India, Mozambique, Cameroon and Sierra Leone they spend just two years. That figure is even more shocking when compared with wealthy urban boys in those countries who receive between 10 and 12 years of education. Limited educational opportunities for girls are not only a human rights issue, as girls are unable to realise their right to education, but cost countries trillions of dollars in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.
Last year, Save the Children revealed that we are not on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4.1, which seeks to ensure that all girls and boys
“complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.
Does the Minister acknowledge that warning? With 85% of children in low-income countries having no access to pre-primary education, what does she make of the chances of reaching target 4.2, and does she think we will meet the global goal of education for all?
I appreciate that the Government have acknowledged there is a problem with marginalisation and inequality, particularly for women and girls, but unfortunately they have not always undertaken projects that will reach the most marginalised. Analysis carried out in 2016 by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact into DFID’s support for marginalised girls stated:
“DFID does not have a coherent strategy for addressing girls’ marginalisation in education, and that its various activities are not well joined up.”
ICAI went on to say that it had
“identified a clear pattern of DFID programmes losing their focus on marginalised girls through the implementation process, leading to disappointing results.”
The Government have had almost three years to act on those disappointing findings. Will the Minister explain how the Government have addressed those concerns, and what work they will undertake to ensure that all girls receive the education that they need?
I would particularly welcome the Minister’s response to those points, given that a more recent evaluation of DFID’s partnerships with the private sector under the girls’ education challenge—the so-called strategic partnership windows—found that those projects undertaken in partnership with the private sector
“had little or no impact on literacy and numeracy outcomes of the marginalised girls that they reached.”
The evaluation also found:
“Projects focussed on marginalised regions, not always on the most marginalised girls.”
Most peculiarly for projects designed to reach marginalised girls, they actually reached more boys than girls.
The Opposition recognise that the main way to address inequality and access to quality education is to build strong public services. I welcome the fact that the vast majority of DFID education funding goes to public education, but I am concerned about the minority of UK aid that supports for-profit private education because, as I have just mentioned, we know that such models cannot reach the most marginalised children.
On the matter of UK aid being used to support commercial education companies, I am deeply concerned that during January’s education world forum the Minister reportedly met with the Ugandan Minister of Education to discuss expanding private British education centres in Uganda. Will she guarantee that DFID’s work on education will always prioritise the children who need to access education, and that she will not seek to use the aid budget to further the commercial interests of UK companies?
With regard to global education, the UK rightly seeks to be a global player. To do that effectively we must remain open to learning from others. The European Parliament recently passed a strong resolution in relation to its aid spending on education. Among other things, it concurs with the recommendation in the report that we are discussing today that we should ensure that education aid is free from commercial interests, that we do not support for-profit providers, and that education is free and universally available at the point of use by reaffirming a commitment not to use official development assistance to support private, commercial educational establishments. Does the Minister agree with that recommendation?
I congratulate the human rights experts who drafted and adopted the Abidjan principles on the right to education two weeks ago in Ivory Coast. The principles recognise that free, quality education is a universal right, and that the role of private actors in education must be regulated to ensure that they do not undermine that right. When the final document is published in March, will the Minister agree to look at it and act on advice on the rules and regulations necessary to ensure that private schools do not negatively affect the right of everyone to access a free, quality public education? Will she also encourage all states where DFID operates to ensure that all UK programmes, policies and projects support public education systems, which are the most effective way to advance equity?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the Send My Friend to School campaign, which has successfully engaged so many children, particularly in primary schools, on the importance of education around the world, and the work that we do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about 70p for every £100. I think £100 is probably too much money for most primary school children to relate to, so when I go into primary schools I use the example of whether, if they had £10 in pocket money, 7p would seem too much or too little to spend on overseas development assistance. I am always encouraged by the support shown for it by young people.
I am proud to have been a member of the Government that enshrined the 0.7% commitment into statute, and I am proud that all the major political parties in this country stood at the last election on platforms of continuing to respect that commitment. The support shown for it by young people gives me great confidence that the primary school children of today will continue to endorse it when they become voters.
