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Parliament issues a bold call to DFID to prioritise education

21 November 2017

In its first report since the appointment of Penny Mordaunt as international development secretary, parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC) today called for DFID to do more to support global education.

The IDC’s report, the result of a lengthy and wide-ranging Inquiry, sets out an ambitious plan for how the UK could help close the education financing gap, continue to increase access to education, especially for those furthest behind, and improve educational quality and outcomes. 

Closing the financing gap

Chief among the committee’s recommendations is that DFID devotes significantly more of its spending on education, which would be a welcome reversal of the decline in spending which occurred between 2011 and 2015. 

In addition to growing the proportion of UK aid devoted to education, the report points to the need for integrated efforts to close the estimated $1.8 trillion funding shortfall needed to deliver Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

This includes improving domestic spending in developing countries, supporting multilateral mechanisms and ensuring funding from all sources is directed where it is needed most.

Multilateral mechanisms

In a particularly timely intervention, the committee urges the UK to agree to the full financial contribution of $500 million requested by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) for its replenishment period 2018 – 2020.

In accepting the importance of sharing responsibility with other donors for financing multilateral mechanisms, the committee acknowledges the value of a cap on the UK’s contribution to GPE but says “the UK should also announce its intentions early, to encourage other donors to step forward”.

This echoes the views of Send My Friend, the coalition of British NGOs and unions working on education globally, which has consistently said the UK needs to do more to encourage others to support GPE, including pledging early and in turn helping set donor ambition.

Improving access to education

Despite significant increases in the number of children who have access to primary school, the committee points to the fact that progress in this area has stalled and that 263 million children and young people are still out of school. It goes on to call for the UK to do more to give girls, children with disabilities and those caught up in conflict, especially refugees, access to education.

The UK undoubtedly has a good track record in each of these areas and with DFID currently consulting on the development of a new education policy now is clearly the time to set out how to achieve even more.

We’re delighted that the committee agrees that the UK’s efforts in supporting education via its financial support, research and diplomacy, including its focus on gender, disability and humanitarian crises, could all be improved with a clear and coherent strategy which sets out DFID’s ambitions and how it proposes to achieve them.

Improving the quality of education

Unfortunately access to education doesn’t guarantee good learning outcomes. In fact, more than 130 million children in low income countries who have received four years of primary education can’t read or write.

The committee recommends that DFID focuses more on early learning which could help reverse this learning crisis.

Although the benefits of early years education are proven – improved school readiness and better learning outcomes – only 15% of children in low income countries have access to pre-primary education compared to 82% in high income countries. 

DFID’s expenditure on early years education is very low, accounting for just under 0.6% of its bilateral education budget and the IDC rightly recommends that this be increased. Given the low priority currently afforded early learning, an increase in spending by the UK could be helpful in nudging the rest of the world into offering their support as well.

Education is key to helping people live with dignity

Following her appointment as secretary of state for international development, Penny Mordaunt set out her priorities for UK aid. She rightly pointed to the need to ensure every penny we spend supports the world’s most vulnerable people to live with dignity. Supporting children and young people to get an education is key to that ambition. 

As she leads the development of a new policy setting out how DFID will deliver on that ambition she should look carefully at the advice of her parliamentary colleagues on the International Development Committee, who have set out a clear case for growing educational opportunity around the world with practical recommendations about the role that the UK can play.

About the author

Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly
Save the Children

Joseph Nhan-O'Reilly is head of education policy and advocacy at Save the Children. Joseph leads Save the Children's policy development and influencing aimed at ensuring every child has the opportunity to access a quality education.