Stephen secures a debate on Global Education ahead of the G20 summit

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Below is the Hansard copy of the speech Stephen delivered to open his debate on Global Education on Thursday 6th July 2017. 

Stephen Twigg

I beg to move, that this House has considered promotion of education for all at the G20 summit.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Before moving on to the subject of today’s debate, may I take this opportunity to welcome the letter that the Secretary of State for International Development sent to all MPs about the small charities challenge fund? This is a very positive development, which the International Development Committee called for in the previous two Parliaments. It gives smaller UK-based charities the opportunity to access Department for International Development funding to support projects to tackle extreme poverty in some of the poorest countries in the world.

As G20 leaders, including the Prime Minister, meet in Hamburg, this debate is an opportunity for the House to reaffirm the crucial importance of investment in education to tackle poverty and inequality across the world. Millennium development goal No. 2 related to the aspiration for universal primary education. There has been remarkable progress across the world: globally, the number of children not in primary school has been cut by 42% since the year 2000. We should pay tribute to all those who made that important progress possible, not least the civil society and campaigning organisations that worked so hard to secure those goals.

However, there remain about 263 million children and young people around the world who are not in school. Most disturbingly, in Africa today the number of out-of-school children is on the increase, and one in five girls there does not receive a basic education. Globally, millions of children are in school but are not getting even the basics of literacy and numeracy. It is estimated that there are 330 million such children around the world.

I pay tribute to Mark Williams, the former Member of Parliament for Ceredigion. Mark represented that constituency for 12 years, from 2005 until this general election. Between 2010 and 2017, he chaired the all-party parliamentary group on global education. During that period, he led two overseas delegations with the all-party group to Nigeria and Kenya. He hosted countless events and meetings, and engaged with several Ministers on this issue throughout his time as chair. I am sure Members on both sides of the House will wish to join me in wishing Mark Williams well for the future.

May I also take the opportunity to encourage Members on both sides of the House to join the all-party parliamentary group on global education, which does fantastic work? I thank RESULTS UK for its work in this area and for helping me prepare for this debate.

Education is at the heart of the battle against global poverty and inequality. The sustainable development goals include SDG 4, which I will return to in a moment, but education is linked inextricably to all 17 of the global goals. Investing in education can improve outcomes in health, empower women and girls, and reduce inequality. Educated populations are much better equipped to build sustainable societies that can move towards the self-financing of development programmes so they cease to be reliant on aid from wealthier countries. We know from our own experience that education is an investment in our economy. An extra year of schooling can increase someone’s earnings by up to 10%, so investing in education is critical if we are to close the global skills gap and secure the jobs of the future.

The Government’s aid strategy has at its core the goal of strengthening global peace, security and governance. Historical analysis demonstrates that inequality itself fuels social unrest, and evidence suggests that when educational inequality doubles, the probability of conflict more than doubles. Most importantly, education is a human right enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights, the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Every child should have the right to a quality education.

As we know, the United Kingdom is the only G7 country that allocates the UN-recommended 0.7% of GNI to overseas development assistance. As I said during the Queen’s Speech debate last week, I very much welcome the fact that the Queen’s Speech reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to 0.7%. The UK is recognised as a global leader in providing aid for education, and we rank second only after the United States in the amount of aid we invest in basic education.

Bambos Charalambous

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems in education is that teachers are often poorly paid, if they are paid at all, and have to do other jobs to supplement their pay as teachers? That results in poorer experiences in classrooms where teachers are provided.

Stephen Twigg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. He is my long-standing friend, and represents the constituency that I represented in the House between 1997 and 2005. I welcome him to the House. His point is extremely powerful. In a moment, I will refer briefly to the work that the International Development Committee was doing in the previous Parliament.

I am delighted that the hon. Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) are here. They are both in different roles. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is now the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State—I congratulate her on her appointment—and my good friend the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, represents DFID’s offices in Scotland, but is speaking for the Scottish National party from the Front Bench today. They know that the International Development Committee did a lot of work in the previous Parliament on education, and earlier this year we visited east Africa.