I highlight one of the excellent programmes that we run from the Department for International Development—the Connecting Classrooms initiative. Not all hon. Members may have yet had the opportunity to promote that in their primary schools. I do not know whether Mount Vernon Primary School or Northgate Primary School have thought about applying to be Connecting Classrooms schools, but in my constituency, for example, Great Malvern Primary School and 10 other primary schools in the Malvern area have a very vibrant link that has lasted for a decade with schools in Tanzania. I know how much the young people and teachers in both countries have benefited from those links, so I draw hon. Members’ attention to that.
In his excellent opening speech, the hon. Member for Glasgow East highlighted the importance of education for girls, children with disabilities and refugee children. I will highlight the work that the UK Government do on that. The only area of political dissent, in a remarkable debate which saw an outbreak of consensus, was on whether private investment in education around the world should be allowed. As Members pointed out, the UK itself is not currently using any of our overseas development assistance with Bridge schools, although 5% of the education support that we give does go to schools where private capital is involved. CDC, which is our private sector investment arm, does have an investment in Bridge schools—an investment that creates a return that can then be further used to expand education.
I am not in the same ideological camp as Opposition Members: I am much more open-minded. We need to focus on 12 years of quality education for all. That should be the objective. I was inclined to support what the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said regarding the fact that all the development budgets of all the countries in the world will not be enough for us to address the learning gap that Members have rightly highlighted. Therefore, why should we be ideological and draw the line at other providers coming in and providing support?
In my constituency of Strangford, Elim Missions is a very active church group that helps in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Many other churches do similar educational projects outside of what DFID does. We all know of such examples from our constituencies—the Minister probably knows of some from her own. We should put on record our thanks to those church groups and faith groups for all that they do.
The people of the United Kingdom are remarkably generous, and I am always struck by the range of different ways in which people help to support this agenda, independently of what we are doing in DFID. I pay tribute to all that work, and highlight the small charities fund within DFID, from which people can apply for funding for their projects. Opportunities are also given by aid match. Mention was made earlier of child soldiers in the Central African Republic. We were able to aid match War Child’s project; for every £1 raised by the British public, we matched that with £1. That is just one example of how we can draw on the generosity of the British people.
I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley as trade envoy to Nigeria. He mentioned Boko Haram. It is worth reminding ourselves that the very words “boko haram” effectively mean “western education is a sin”, loosely translated. It is so important to recognise the power of education in combating those dangerous terrorist movements. Colleagues also highlighted the importance of teacher education in delivering 12 years of quality education.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby asked about the International Finance Facility. As he well knows, we support that principle. We support anything that is successful in bringing more funding into this important agenda. We are doing more technical design work, and then we will set out the UK’s position as far as that is concerned.
I say to the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), that we should all acknowledge that we are not on track in terms of meeting Sustainable Development Goals 4.1 and 4.2 by 2030. The world has not done enough to address that, so I welcome Members’ support for the work we do and encouragement for us to do even more.
I was saddened that the hon. Lady mentioned the ICAI report dating back to 2016. She will be aware that we have subsequently published a very clear and welcome education strategy paper, and that we have made further announcements about funding to address girls’ education. On my bilateral meeting with the Ugandan Education Minister during the Education World Forum, I do not recall the specific point the hon. Lady mentioned, but I remember telling the Minister how much I had enjoyed visiting a school run by Promoting Equality in African Schools in Kampala this year. I believe that may be a privately funded provider. It is outstanding, so I reiterate on the record my support for the excellent education I saw being delivered.
We heard resounding support for the UK’s campaign for 12 years of quality education. We are absolutely committed to driving a step change in the global response to the learning crisis that colleagues rightly highlighted, and we match our commitment with resources. In fact, I hope colleagues report back to the schools in their constituencies that the UK provides more than 10% of all global education funding through overseas development assistance. We work bilaterally in 23 countries and multilaterally in 66 further countries. I am immensely proud—I hope colleagues report this back, too—that between 2015 and 2017 the UK supported 7.1 million children to gain a decent education, of whom at least 3.3 million were girls.
