I’m delighted to be here with you this evening. In the last few years this Forum has grown to be one of largest of its kind, with Education Ministers from Afghanistan to Zambia represented here today.
As the UK’s International Development Secretary, wherever I go in the world and whoever I talk to, education is a number one priority.
Governments of developing countries recognise investing in education is absolutely fundamental to building a more skilled workforce, a successful economy and a prosperous society. For children, especially girls, an education is their first step to being able to take control of their lives and build the future they want.
Fifteen years ago the world made a historic commitment to deliver the MDGs. Since then there’s been huge progress - 50 million more children have access to primary school. And the debate has now shifted to focus on both the quantity and quality of education offered. It’s not just about getting children into school but also ensuring that they learn whilst there.
But we can’t be blind to the fact that for far too many children, quality education, or any education, remains a remote dream. Today UNICEF and UNESCO launched their report into the estimated 58 million children still not making it to primary school, most of them are girls and half of them live in countries affected by conflict.
In the last year we have seen some truly horrific attacks on school children by extremists which have had a huge impact on education more widely. In Northern Nigeria, where 240 girls were kidnapped from their secondary school by Boko Haram in April, and suicide bombers have killed dozens of teachers and students since, in Pakistan where over 130 children were killed with their teachers in a school in Peshawar.
I believe in the face of these brutal and cowardly acts we should be stronger advocates than ever for education. In the words of Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taleban for going to school: “The extremists are afraid of books and pens”.
There is no doubt that there are immense challenges to helping every child into school. But by overcoming them and delivering on our promise of education for all, then we will build a better future for these children, their countries and, ultimately, for us all.
DFID’s work on education
This is a huge priority for the Department for International Development and for me personally.
From 2010 to 2015, the UK is supporting 11 million children in primary and lower secondary school, and training more than 190,000 teachers.
And since taking on this job I’ve been determined to ensure that we really focus our efforts on the very poorest, most vulnerable children - the ones who are most difficult to reach.
Sometimes children aren’t in school simply because of their gender, because they’re girls.
Our Girls’ Education Challenge is focused on improving learning opportunities for up to one million extra or more of the world’s poorest and most marginalised girls by 2017.
I’ve also put a new focus on tackling the social norms and prevalent attitudes that stop girls from being in schools in the first place, including child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation and violence against women and girls. And we are driving these too often neglected issues up the international agenda.
And sometimes children aren’t in school because of conflict. We risk a generation of children growing up with no education, no skills, no jobs and no hope for the future, all too vulnerable to the toxic messages of extremism and radicalisation.Reaching those children whose education is disrupted, or never gets started because of conflict is another huge priority for me.
If you look around the world today, it’s clear that humanitarian emergencies that clear themselves up in 1 or 2 years are the exception not the norm. More often refugees can’t go home, conflict doesn’t just stop and children don’t go back to school. Today we’ve never had more children out of school because of conflict.
And our humanitarian responses which focus on immediate, life-saving relief are simply not set up to deal with this. We desperately need a more strategic, long-term and cost-effective approach to providing education in these contexts.
This problem became very clear to me visiting Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan and meeting children who have really lost everything their homes, their schools, their friends and sometimes their families.
2 years ago, alongside Tony Lake of UNICEF and other international partners, I launched the No Lost Generation Initiative calling on the international community to give these children an education and a future.
Since then have dedicated significant increases in funding from around the world. The UK has dedicated £82 million specifically for the protection, trauma care and education of children affected by the Syria crisis.
But there is much more to do. Working with host governments like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to work out an effective model to educate huge numbers of children and funding this model adequately.
And we also need to bring this approach to other protracted crises.
So today I’m calling for greater global commitment on this. We need much more long-term investment and new financial instruments to support education in protracted crises. We need investment in innovative solutions such as virtual classrooms and home learning and we need a much wider range of partners to step up, from the world of development, the education sector and the private sector. Humanitarian actors can’t do this alone.
Why this matters
And I think it’s in all our interests to step up.
Because education for all is ultimately the answer if we want to build a better, more prosperous and peaceful world.
I believe 2015 is the year for all of us to step up and renew our commitment to quality, universal education.
After all, how many of us would be here right now in this room without our education?
And who is better placed than you, the educators, the education ministries, to shout about the benefits of education, not just in our own countries, but around the world?
So together let’s all be advocates for education - in your own country and across the world, for boys and girls, for children living in the most dangerous and war-torn places. And finally deliver on that promise to give every child a quality education.