LONDON – 26.1.22
Members of Parliament (MPs) gathered in Westminster Hall earlier today to hold a Backbench Business Committee debate to mark International Day of Education. In a lively and passionate discussion, MPs from across the political spectrum came together to focus on a range of global education challenges, highlight opportunities for the UK to drive forward progress, and demand urgent collective action.
Attending from the UK Government was Minister of State at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Girls’ Education, Helen Grant MP.
There was consensus on potential and inalienable right of girls’ access to at least 12 years of quality education, and widespread support for the UK’s prioritisation of it. Within that context, three themes dominated the discussion: the upcoming Education Cannot Wait (ECW) replenishment, the importance of foundational learning, and the deteriorating situation for women and girls in Afghanistan.
With ECW’s High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva just weeks away, MPs were keen to spotlight the importance of ensuring the organisation is fully-funded to the tune of US$1.5 billion. As raised by APPG on Global Education Co-Chair, Bambos Charalambous MP (Labour), the number of children living in emergencies in protracted crises has risen 196% since 2016 meaning that there are now 222 million children facing this predicament. With the need never greater, Mr. Charalambous urged the UK Government to heed the calls of cross-party parliamentarians, civil society and members of the British public to invest £170 million in ECW.
Conservatives Harriett Baldwin MP and Vicky Ford MP echoed these calls, with the former citing she had witnessed first-hand how ECW rapidly reaches refugee children with education and urged the minister and her officials to study “the results and impact that ECW has delivered in these settings around the world”. Ms. Baldwin lauded the “very powerful value for money” that ECW offers and said there was an “opportunity for the UK to continue to show leadership.. with the replenishment with ECW”. Ms. Ford also added that “UK leadership is key” in this area but warned, “if we step away from the promises we have made to the children of the world… then other donors may also step back and reduce or delay their own investments”.
On foundational literacy and numeracy there were a number of powerful interventions with several MPs giving time to stress the severity of the global learning crisis and urgent need for the UK to step up its impact in addressing it. Ms. Ford in particular raised how it is often the lowest-income countries where levels of illiteracy and innumeracy are most severe and reminded us that “maths and reading are the vital building blocks on which all learning upon which all education is founded”.
Citing that just one in ten of the 222 million crisis-affected children meet minimum proficiency levels in reading and maths, Mr. Charalambous drew an important parallel between the learning crisis and the role of Education Cannot Wait. He concluded by saying that crisis-affected children “deserve to learn to read, write, do maths and prosper as much as any other child” , and that “these children are holding onto the hope that education will allow them to realise their dream of becoming a doctor, an engineer a scientist or a teacher”
Recognising these calls, Special Envoy Helen Grant urged governments “to prioritise education reforms, listen to civil society and not be afraid to partner with technical experts… to design reforms around evidence of what works”. She added, “We need to urgently recover from learning losses caused by COVID by focusing on foundational learning skills. Basic numeracy and literacy are essential for children to stay in school and progress to higher levels”.
Responding on behalf of the government, Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that on foundational learning “we face a very real risk of a lost generation and we cannot let that happen”. Both Minster Trevelyan and Special Envoy Helen Grant stressed the government’s commitment to improving foundational learning and the transformative impact that teaching children to read, write and do maths can have for communities’ health, stability and prosperity. Minister Trevelyan concluded by saying a quality education “begins with those strong foundations, basic reading, maths and social skills…that is why the UK launched a Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning… and we are calling on all governments to prioritise these basics”
There were calls from across the floor for the UK to do more to champion the plight of Afghan women and girls who are being locked out of education and denied basic civil liberties by the Taliban regime. Leading these calls was, Scottish National Party MP, Patricia Gibson, who spoke compellingly in calling for the UK Government to play a leading role in international efforts to secure the restoration of women and girls’ right to education and other civil liberties in Afghanistan
Harriett Baldwin MP, who is former Co-Chair of both IPNEd and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Education, reiterated these calls, saying “there isn’t a day when I do not think about how terribly they are suffering from being not allowed to go to school. The medieval cruelty of the Taliban in preventing their daughters being educated..is appalling, we must speak out whenever we can about it… only by speaking out can we ever hope for the situation to change”. Building on that, Mr. Charalambous added that Afghan girls “need more than warm words and solidarity, the UK must act”. He asked whether the Minister will rule out cutting funding to Afghan development programmes whilst negotiations with the de-facto authorities are ongoing and called for the FCDO to release its delayed Women and Girls Strategy.