In fighting marginalisation, our first priority is to close the gender gap, which a number of colleagues mentioned. We use our position on the world stage to shine a spotlight on the needs of the most marginalised and their right to a basic education. In the past year, we have joined forces with international partners at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting; at the G7 in Canada, where the Prime Minister announced further funding to help girls’ education; and of course at the United Nations last September. I can commit to all those hon. Members who asked that we will continue to look to such forums to lead the campaign on 12 years of quality education.
DFID’s published education policy prioritises three things: better teaching, identifying and backing system reforms that will deliver better results, and, above all, targeting the most marginalised children, who are at risk of being left behind. We heard staggering figures on the learning gap, and people highlighted the particular challenges for children with disabilities and those who never attend school. Children in conflict-affected countries are a third less likely to complete primary school, and girls in sub-Saharan Africa are nearly 25% more likely than boys to be out of school.
Educating girls is one of the best buys in development spending, because one extra year of primary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by 10% to 20%. We know, too, that educating girls is the bedrock of healthier and more peaceful societies. The UK is therefore committed to supporting girls to access a quality education.
Last year was a landmark year for girls’ education. DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Education all got behind the Government’s girls’ education campaign, Leave No Girl Behind. Our flagship girls’ education challenge supports up to 1.5 million girls to access education and acquire know-how for their life and work. Many of the initiatives that form part of that provision will help girls who do not attend school because of menstruation, and will combine with other work we do to ensure access to water and sanitation. In the coming months, that challenge fund will reach 250,000 highly marginalised girls who have never attended school or have dropped out due to poverty, motherhood, disability or conflict, and, importantly, give them a second chance to learn.
Colleagues mentioned children with disabilities. We held a summit last year to tackle that important issue. I do not have time to draw out the progress that has been made as a result of that summit, but I assure colleagues that Governments in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and elsewhere have stepped up their provision and their commitment to giving children access.
Colleagues also mentioned children who are suffering through conflict and crisis in places where education can be the difference between a future of exploitation and squandered potential, and one of hope. Education can give children the tools to rebuild their lives and, eventually, their countries. School provides children with stability in a conflict environment. That is why we are proud to be a founder of, and one of the largest contributors to, Education Cannot Wait, which reached more than 650,000 children last year and built more than 1,000 classrooms. We are reviewing and renewing our funding for education in emergencies. Our objective is to get displaced and refugee children into classrooms faster, and to put short-term international funding on a much longer term footing.
We also fund the Global Partnership for Education. We will fully support 880,000 children in schools for each of the three years covered by our pledge. Some 450,000 of those children will be in fragile and conflict-affected states. Whether it is in Syria, in Lebanon or in other conflict-affected areas, we are doing what we can. We also announced our endorsement of the safe schools declaration, which underlines our political support for the protection of schools and the children in them. We will step up our work in the Sahel; Niger was mentioned, and I also highlight the work we are planning to do in Chad.
Let me conclude by again congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow East on securing the debate. I hope a large degree of consensus was reached. We are committed to continuing this important work.
At one point I was worried the debate would collapse early, given the rate at which we were getting through speeches, but we can always rely on certain Members—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) included—to pad things out.
In all seriousness, we had an excellent debate. I often say to my constituents back home in Glasgow that Westminster Hall is the place where I most enjoy being in Westminster. I am a Scottish nationalist politician, so I generally do not enjoy being in Westminster, but Westminster Hall is the safe space I come to. It is a place where we do consensus politics, and the House is at its best when we speak with one voice.
The Minister is right that there was only one bone of contention. Well, perhaps there were two, if we count whether we should explain 0.7% to primary school pupils as 70p in £100 or 7p in a tenner, but the only real bone of contention was private involvement, on which there is perhaps more for us to talk about.
Debates like this are about ensuring that the House empowers the Minister to go to the Treasury and argue for further investment and resources. I think we did that very well. Much more can be done to move this agenda forward through the all-party parliamentary group on global education for all, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), but given the consensus we heard today, I am confident that we can move forward. I am sure we all look forward to having many more debates like this one and much more of the open dialogue I have greatly appreciated this afternoon.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered global education for the most marginalised.