In Boris Johnson’s inaugural speech as Prime Minister in 2019, he spoke of our nation’s insistence on equality: “whether race, or gender, or LGBT, or the right of every girl in the world to 12 years of quality education.”
And so it is that the Government’s commitment to Girls’ Education around the world has become a defining feature of UK development policy. In 2021 that commitment came to life on the international stage, firstly at the G7 Leaders’ Summit, then the Global Education Summit, and with more high visibility to come at the COP26 climate change conference in November.
And this year’s Black History Month is a perfect period to reflect on why Girls’ Education is such a game changer, particularly for African nations.
If we want to change the world for the better, Girls’ Education is a great place to start. A child of a mother who can read is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of 5 years, twice as likely to attend school themselves – and 50% more likely to be immunised. Girls who are educated are more able to choose if, when and how many children they have. And when educated girls become female leaders they impact significantly on the prevention and resolution of conflict. Peace agreements and reconstruction are more sustainable and effective when women are involved, and the unique skill sets and experiences that women possess enhances the likelihood that such agreements are actually implemented.
Girls’ Education is therefore vital to women and girls in terms of their own self-empowerment, but also in levelling-up society, boosting incomes and developing economies and nations.
This year, as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, I have visited several UK funded projects across Africa, seeing at first-hand the genesis of such transformative outcomes. In Uganda, where around 78% of the population is under the age of 30, I saw how UK aid was supporting teachers to continue educating their students through radio and TV lessons during the pandemic. I also visited Rhino Camp, a refugee settlement in Arua in Northern Uganda, where the UK is the largest donor to ‘Education Cannot Wait’ – a global fund dedicated to providing education in emergency situations.
In Nigeria the UK has supported over 8 million children to get an education and in April I visited one of our ‘Connecting Classrooms’ schools: supported by UK aid, over 17,700 teachers in Nigeria have received training and development.
In Ghana I observed programmes with specific measures to address violence in and out of school, pregnancy, and other safeguarding issues. The UK’s flagship ‘Girls’ Education Challenge’ programme delivers community catch-up classes in Ghana, allowing many young women who didn’t attend school, or who left early, to go back to the classroom and learn.
And in Sierra Leone, I was particularly impressed by the determination of the Education Minister, Dr David Sengeh, in driving through the Government’s new ‘Radical Inclusion in Schools’ policy. I attended the Braille launch of this policy, where I met blind and visually impaired children who were learning to read from UK aid-funded Braille textbooks.
In July, the UK welcomed leaders from across the globe to London for the Global Education Summit. This marked the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the largest global fund dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries. We raised a landmark $4billion to fund GPE’s life-changing work and help transform education systems in up to 90 countries and territories. The Summit brought leaders and ministers from donor and partner countries around the world, together with technical experts, civil society organisations, private sector companies and more, in a collective effort to fund education everywhere. That is something to celebrate in Black History Month and beyond and I remain personally committed to helping advance the education and empowerment of girls worldwide, regardless of race, background or ability. Everyone deserves an education.