The point that my hon. Friend Bambos Charalambous makes is absolutely pertinent, because we saw real issues with the ability of teachers to get themselves to work. Their levels of pay are such that they often have to work other jobs, and teacher absenteeism is often as big or a bigger challenge than pupil absenteeism in some of the poorer communities of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. My hon. Friend makes a very good and powerful point.

DFID has a world-class team of technical staff who deliver the bilateral education programmes and lend support to some of the key multilateral bodies, such as the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait. When the Select Committee visited east Africa and the middle east in the previous Parliament, we saw the fruits of UK aid for education. In particular, when we went to Jordan and Lebanon last year, we saw the amazing impact that aid has had on the refugee population, who came particularly from Syria but also from other conflicts in that region. I want to say once again that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Governments and the people of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, in particular, which have taken so many Syrian refugees. We can also be proud of our record and that of others on ensuring that many of the children from the conflict in Syria have access to education.

In east Africa, we saw some great examples of UK aid being invested. In Kenya, we visited a truly brilliant project, run by Leonard Cheshire in Kisumu, about identifying children with disabilities or special educational needs—I will return to disability later in my speech. That was a fine example of a very positive programme. In Uganda, we visited a frankly inspiring Saturday school in Kampala, which is funded by DFID and educates child refugees from conflicts elsewhere in Africa who have escaped to Uganda for their own safety, in particular from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The UK, via DFID, does many things in education of which we can be proud. As a result, DFID has significant political capital and influence among donors and non-governmental actors, which gives the United Kingdom a responsibility to act as a leader and global advocate on education—including, most immediately, at this weekend’s G20. I urge the Government to use their voice to encourage other donors to allocate more funding to education, and to ensure that existing funding is allocated to areas that most need it.

I also believe—the previous International Development Committee felt this strongly—that DFID can use its influence more with Governments in recipient countries to encourage them to allocate a greater proportion of their domestic budgets to education. Aid alone cannot solve the challenges. Aid has an important role to play, but Governments in some of the poorer countries have a responsibility to spend more of their domestic budgets on education.

Internationally, education is underfunded. To achieve SDG 4—

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”— an enormous increase in funding is needed. The Education Commission, led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, estimates that annual spending on education will need to more than double, from a global level of US $1.3 trillion to about $3 trillion by 2030, if we are to have any hope of achieving global goal 4.

In recent years, however, the sad reality is that we have seen a decline in levels of international aid spending on education. In our own overseas development assistance spending, the amount spent on education is lower than the amounts we spend on health, government and civil society, and infrastructure. The UK remains one of the biggest donors internationally, but the figures show that DFID dedicates only 7.56% of its budget to education.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen spectacular improvements in global health. Those advances are clear evidence that the international community, working together, can bring about genuine transformation if the will is there. Innovative partnerships such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have helped to reset global health financing standards, saving tens of millions of lives. We have the opportunity to learn from that experience and to do the same for education.

Rory Stewart

In the spirit of this debate and given the hon. Gentleman’s view that we should increase the percentage of the funding we spend on education, may I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? If he wishes to see a 2% increase, what should we decrease spending on in the DFID budget?

Stephen Twigg

The Minister asks a very reasonable question, which I was going to come on to, but I will answer now.

The previous International Development Committee, which I chaired, was looking at education. In April, we wrote to the Secretary of State with a proposal that I will refer to in a moment. The solution that we identified is one with which the Minister may or may not agree: we should slow down the shift of ODA spending from DFID to other Government Departments. We want to have a good evidence base for additional spending, and the money saved by that slowing down would enable our proposed increase in spending on education. I will come to that in more detail now.

Before the general election, the Committee was taking evidence on education. As I have just said, I wrote to the Secretary of State in April, urging DFID to increase the percentage of its annual spend on education to no less than 10% of its budget, which would represent an additional 2.5% on the current spend of 7.5%. Many organisations, such as the Malala Fund, RESULTS and others, have urged the Government to go much further and commit 15% of the DFID budget to education.

