On Tuesday this week, in Westminster Hall, MPs commendably raised the profile of global education through a debate secured by David Linden MP entitled ‘Global education for the most marginalised’.

The Send My Friend to School (SMF) coalition supported the debate and recently launched their 2019 campaign on this key issue with a report entitled Unlock Education for Everyone: Delivering the pledge to leave no one behind in education.  David Linden brilliantly opened the debate highlighting why marginalisation in education persists and what can be done by the UK government to tackle it.

Both the Westminster Hall debate and the SMF 2019 campaign are extremely timely. The United Nations High-Level Political Forum in July in New York will include a review of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which promises quality inclusive education for all by 2030. While there are some exceptions, an honest appraisal of progress towards achieving SDG4 will point to serious and often growing gaps. We know that too many children and young people are still being denied access to education, particularly the most marginalised.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This year presents some real opportunities to unlock education for everyone, including the most marginalised. But only if we nail down exactly how we’re going to do it, where the money is going to come from, and agree practical plans for accelerating progress for those furthest behind in education.

Agreement is not something the UK government is currently known for but, in contrast to Brexit-divisiveness, this debate saw some great cross-party consensus.  In particular, there were five key areas of agreement among MPs and Minister Baldwin:

1 The VALUE of children’s voice

It was SO wonderful to see MPs and Minister Baldwin all acknowledging children and young people’s right to participate and celebrating the value this brings through their praise of the Send my Friend to School coalition and the mass schools campaign SMF deliver every year.

SMF got more than 16 shout-outs during the debate, with MPs calling the schools campaign “outstanding” and Minister Baldwin praising SMF for “so successfully” engaging young people in the UK on global education while simultaneously supporting their citizenship skills.

This year for the 2019 SMF campaign, thousands of schools and young people across the UK will create and present paper keys to their local MP, calling on the UK to address marginalisation in education and unlock education for everyone.

2 The VALUE, and value for money, of education is undeniable

The debate conclusively acknowledged that education is a universal human right and that upholding this right has long-lasting and wide-ranging positive impacts for individuals, communities and the world – making investment in education a no-brainer from a value for money perspective.

Stephen Twigg, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Global Education summed it up brilliantly when he said, “education is crucial if we are to tackle the twin evils of global poverty and global inequality”, and this was echoed by other speakers who flagged the critical importance of education in preventing, ending and recovering from conflict and in achieving gender equality.  Indeed, Minister Baldwin stated “educating girls is one of the best buys in education spending”.

3 We need to IDENTIFY who is furthest behind and then ACCELERATE progress for the most marginalised

Preet Gill MP opened by crucially flagging the importance of reaffirming the pledge to leave no one behind in education as “we are not on track to achieve SDG4”, and that the ‘the most marginalised’ are “not a homogenous group”. Identifying those who are the furthest behind and what barriers they face in particular contexts is of critical importance to being able to accelerate their progress.

For example, Henry Smith MP gave a brilliant speech setting out the difficulty that many children with disabilities face in getting an education across the globe. Other speeches acknowledged gender, conflict, minority status and geography as key factors in children’s exclusion from education, and the fact that many of the most marginalised children experience two or more of these factors at the same time, so that they overlap and reinforce each other.

4 More and better education FINANCING is urgently needed

Underinvestment in education is a key reason why inequality in education persists.

MPs called for more and better international financing. John Howell MP encouraged a greater amount of official development assistance (ODA) for education. Chris Law MP called for UK aid, including education ODA, to be for the poorest and most vulnerable. And Stephen Twigg spoke to the potential of the International Financing Facility for Education, if done right, in closing the predicted $10 billion education funding shortfall by 2020, and a gap of over $25 billion in 2030.

The importance of more and better domestic financing for education was also highlighted. Stephen Twigg spoke about the importance of incentivising countries to increase their domestic spend on education through UK aid. He specifically highlighted the Global Partnership for Education’s (GPE) approach as commendable in doing this and why it therefore should be supported.

To receive the first 70% of a GPE grant, a developing country partner must commit to raising its own domestic spending on the implementation of the education sector plan (up to at least 20% of the national budget). Stephen Twigg highlighted a compelling example of success in Niger where GPE’s approach improved the country’s domestic spend on education from 5% to 22%, enabling primary completion to improve from 40% to 73% over eight years.

5 SPOTLIGHT on Education in Emergencies and Education Cannot Wait

Children and young people affected by emergencies and protracted crises are some of the most marginalised: refugee children, for example, are five times more likely to be out of school.

That’s why it is no surprise that the majority of MPs spoke to the challenges children in conflict- and crisis-affected contexts face in their pursuit of education. Most of them highlighted the importance of Education Cannot Wait (the world’s first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises) with an ask to the Minister specifically for the UK to renew and increase its commitment to Education Cannot Wait this year, and make an early announcement to encourage other donors to follow suit.

The only area of obvious contention in the debate was around the issue of PRIVATISATION in education and supporting for-profit providers.

Kate Osamor MP urged the government not to support for-profit education models with education aid and Preet Gill MP echoed this by highlighting strong public systems as the best way to reach the most marginalised. Minister Baldwin’s response identified the importance of achieving 12 years of quality education for all and that in some contexts public systems cannot currently be relied on to do this.

While the Minister’s point is not invalid, we cannot forget the world’s commitment via SDG4 to universal, quality and inclusive education, that is free at the point of use. This commitment must be safeguarded – we know that the most marginalised families often live in poverty and that fees are a major barrier to education for the world’s poorest.

2019 is the year to unlock education for everyone.

Crucially, the debate highlighted the cross-party consensus that we urgently need to address marginalisation in global education. MPs successfully raised the key issues and the profile of global education at a crucial time.

Next year marks ten years until the SDG4 target date, and so in 2019 we have the opportunity to course correct on marginalisation in global education. The UK government can do this by working with others to identify the furthest behind in education and then agreeing, financing and implementing the actions that will deliver the promised accelerated progress for these groups.

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