Earlier this week, UK Minister for Development, Andrew Mitchell joined the APPG on Global Education for a roundtable to discuss the urgency of the learning crisis whereby around two-thirds of ten year olds globally cannot read and hundreds of millions leave primary school unable to do basic maths. The discussion took place in the context of launching RESULTS UK’s new report, Foundations First, which offers 11 recommendations based around three core ‘Action Tracks’ to transform the UK’s record on foundational literacy and numeracy levels for children impacted by UK education aid programmes.

The APPG was also joined by Kirsty Newman, an expert in foundational learning for children in low- and middle-income countries and formerly of DFID and the RISE Programme, Sikemi Okunrinboye, a Global Partnership for Education youth leader, and Mark Henstridge, Programme Director of RISE.

The session was opened by APPG Co-Chair Yasmin Qureshi MP (Labour), who emphasised not only the need for urgent action to address the shockingly low levels of learning when it comes to literacy and numeracy in many regions around the world, but also the developmental potential of focusing on foundational learning. She cited how if we could ensure that all children were literate we would achieve a 12% reduction in global poverty levels, and bolster economic, climate and health resilience in doing so.

After an engaging overview of the scale of the challenge at hand when it comes to educating children in low- and middle-income countries to the level they deserve in literacy and numeracy, Kirsty left us with an inspiring message: “We don’t need to search for silver bullets, we already know what works when it comes to ensuring that children can learn to read, write and do basic maths, even in the lowest resource settings. Let’s focus our attention on those evidence based best-practices and we can rapidly improve learning levels.”

She rounded off by endorsing RESULTS’ report and highlighting its strength in both identifying how the UK can improve efficacy of its own basic education ODA programmes but also how it can work diplomatically to drive a focus on foundational learning amongst other ODA-granting countries, FCDO partner countries and with multilateral organisations.

Following on from Kirsty, Minister Andrew Mitchell outlined his long-standing commitment to global education, and particularly girls’ education, dating back to his previous tenure as Secretary of State for International Development, when the UK-led Girls’ Education Challenge was launched.  He added: “I would like to thank RESULTS UK for its incredibly useful report, providing more evidence for us to reach the most marginalised children with foundational learning. The FCDO is already working in line with its three Action Tracks, especially for marginalised girls”. He welcomed further engagement from APPG members, the expert speakers and RESULTS UK, in what he called an “open door” to help the UK Government better its record on foundational learning.

Global Partnership for Education youth leader, Sikemi Okunrinboye spoke passionately about the wide ranging benefits that providing a child with a proper foundational education can bring, including increasing likelihood of girls staying in school, giving them a chance to become economically independent and reducing their risk of early marriage. She spoke from the perspective of the communities she grew up with in Nigeria, seeing first hand how low literacy and numeracy levels are for teenagers she tutored from government schools and how having a basic command of reading, writing and maths would help female traders in her area.

Following on from the interventions, parliamentarians in attendance were able to discuss with the minister and speakers about opportunities for the UK improve its impact on the learning crisis. In doing so, they were able to examine several of RESULTS’ reports core recommendations around country targeting of UK ODA for basic education, financing (basic education ODA cuts), accelerating localisation, measurement of learning outcomes, and UK leveraging of other countries (both donors and education ministers in SSA) for more action on foundational literacy and numeracy.

The APPG would like to sincerely thank Minister Mitchell, Kirsty, Mark and Sikemi for joining us to discuss such an important topic and RESULTS UK for providing an excellent blueprint to improve UK impact through its Foundations First report. We look forward to continuing our work to shine a light on the learning crisis and continue to call for urgent UK and international action to address it through the APPG’s work in parliament.