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Harriett Baldwin responds to debate on global education

26th February 2019

In her role as Minister of State at the Department for International Development, Harriett Baldwin responds to a debate on global education for the most marginalised and commends the Send My Friend to School campaign and the Government’s girls’ education campaign, Leave No Girl Behind.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the Send My Friend to School campaign, which has successfully engaged so many children, particularly in primary schools, on the importance of education around the world, and the work that we do.​

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about 70p for every £100. I think £100 is probably too much money for most primary school children to relate to, so when I go into primary schools I use the example of whether, if they had £10 in pocket money, 7p would seem too much or too little to spend on overseas development assistance. I am always encouraged by the support shown for it by young people.

I am proud to have been a member of the Government that enshrined the 0.7% commitment into statute, and I am proud that all the major political parties in this country stood at the last election on platforms of continuing to respect that commitment. The support shown for it by young people gives me great confidence that the primary school children of today will continue to endorse it when they become voters.

I highlight one of the excellent programmes that we run from the Department for International Development—the Connecting Classrooms initiative. Not all hon. Members may have yet had the opportunity to promote that in their primary schools. I do not know whether Mount Vernon Primary School or Northgate Primary School have thought about applying to be Connecting Classrooms schools, but in my constituency, for example, Great Malvern Primary School and 10 other primary schools in the Malvern area have a very vibrant link that has lasted for a decade with schools in Tanzania. I know how much the young people and teachers in both countries have benefited from those links, so I draw hon. Members’ attention to that.

In his excellent opening speech, the hon. Member for Glasgow East highlighted the importance of education for girls, children with disabilities and refugee children. I will highlight the work that the UK Government do on that. The only area of political dissent, in a remarkable debate which saw an outbreak of consensus, was on whether private investment in education around the world should be allowed. As Members pointed out, the UK itself is not currently using any of our overseas development assistance with Bridge schools, although 5% of the education support that we give does go to schools where private capital is involved. CDC, which is our private sector investment arm, does have an investment in Bridge schools—an investment that creates a return that can then be further used to expand education.

I am not in the same ideological camp as Opposition Members: I am much more open-minded. We need to focus on 12 years of quality education for all. That should be the objective. I was inclined to support what the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said regarding the fact that all the development budgets of all the countries in the world will not be enough for us to address the learning gap that Members have rightly highlighted. Therefore, why should we be ideological and draw the line at other providers coming in and providing support?

Jim Shannon

In my constituency of Strangford, Elim Missions is a very active church group that helps in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Many other churches do similar educational projects outside of what DFID does. We all know of such examples from our constituencies—the Minister probably knows of some from her own. We should put on record our thanks to those church groups and faith groups for all that they do.

Harriett Baldwin

The people of the United Kingdom are remarkably generous, and I am always struck by the range of different ways in which people help to support this agenda, independently of what we are doing in DFID. I pay tribute to all that work, and highlight the small charities fund within DFID, from which people can apply for funding for their projects. Opportunities are also given by aid match. Mention was made earlier of child soldiers in the Central African Republic. We were able to aid match War Child’s project; for every £1 raised by the British public, we matched that with £1. That is just one example of how we can draw on the generosity of the British people.

I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley as trade envoy to Nigeria. He mentioned Boko Haram. It is worth reminding ourselves that the very words “boko haram” effectively mean “western education is a sin”, loosely translated. It is so important to recognise the power of education in combating those dangerous terrorist movements. Colleagues also highlighted the importance of teacher education in delivering 12 years of quality education.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby asked about the International Finance Facility. As he well knows, we support that principle. We support anything that is successful in bringing more funding into this important agenda. We are doing more technical design work, and then we will set out the UK’s position as far as that is concerned.

I say to the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), that we should all acknowledge that we are not on track in terms of meeting Sustainable Development Goals 4.1 and 4.2 by 2030. The world has not done enough to address that, so I welcome Members’ support for the work we do and encouragement for us to do even more.