Since we made our recommendation, the latest DFID figures for the budget spent on education have fallen slightly from that 7.56%, so in the first instance the Government need to reverse that decline and then to head to at least 10%. I would be grateful if the Minister—perhaps not in the debate today, but afterwards—provided me with a complete breakdown of all UK ODA spent on education, including that from other Departments as well as DFID.

I now move on to some of the multilateral organisations, which are more directly relevant to the G20 summit. The Global Partnership for Education supports 65 developing countries to ensure that every child receives a quality basic education, giving priority to the poorest, the most vulnerable and those living in countries affected by fragility and conflict. Along with Education Cannot Wait, the GPE forms an essential part of the multilateral landscape on education, with its focus on low-income countries and basic education, where support is most needed. The GPE has been through significant reform in recent years and, as pointed out by DFID’s multilateral development review, it now aligns well with UK priorities.

The view reached by the previous IDC—I am delighted to welcome to his place my friend, Jeremy Lefroy, an assiduous Committee member since 2010—was that the United Kingdom needs to take a lead during the Global Partnership for Education replenishment round for 2018 to 2020. A substantial contribution from the UK to that replenishment would ensure that the GPE continues to achieve results and, we hope, would act as a lever to encourage and press other Governments to commit their support to funding the work of the GPE.

I also take the opportunity to urge the Government to push for this weekend’s G20 leaders’ communiqué to include a reference to the importance of fully funding the key multilateral bodies, the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait and the international finance facility for education.

One of the greatest challenges to face the world in achieving global goal 4 is tackling inequality in education. The theme of “Leaving no one behind” is indeed at the heart of the sustainable development goals. The most marginalised children, including girls, disabled children and refugees, are those most at risk of missing out. A very large proportion of the world’s children are clearly being left behind, and reaching them will be a critical challenge for DFID in the years ahead.

The education of girls is essential, and DFID has rightly made it a priority in recent years. Breaking down the barriers that prevent girls from getting access to education is a huge challenge. I welcome the innovative approach of the Girls’ Education Challenge and recognise that the lessons learned from its programmes could be vital in finding out what works in supporting more girls to receive an education. The G20 rightly has a focus on female economic empowerment. Education is clearly a crucial component of the economic empowerment of women and of economic opportunity for other marginalised sections of society. I urge the Government and the G20 to recognise the vital role that education performs in the economic empowerment of women, especially in the developing world. This summit is an opportune moment for them to do so.

UNICEF estimates that 90% of disabled children in the developing world—nine out of 10 disabled children in the world’s poorest countries—are out of school. That is an extraordinary statistic. The British Council highlighted that although DFID has had a strong focus on girls’ education, it

“has had less focus on children with disabilities and special educational needs”.

The Secretary of State has acknowledged that. She said in March:

“Disability is shamefully the most under-prioritised, under-resourced area in development.”

I agree, as did the last International Development Committee. We recommended in our letter that DFID should place a greater emphasis, akin to its focus on girls’ education, on working to ensure that disabled children have access to appropriate high-quality education. I mentioned the remarkable programme run by Leonard Cheshire that we witnessed in Kisumu in Kenya. That is the sort of programme that I hope DFID not only continues to fund but increases support for, where there is a proven case for doing so.

Let me say something about early childhood education. We know from academic evidence that, by the age of five, a child’s brain is around 90% developed. Early childhood education is crucial for cognitive development and learning outcomes, so investing in pre-primary education can make a real difference to children’s life chances and thereby help to reduce inequality and, indeed, deliver excellent value for money.

It is estimated that, for every dollar invested in early childhood education, the return can be as high as $17 for the most disadvantaged children. Despite that, a new report by Theirworld shows that 85% of children in low-income countries do not have access to pre-primary education. Theirworld states that more than 200 million children under the age of five risk failing to reach their potential.

