Mark Williams MP: Education for the most vulnerable children will boost Sustainable Development Goals

As Co-Chair of the All Party Group on Global Education, I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise in Parliament the issue of Global Education as an integral part in the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) created in 2000.  Most MPs will be aware of the highly effective ‘Send My Friend to School’ campaign on which many primary school children have been engaged.

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Our All Party Group has put at the heart of its campaigning work not just the reduction of the number of out of school children across the world, but specific work on inclusivity.  This may be the disabled, the lack of equity of treatment for boys and girls, challenging the fees regime – unofficially or otherwise, or the specific challenges of conflict afflicted areas.

Some 42 million more children have attended primary school since the MDGs were agreed in 2000, but 58 million children remain out of school, 59 million adolescences remain out of school, and critically, 250 million children are in school, but fail to learn the basics.  UNESCO has described this as a ‘global learning crisis’.  Adult literacy levels globally have barely improved.  There is a particular challenge in providing quality teacher training and retaining the status of the teaching profession.

This year is therefore a critical one.  The UN’s open working group on the sustainable development proposals, last year set 17 goals and some 169 targets.  Education necessarily has its own standalone goal, ensuring inclusive, equitable, quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.  Specific targets covered universal primary and secondly education, pre-primary, technical, vocational and tertiary education, skills for employment, universal literacy and numeracy, and enabling targets on school infrastructure and retaining qualified teachers.  On my visits to Nigeria and Tanzania I have seen at first-hand how targets to date have not been met.

The previous Coalition Government led calls for a framework which leaves no one behind, ensuring that ‘no target is considered met, unless met for all social groups.’  This approach continues, and is essential.  

There are 93 million disabled children globally, and in most countries these are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children.  This is not a niche area of development, and it was staggering that in the MDG’s there was no specific mention of disability.  Some have called the disabled the world’s biggest minority.  Without including the disabled, it is clear that the MDGs will not be met. DFID has laudably promoted its own disability framework.  

In 2013 our All Party Group, working with Results UK, produced a Report entitled ‘You can’t study if you are hungry’.  The World Bank has estimated that 200 million children in developing countries under 5 will not reach their potential.  The focus of our work was the link between nutrition and learning.  Early Childhood Development draws together key policy themes - health and nutrition to education, social protection to water sanitation and hygiene.  It is essential that DFID is mindful of this concept, and that is reflected in DFID programmes.  

We also need recognition for fact that half of the 58 million primary children out of school are in conflict areas.  I believe there is a case for Government to acknowledge the work of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and their new international guidelines.

The MDGs have seen significant progress in all areas of education.  While many will celebrate the overall reduction in the numbers of out of school children, this work is nowhere near completion, and we need the SDGs to be responsive, measurable and achievable.  The British Government through its work for instance in the Global Partnership for Education, has shown its capacity to lead, but it has a long way to go and there is much more to do.


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