Jeremy Lefroy MP "Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world."

As experts gather in the UK for the Education World Forum and the FCO publishes The Platform for Girls' Education report highlighting the gap between ambition and reality, calling on leaders from all sectors of society to make this a national development priority and get behind cost-effective investments such as early childhood education. CFID Chair Jeremy Lefory MP writes about the importance of education and how it underpins growth and prosperity with a focus on international development.

"Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world."

By Jeremy Lefroy MP, Chair CFID

Nelson Mandela famously said that "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world". In the Dodoma Region in Tanzania, I saw at first hand the benefit of pre-school education in rural communities. Children were being given lessons in numeracy and literacy to prepare them for primary school. As a result, more children had the confidence to begin primary school (which was about 5 km distant) and to benefit from it.

The teaching was done by a young man – a volunteer – who was supported by the village. They provided him with accommodation and an allowance. The classroom was a church – a simple building of wood, bricks and thatch.

It was an honour for me to see how proud the whole village was of what they had achieved by themselves, with the support of the Tanzanian government and some UK funding. The value which they placed on education for their children – girls and boys alike – was clear.

The same was true for the families of the children of Syrian refugees whom I saw in Lebanon and Jordan. The way in which their governments have worked to ensure that these children receive an education is outstanding. In Lebanon, Syrian children go to school in the ‘second shift’, in the afternoon, studying their own curriculum.

In Nigeria, I visited the largest school I have ever seen – a primary school in Kano with more than 13,000 students. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and students alike. The curriculum had been updated recently and children with special needs were being taught appropriately.
On the outskirts of Lahore, there was a small school run by a lady with three helpers. It was educating children who had previously been working in a brick factory nearby. Now instead of being child labourers, they could learn.

Children in a remote rural community, or living as refugees, or in a vast city which had been hit by terrorist attacks, or former labourers – for all of them, education was seen by their parents and their governments as vital, a way out of poverty and towards a better future.

Education does not often receive the same attention in development as health, infrastructure or economic development. Yet it underpins all these. Without a sound education system, you cannot educate the health workers, technicians, engineers, accountants and – importantly – teachers upon whom all the other sectors depend.

In addition, programmes run at school can help to improve nutrition, tackle chronic infections such a worms and prepare young people for the future through life skills and entrepreneurship training.
Governments have the responsibility to provide education. Development aid cannot be a substitute for core funding, which should come from the national and regional budgets. However development assistance can play a major role in providing technical and professional support – whether in designing the curriculum or teacher training – and in helping to finance the infrastructure of education, whether that is buildings, equipment or materials.

Education comes very high on the list of my constituents’ priorities. It is no surprise that it is also a top priority for parliamentarians with whom I work in the countries where the UK is a development partner.

Notes:

  • The FCO announced an additional £212 million in UK aid last year to help one million vulnerable girls across the Commonwealth receive 12 years of quality education by 2030. The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt is co-chairing The Platform for Girls' Education which this week published a new report into girls’ education in the Commonwealth.
  • Various announcements by the PM and Development Secretary last year means that in total the UK is now also supporting over 1.5 million girls around the world, through the second phase of DFIDs Flagship Girls Education Challange (GEC) programme. The UK also recently committed £225 million to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) for the period 2018-2020, to keep 880,000 children in school each year for three years, train 170,000 teachers and build 2,400 new classrooms. The UK has also founded and contributed £30m to Education Cannot Wait, of funds for education in emergencies.