The importance of education in defeating poverty and the challenges ahead.
I’m delighted to be here with you this evening, to discuss education priorities for the next generation. It is fantastic to see so many countries represented here at this conference.
When I was attending my local comprehensive school in Rotherham, I never thought I would one day find myself talking to the Education World Forum as the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development.
I know that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my school - and particularly those amazing teachers who supported me to learn and then inspired me to achieve my dreams.
I still remember, in particular, my French teacher and what was great about him as a teacher, was that he would make learning fun but you would always come away with clear points learnt. 10 years later I still remembered a lot of what he taught me – and one of the real tests of education is not just what you remember at the end of the year, but what is still with you a decade later. Teachers also give the opportunity for us to learn important values and provide us with the space to develop our own style and be creative.
These teachers transformed my life and prospects – and, I’m sure, many of you looking back on your schooldays would feel the same way. Everyone starts school a rough diamond – our teachers are like jewellers who polish us and make us the best and brightest we can be.
For me, this is why education matters, to realise your potential and ultimately be able to choose the life you want and have a chance to put dreams into action.
And that’s why this Forum matters – it’s a moment to come together and a chance for us to reflect on the progress that is being made - but also on the challenges that remain. This gives the opportunity to take stock, reflect and understand the perspective in order to develop a strategy, and also to share experience of what works and doesn’t work.
In my role as Secretary of State at DFID, we really have seen tremendous progress. The world has made dramatic and unprecedented progress - helping more and more children go to school, since the Millennium Development Goals were agreed 15 years ago. A whole generation received an education that was denied to their parents and their grandparents. The education goals are some of the most important within the Global Goals.
The North Nigerian Chibok girls exemplify the importance of education. They had managed to complete primary and secondary school already and were denied the opportunity to progress.
So we cannot rest on our laurels.
In September, the world signed up to the new SDG Four for providing a quality education for every child by 2030 and ensuring that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development as well.
This is the right ambition at the same time – as we know - it is not going to be easy. There is a huge challenge ahead.
My teachers, and many of your teachers, were fantastic but there are still millions of children around the world without teachers, without a classroom, without so much as a textbook.
It is an issue of quantity. 124 million children and adolescents are out of school, rough diamonds. This means we may never see what they could’ve been and what they might’ve achieved.
It is also an issue of quality. And many more are in school but without basic skills. At least 250 million children of primary school-age cannot read and write - even after some of them have spent 4 years in school. The issue of quality is so important.
We know girls around the world are still less likely to attend school than their brothers. There is an unseen army of girls.
Some of these girls come under pressure to take on the burden of domestic work in their homes. Some of them are taken out of the classroom to undergo FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) or child marriage and never return… Still more out of school because of their country being in conflict situations.
Either way, all of these girls are losing out on an education and losing out on the life and future they might have chosen for themselves. This is why it has been a focus for DFID for a number of years and also why the UK has a vital role around the world.
Some children are being denied an education because of where they are - such as the 37 million children out of school in crisis-affected countries. I have just returned from Lebanon and Jordan where I met Syrian refugee children who are in school.
In my recent visit it showed that by working together with the Jordan Minister we can achieve great things. I also had an excellent meeting with the Lebanese Minister. We are hugely supportive of their aim to get every Syrian child into education.
All of this is why, for my Department, education is an absolutely core part of what we do.
The UK has helped 11 million children get a decent education in the last five years, training 190,000 teachers, building classrooms and ensuring the poorest girls and boys have school bursaries and textbooks. And we’re going to keep on doing all of that work - we’ve committed to help 11 million girls and boys gain a decent education by 2020.
It is important that we focus on those that are most likely not to be in school. The hardest to reach children - particularly girls and children in crisis affected countries - are, and will continue to be, a huge focus of our work. We are working in Democratic Republic of Congo to try and encourage this.
Educating children in emergencies is, of course, an urgent, global challenge.
And the UK has allocated £115 million to provide protection, psychosocial support and education for children affected by the crisis in Syria and the region.
And this year there will be two key moments for the world to rise to this challenge.
One is, at the London conference on the Syria crisis next month, where we are proposing that the Conference agrees the ambitious goal that all refugee children from Syria and host country children are in education by the end of the 2016/2017 academic year. I hope the whole international community can get behind this vital commitment. There will be no future for Syria if we do not invest in its young generation now.
We all have choices about how we want to educate our children and want them to grow up with a chance to fulfil their potential. We must look to focus on those out-of-school and about ensuring they are able to go back and rebuild. You have to realise they feel cheated out of education.
And secondly, beyond Syria, the World Humanitarian Summit in May is another crucial moment for us all to commit to a better international model for schooling the millions of children affected by conflict and disaster.
Through education, we can also help protect children and young people from the dangers of extremism by teaching tolerance, freedom of religion or belief, and global citizenship.
Investing in education is to invest in a country’s potential and future. This is important because a country’s best asset is its people.
Ultimately, if we get this right, we are building better, safer futures for all children around the world
You all have amazing jobs – roles that will shape children’s’ futures. I believe a countries biggest asset is its people.
For me education is about about freedom, it’s the way you become yourself, the best version you can be and it’s about choice – being able to choose the future you want and there is nothing more important.
Thank you – and enjoy your evening.