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Global Education Summit

Volume 813: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what outcomes they expect from the Global Education Summit being co-hosted by the United Kingdom and Kenya on 28 and 29 July.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my entry in the Lords register: my additional honorary ambassadorial role with the Global Partnership for Education.

My Lords, at the Global Education Summit we will set the Global Partnership for Education on a path to secure its five-year funding target of $5 billion, providing the single biggest-ever boost to children’s education opportunities around the world. We will also diversify GPE’s donor base, work with our co-host to ensure that eligible developing countries sign a political declaration on education and secure further support for the girls’ education objectives endorsed by the G7.

My Lords, the Global Partnership for Education works in 76 different countries around the world to build the efficiency, equity and volume of education systems in those countries. It is in those low-income countries—where, for example, two-thirds of girls do not complete primary school—that education is most required, and we know how important it is. Given that the Government have become probably the first country in history to host a global summit to refinance education at the same time as cutting the budget, what will the Government’s strategy be to ensure that that gap is filled by others but also that we achieve that $5 billion target that will see so much more education available throughout the world?

The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the importance of the $5 billion target. With that money, the GPE could support 175 million girls and boys to learn, reach 140 million more students with professionally trained teachers, enrol 88 million more children in school, and help Governments save $16 billion through more efficient spending. The UK is leading the way in the run-up to the summit. We have pledged £430 million, an uplift of 15% on our largest ever pledge to the global partnership. With our co-host, President Kenyatta, we are urging other nations to step up, as well as the private sector and charitable and philanthropic foundations such as the LEGO Foundation, which recently pledged $23 million, which is very welcome indeed.

My Lords, it is estimated that there has been a $210 billion reduction in domestic financing for education caused by falling GDP and tax revenues triggered by Covid. To pick up my noble friend’s point, it is really important that the voices of low-income countries are heard. What is the Government’s assessment of President Kenyatta’s call for broader and bolder action on debt relief, and for addressing long-term global liquidity needs through a meaningful new allocation of special drawing rights by the IMF and the redistribution of these to lower-income countries?

My Lords, of course, the pandemic has threatened education finance at a time when it is needed most. We are very glad that President Kenyatta has written to partner countries calling for them all to protect pre-pandemic levels of education spending. We are looking forward to working with him at the summit to address exactly these points.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the Global Education Coalition that children who are victims of the pandemic should be prioritised through remote learning? There are also other deserving groups. What about teaching children who are injured or who cannot attend the school because they live close to minefields? Surely this is hardly the time to cut UK aid to organisations such as the Mines Advisory Group by almost 50%.

My Lords, investing in education is the key to solving many of the world’s problems. It can improve global health and save lives and is vital to levelling up society, boosting incomes and ending poverty. As the noble Earl points out, this is about more than simply teaching. That is why education is a major priority for the Government and why we are spending more and pledging our largest ever sum to the global partnership.

I congratulate the Minister on co-hosting this very important meeting. I am sure he will agree that we should set an example by addressing our own educational challenges in the first instance. A recent report by Onward drew attention to 200,000 primary school students who have no alternative but to attend a school rated by Ofsted as inadequate or requiring improvement. Most of those correspond to areas in need of investment. Does the Minister agree that levelling up must start with education and that more should be done to improve these schools by incentivising the best managers and teachers in the country to take them on?

My noble friend is right. Levelling up in education is important, domestically as well as globally. Thanks to the education reforms that began when she was in government, more children are attending good or outstanding schools. We want to see that commitment to high-quality education continue throughout people’s lives, which is why the lifelong learning entitlement will make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly throughout their lives.

My Lords, grateful as we are for the Government’s commitment of £430 million to the replenishment fund, is it not likely that other Governments will also use the impact of Covid to cut aid and investment in girls’ education? What practical promises of commitment in hard-cash terms have been made to date by the G7 countries and G20 countries? Assuming a shortfall, how will Her Majesty’s Government make up the gap and close the deal, ensuring that the Global Partnership for Education has the promised resources to educate girls? We said we must, so will we?

At the recent G7 summit, the Prime Minister secured a landmark commitment from all the G7 partners to pledge at least $2.75 billion to the Global Partnership for Education ahead of the summit. We look forward to receiving more from this group, and call on others to make similarly ambitious pledges.

As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referenced, the impact of the pandemic on learning creates a greater need for countries to increase their investment in education just at the moment when their economies have shrunk. Will the UK ask the summit to set a goal for nations to increase the proportion of GDP that they spend on education year on year?

As I say, one of the cruellest aspects of the pandemic is that it threatens education finance at a time when it is needed most. That is why President Kenyatta has written to partner countries calling for them to protect pre-pandemic levels of spending and to work towards increasing it towards the global benchmark of 20% of total public expenditure. The Government support that call to action and hope that the summit will be an opportunity for our partners to make commitments not only to mobilise financing for education but to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of that spending.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the link between good family planning and girls being in education is exceptionally strong? Good access to family planning means smaller families, with more of those children in schools, and families and communities becoming more prosperous. Can he assure us that the cuts to family planning will be reversed in time for the Kenya meeting?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point out the many factors that have an impact on people’s access to education. In May the Prime Minister set out the girls’ education action plan, which sets out the steps that we will take to deliver our global objectives on girls’ education.

My Lords, the UK has secured—within the G7 communiqué, at least—$2.75 billion for the GPE. Will the UK Government consider expanding their pledge to encourage other countries to do the same to ensure that we genuinely reach the $5 billion GPE target?

As my noble friend may know, we are the GPE’s largest donor, having contributed more $1.6 billion since it was set up in 2002, and our new pledge will take our contributions to over $2 billion. Our contributions are currently around 13% of the GPE’s income and we encourage other nations, the private sector and philanthropic organisations to step up and do the same.

Apart from encouraging ambitious pledges to reach the $5 billion target to replenish the GPE, what other steps will the Government take to ensure that other resources are leveraged to improve literacy, given that, even before the pandemic, nine in 10 schoolchildren in lower-income countries were unable to read proficiently by the age of 10?

My Lords, the UK’s contribution to the GPE is only one of our tools in achieving our ambitions. Between 2015 and 2020 the UK supported over 15 million children in gaining a decent education, of whom 8 million were girls.

I draw attention to my interests in the register. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the significance of good health and hygiene practices in schools. Hygiene-related diseases are closely linked to increased student absenteeism, and poor hygiene facilities often lead to the exclusion of girls from school. At this important summit, will the UK Government be supporting resources going into water, sanitation and health projects in schools, or will they be too embarrassed by the cuts in support for those programmes that they are making?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to health being an important factor. Through the GPE’s Covid-19 response grants, we have been able to support the Government of Tanzania in building 1,000 new classrooms to help with overcrowding and social distancing when schools return there. Similarly, in Rwanda, GPE funds are supporting handwashing facilities for 2,500 schools. So through this work we are tackling health outcomes as well.