I was saddened that the hon. Lady mentioned the ICAI report dating back to 2016. She will be aware that we have subsequently published a very clear and welcome education strategy paper, and that we have made further announcements about funding to address girls’ education. On my bilateral meeting with the Ugandan Education Minister during the Education World Forum, I do not recall the specific point the hon. Lady mentioned, but I remember telling the Minister how much I had enjoyed visiting a school run by Promoting Equality in African Schools in Kampala this year. I believe that may be a privately funded provider. It is outstanding, so I reiterate on the record my support for the excellent education I saw being delivered.

We heard resounding support for the UK’s campaign for 12 years of quality education. We are absolutely committed to driving a step change in the global response to the learning crisis that colleagues rightly highlighted, and we match our commitment with resources. In fact, I hope colleagues report back to the schools in their constituencies that the UK provides more than 10% of all global education funding through overseas development assistance. We work bilaterally in 23 countries and multilaterally in 66 further countries. I am immensely proud—I hope colleagues report this back, too—that between 2015 and 2017 the UK supported 7.1 million children to gain a decent education, of whom at least 3.3 million were girls.

In fighting marginalisation, our first priority is to close the gender gap, which a number of colleagues mentioned. We use our position on the world stage to ​shine a spotlight on the needs of the most marginalised and their right to a basic education. In the past year, we have joined forces with international partners at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting; at the G7 in Canada, where the Prime Minister announced further funding to help girls’ education; and of course at the United Nations last September. I can commit to all those hon. Members who asked that we will continue to look to such forums to lead the campaign on 12 years of quality education.

DFID’s published education policy prioritises three things: better teaching, identifying and backing system reforms that will deliver better results, and, above all, targeting the most marginalised children, who are at risk of being left behind. We heard staggering figures on the learning gap, and people highlighted the particular challenges for children with disabilities and those who never attend school. Children in conflict-affected countries are a third less likely to complete primary school, and girls in sub-Saharan Africa are nearly 25% more likely than boys to be out of school.

Educating girls is one of the best buys in development spending, because one extra year of primary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by 10% to 20%. We know, too, that educating girls is the bedrock of healthier and more peaceful societies. The UK is therefore committed to supporting girls to access a quality education.

Last year was a landmark year for girls’ education. DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Education all got behind the Government’s girls’ education campaign, Leave No Girl Behind. Our flagship girls’ education challenge supports up to 1.5 million girls to access education and acquire know-how for their life and work. Many of the initiatives that form part of that provision will help girls who do not attend school because of menstruation, and will combine with other work we do to ensure access to water and sanitation. In the coming months, that challenge fund will reach 250,000 highly marginalised girls who have never attended school or have dropped out due to poverty, motherhood, disability or conflict, and, importantly, give them a second chance to learn.

Colleagues mentioned children with disabilities. We held a summit last year to tackle that important issue. I do not have time to draw out the progress that has been made as a result of that summit, but I assure colleagues that Governments in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and elsewhere have stepped up their provision and their commitment to giving children access.

Colleagues also mentioned children who are suffering through conflict and crisis in places where education can be the difference between a future of exploitation and squandered potential, and one of hope. Education can give children the tools to rebuild their lives and, eventually, their countries. School provides children with stability in a conflict environment. That is why we are proud to be a founder of, and one of the largest contributors to, Education Cannot Wait, which reached more than 650,000 children last year and built more ​than 1,000 classrooms. We are reviewing and renewing our funding for education in emergencies. Our objective is to get displaced and refugee children into classrooms faster, and to put short-term international funding on a much longer term footing.

We also fund the Global Partnership for Education. We will fully support 880,000 children in schools for each of the three years covered by our pledge. Some 450,000 of those children will be in fragile and conflict-affected states. Whether it is in Syria, in Lebanon or in other conflict-affected areas, we are doing what we can. We also announced our endorsement of the safe schools declaration, which underlines our political support for the protection of schools and the children in them. We will step up our work in the Sahel; Niger was mentioned, and I also highlight the work we are planning to do in Chad.

Let me conclude by again congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow East on securing the debate. I hope a large degree of consensus was reached. We are committed to continuing this important work.


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Harriett Baldwin
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