Jeremy Lefroy

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Dr Cameron, my hon. Friend Mr Evans and I saw a good example of the importance of early childhood education in Tanzania earlier this year. We saw pre-school children being educated in a small rural community, in preparation for their attendance at a primary school. That was a DFID-funded project, and it is exactly the kind of thing that addresses the need that the hon. Gentleman so eloquently set out.

Stephen Twigg

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The example that he gave from Tanzania and my example from Uganda demonstrate that DFID is supporting some brilliant programmes for disabled children and for early childhood. If DFID is able to find the funds to increase its education spending, those are the sorts of programmes that should be protected and, where the evidence is there, expanded—either into other countries or in the countries where they already exist.

Rory Stewart

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He raises a vital question: what does one do in a poor country with a stretched education budget that is finding it difficult to provide decent primary education or any secondary education at all? How does he envisage the conversation with the Education Minister in such a country about setting up the entire pre-primary education and early learning structure, and about the competing priorities that that involves? Has he seen any examples of that actually working on a systematic basis in a poor developing country?

Stephen Twigg

I am grateful to the Minister for his characteristically thoughtful intervention, which speaks to a broader debate about education and where spending priorities should lie. I certainly do not suggest a one-size-fits-all approach for every country in which DFID operates.

To answer the Minister’s question, we saw evidence of that working well in Kenya, where I was impressed by the existing investment programme for early childhood education. In a sense, this is linked to my earlier point about the domestic budgets of recipient countries. Those of us who went to Uganda and then to Kenya were struck that Kenya devotes a significantly larger part of its budget to education than Uganda, and it has chosen to allocate part of that to early childhood education. My argument is this: DFID should seek to increase its funding for early childhood education programmes and, importantly, to integrate those programmes with other relevant areas of the human development portfolio, such as child health and nutrition.

Many Members will be aware of the Send My Friend to School campaign, which for more than a decade has engaged with Members of Parliament up and down the country and invited us into schools in our constituencies to talk about global education. Last year, the campaign engaged something like 400,000 young people, and this year more than 2,000 schools have signed up to it. Next Wednesday, 12 July, 20 students from around the country will come here to Westminster to discuss their campaigning with key decision makers, both in Parliament and in the Government. I look forward to meeting them, and I know that other former members of the International Development Committee in the last Parliament will meet them too.

Many of the students will meet their own local MPs, the Foreign Secretary’s special envoy for gender equality will meet them, and I understand that they will pay a visit to No. 10 to hand in a letter. I believe that an invitation has been sent to the Secretary of State for International Development, and I hope that she might find time in her busy schedule to meet them too.

I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting the debate, which gives Parliament an early opportunity to address the challenges of global education. It is especially timely because it comes at the beginning of the G20 summit. If I am re-elected as Chair of the International Development Committee in this Parliament, I will propose that the Committee resumes and completes its inquiry into global education.

I look forward to listening to contributions to the debate, but I am particularly keen to hear from the Minister a sense of when we might expect a full response to the letter that I sent on behalf of the previous Committee to the Secretary of State. I appreciate that I sent it just as we finished for the general election and it covered a lot of issues, but it would be useful to have a sense of when I might receive a full response.

As I said, it would also be useful to have, at an early opportunity, a full breakdown across Departments of all United Kingdom ODA spending on education. Given the focus of the G20, will the Government commit to making a substantial contribution to the Global Partnership for Education during its replenishment for 2018 to 2020 and push for a G20 leaders’ communiqué that commits to funding key multilateral organisations, including GPE, Education Cannot Wait and the International Finance Facility for Education?

Investment in global education is vital to tackling poverty and inequality, to securing future economic growth, jobs and livelihoods, and to addressing the causes and consequences of conflict. I once again praise DFID for its global leadership in this area, but I urge the Department and the rest of the Government to go further, because investment in education today pays enormous social and economic dividends tomorrow.