MPs from the UK Parliament’s International Development Select Committee have urged the Department for International Development (DFID) to do more to address the “shameful neglect” of school children in the world’s poorest countries.
The Committee’s letter, published in lieu of a full report because of the June election, is the culmination of a far reaching, nine-month inquiry into UK support for global education.
UK aid is making a difference
The Committee recognised DFID’s support for education: over the last five years UK aid has helped 11 million children to get an education including via support for training 177,000 teachers, building classrooms and ensuring the poorest girls and boys have school bursaries and textbooks. Without it these children will have been robbed of the chance to go to school and to acquire the skills and knowledge essential for a life of dignity.
A failure to educate these children will have made them more vulnerable to disease and exploitation, costing both their own countries and the international community more in the longer term.
But the UK should do more and could do it better
The Committee was also clear that the UK can and should do more. It set out a number of recommendations that would secure a step change in the impact that the UK’s support has on children’s learning around the world, including increasing its support for early learning.
Ensuring children are ready to learn when they start school
UK aid has helped secure a significant increase in the number of children enrolling in and completing primary education, which is a very good thing.
However, the fact that many of these children don’t have access to pre-primary learning opportunities, which would help ensure they’re ready to succeed when they start school, means that too may drop out, repeat or go through the first four years of primary school without learning very much.
The Committee points out that DFID spends just 1.3% of its basic education funding on early childhood education and urges it to consider spending more.
They quote Save the Children CEO Kevin Watkins, who during his appearance before the Committee said that the current low spending on early years had to be seen as a “shooting-yourself-in-the-foot strategy”, because by neglecting early childhood education “you are driving down the learning outcomes from the investments you are putting in place”.
We welcome the Committee’s recommendation that DFID should play a significant part in securing greater support for early childhood education, especially for the most vulnerable children.
Education in emergencies
The Committee shone a helpful light on the state of education in conflict and disaster contexts.
Education remains hugely neglected as a proportion of humanitarian aid, currently making up just 1.8% of all humanitarian funding, when the globally agreed target is 4%.
The Committee acknowledged DFID’s role as a founding funder of Education Cannot Wait: the fund for education in emergencies and we join the Committee in urging DFID to set out its plans for continued support to ECW.
During their visit to Jordan and Lebanon, MPs on the Committee witnessed the “extraordinary support” DFID has given to the governments there to ensure that education can be accessed by those children who have fled conflict in neighbouring Syria. Like them I’ve seen and was also impressed by the difference the UK’s support is making to the education of Syrian refugees.
But the Committee also pointed to the disparity between DFID’s support for refugee education in the Middle East, compared with its support for education provision for refugees in East Africa, where refugees are also on the move high as a result of conflict.
For the vast majority of refugee children, education is at best interrupted and at worst never realised. The UK can lead the way in reversing the double jeopardy that means child refugees lose both their homes and the opportunity to go to school.
Growing the proportion of UK aid spent on education
The cross-party Committee welcomed the government’s re-commitment to the overseas aid target of 0.7% of gross national income and called for more of those funds to be spent on education.
The Committee recommends an uplift in education spending from 8 to 10% of the available budget. We welcome this recommendation as the first step in an ongoing effort to grow support both from the UK, other donors and national governments in developing countries, for education.
Directing more funding to education via multilateral efforts will mean that we can use our influence to shape donor and recipient government policy more effectively.
To that end we join with the Committee in acknowledging the important role the Global Partnership for Education plays and support the Committee’s recommendation that the UK continues to fund GPE, and step up its efforts to encourage other donors to do so too.
Education at the heart of a Global Britain
The Committee identified that DFID has significant political capital and influence among donors and nongovernmental actors in the international development sector.
We urged the Committee to use that capital to act as a leader and global advocate on education, where there has been relative apathy from the international community in recent years. We were delighted to see that the Committee has done so too.
The UK has a vital role to play in encouraging other donors to allocate more funding to education and ensure that current funding is allocated where it is most needed and spent on the most effective approaches to securing children’s learning. Education is a driver of peace and prosperity and what better place to be for the U.K. than at the centre of a global effort to secure these things.
The Committee’s letter provides a blue print for delivering exactly that and we urge the next government to incorporate all of the Committee’s recommendations into a new strategy for education and international development.