I am delighted to be here today to support the UK launch of this year’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Its theme, Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality For All fits well with DFID’s education priorities. The report also rightly reminds us why investing in education is so important for any economy as a whole but also (and more importantly) why it matters for every individual.
Behind this report is 1 simple stark truth. If all girls completed primary school in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, the number of girls getting married by the age of 15 would fall significantly. Education does indeed transform lives.
In these brief remarks, I want to reflect on what the GMR tells us about DFID’s 3 education priorities, and then outline where more effort is needed to make better and faster progress.
‘Leaving no one behind’ is 1 of DFID’s priorities and this report presents impressive progress over the last 20 years on access to school. Globally there are 51 million more children in primary school today than there were in 1999, and 6 out of 10 countries have now achieved an equal number of girls and boys enrolled in primary school.
These are signs of real improvement which is the result of significant domestic and international investment and effort. Good progress can be made when the world gets behind a simple and compelling message as it has done with the MDG focus on access to primary school.
While we should recognise and celebrate this progress, we know that schooling does not always lead to learning. I don’t think any of us here would be satisfied with a primary school in which our children do not even learn to read and to count after four years in school. It’s the quality of learning achieved for every girl and boy, and not just the length of schooling, which makes education such a valuable investment.
Yet one of the headline messages from this GMR is that there are an estimated 250 million children – that’s 1 in 3 - who are not learning basic reading and numeracy skills, even though at least half of them have spent those crucial four years in school. Global data on learning is currently patchy but this estimate is alarming.
Improving learning is at the heart of DFID’s work on education. More recent work by the GMR team suggests that practical progress on actual learning is being made. A further 17 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are now learning the basics compared with the number just over 10 years ago.
So improving learning and leaving no one behind: The third priority is the focus on girls. Educating girls improves their ability to choose when to get married and how many children they have, and it gives them greater control over their assets and income. Most importantly it gives them control over their own body. But despite progress, there are still over 60 countries which have not achieved gender parity in primary school.
The UK government has committed to support up to 1 million marginalised girls through our Girls’ Education Challenge. DFID’s focus is on keeping girls in school, supporting them to learn, and ensuring their critical transition from primary to secondary school.
The Prime Minister will be highlighting some of the specific challenges faced by girls, including early marriage, violence, and female genital mutilation, at a special event in July.
So, looking to the future, what do we need to do to ensure we make better and faster progress beyond 2015?
DFID has rightly defined economic development as a central pillar of its development strategy. We know that economic growth can help lift people out of poverty and we also know the importance of education to achieve this. Along with our support for quality basic education, DFID is stepping up its efforts to look at the transition from school to work, including targeted support to upper secondary, higher education and skills programmes.
Improving learning and reaching the most marginalised children means working in difficult environments with new partners and targeting support to those who need it most.
This is why DFID continues to prioritise support to conflict-affected countries and why we have recently made new commitments to reach some of the most marginalised groups, including those with disabilities, and those affected by the crisis in Syria.
But to develop the right policies, to ensure that no one is left behind, that all girls and boys are learning when in school, and that we are training people for the right jobs that the country needs, we need to gather good data and analysis.
The UK government is doing its part by investing in improved data and research. In Pakistan and East Africa, DFID is supporting household surveys which allow parents to provide immediate feedback on the quality of education their children are receiving. DFID is also working closely with the UK research community to look at how to improve the quality and effectiveness of teaching, in order to deliver faster progress.
The analysis provided by the Global Monitoring Report is why it is such an important resource for the education community and why the UK government is proud to be one of its major supporters. Building on the achievements of this Report, we congratulate, and look forward to working with, the newly appointed Director, Dr Aaron Benavot, to ensure its continued success.
With the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education coming up in June and the ongoing negotiations on a post-2015 development framework, this is an important year for education. Future generations depend on the decisions we make today. The Global Monitoring Report is an excellent resource to help us make the right decisions to ensure that everyone gets a chance to realise their potential.
The success of the MDGs is down, in large part, to their simplicity. Plain, simple language and a compelling message on education is what is needed after 2015. The education community, above all others, should be setting the benchmark for this. I will be watching you.