Some other notable themes the debate discussed were the importance of education for the global response to the climate crisis, the impact of cuts to the UK’s ODA budget on children’s access to education around the world, and the benefits of the UK to reinstating a separate department for international development as raised by Gareth Thomas MP (Labour).
Concluding, Mr. Charalambous rounded off the discussion by quoting the words of 10-year-old Jenson, from Engaine Primary School in the Foreign Secretary’s Braintree constituency. Jenson and his classmates have been campaigning for Send My Friend to School and said:
‘“We think every child has the right to have an education. Reasons that stop children from going to school like natural disasters and disease, war and famine are not chosen by the children.”
Mr. Charalambous’ parting call was for that to “ring true in all our ears and act now as we celebrate International Day of Education”
The APPG would like to give its sincerest thanks to Co-Chairs Vicky Ford MP (Conservative) and Bambos Charalambous MP (Labour) for all their efforts in securing this timely debate.
On a similar note, Ms. Baldwin commended both IPNEd and the APPG for the ‘marvellous’ work they both do to champion the “incredibly important cause” of global education and wished her successors Ms. Ford and Mr. Charalambous the best of luck in their roles taking over the reigns in leading the APPG.
To watch the debate in full click this link to Parliament TV.
For clips of the debate, see the following tweets
APPG Co-Chair @vickyford speaking to where the learning crisis is hitting hardest and reminding us that “maths and reading are the vital building blocks on which all learning upon which all education is founded”
At today’s debate to mark #EducationDay2023, APPG Co-Chair @BambosMP highlighted cross-party, public and civil society support for a £170 million UK investment in @EduCannotWait which would provide 2.6 million children in an emergency or protracted crisis with quality education
#EducationDay2023 @BambosMP raising the importance of foundational learning for children affected by emergency and crisis: “such extreme levels of illiteracy and innumeracy are an early warning sign that global educational goals and other SDGs are in jeopardy”
@vickyford urges collaboration to leverage humanitarian financing for @EduCannotWait “UK leadership is key.. if we step away from the promises we have made to the children of the world… then other donors may also step back and reduce or delay their own investments”
“We need to urgently recover from learning losses caused by COVID by focusing on foundational learning skills. Basic numeracy and literacy are essential for children to stay in school and progress to higher levels” – PM’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education @HelenGrantMP
Speaking to the power of girls’ education, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy @HelenGrantMP cites the transformative impact that mothers’ gaining literacy skills can have for their infants’ health, likelihood of immunisation and prospect of attending school @FCDOEducation @resultsuk
At today’s debate, UK Minister of State at @FCDOGovUK, @annietrev, warned of the future economic costs facing the current generation of students affected by the global learning crisis #EducationDay2023 @FCDOEducation
Minister @annietrev explained, foundational learning is crucial so that children can reach their potential and have choices later in life. “That’s why the UK launched Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning… and is calling on all governments to prioritise these basics”
“It is indisputable that inclusive and equitable quality education… is inextricably linked to a country’s success in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty…. 771 million adults are illiterate.. that is unacceptable” – @PGibsonSNP
In today’s parliamentary debate to mark #EducationDay @PGibsonSNP called for the UK to play a leading role in international efforts to secure the restoration of women and girls’ right to education and other civil liberties in Afghanistan @FCDOEducation