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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:37 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby 6:37 pm, 30th March 2009

It is excellent, as the hon. Gentleman says. Unfortunately, the answers to my questions are somewhat more brief than the questions, which is not the desired result. However, there was one deviation from the norm, but it simply allowed me to discover that there were not many answers to be had. It was actually an exercise in obfuscation. I wanted to know how much money was involved, who got it, how and where they spent it, and how we knew that it had been spent well. Those are the questions that interest me. The answer was, "We would like to tell you, but we give the money to a number of agencies, and they do not collect that data on our behalf." That is where the marvellous term "imputed share" comes in.

I had some excellent answers that told me that, of the £493 million that the UK Government gave to the International Development Association—that is, the World Bank—the imputed share for education was £27 million. Great! Very good! The African Development Fund got £147 million, of which £12.9 million ended up in education. Some hon. Members will be pleased to hear that we gave the European Commission £1.123 billion, of which the imputed share for education was £9.4 million. Finally, the UK gave the United Nations Children's Fund £19 million, of which the imputed share that went on education was £0.6 million. So, vast amounts of money are being given, but there is not an awful lot of it that we can track.

That presents me with problems. Among the 6 million people in Sierra Leone—a country pretty indicative of the five poorest countries in the world—illiteracy is a massive problem. I might appear to be going off at a tangent from the main thrust of my presentation today, but I believe that illiteracy and endemic unemployment lie at the heart of our not being able to deliver the millennium development goals.

I want to take a closer look at the primary target on which we have been able to achieve some sort of progress—namely, education. I believe that that millennium development goal was seriously flawed, and that the slavish way in which we have followed it has led to a diminution of possibilities for people in Africa. I shall explain why. We have said that we want to see more children going to primary school, but the statistics that I have just given the House show that we are not putting a huge amount into education. Nevertheless, the terribly poor countries in Africa feel that it is necessary to respond to that millennium development goal. So how are they achieving it?

Let us have a look at Sierra Leone where there is not sufficient money to build new schools. In some African countries, we have provided money specifically for that purpose, and we have seen the schools being built, but in Sierra Leone there is no money for that. There is no public sector Government budget at all; the Government cannot afford to finance any capital build. The way in which these very poor countries have sought to appease the west's agenda on education is to put more and more children into already stuffed classrooms. When I visited Sierra Leone two years ago, I typically saw 80 children in a class, and, even though education is notionally free in some countries, the students actually have to pay between £11 and £16 a year for the privilege of going to school. However, only the children with a uniform, shoes, books, bags and pencils can go to school, which creates a barrier that precludes others from going.

More children are going to school now, but the number of children in each class has risen from 80 to 100. Let us consider the quality of education that they are getting. The millennium development goal is about getting more children into school, but 70 per cent. of the teachers in Sierra Leone are unqualified. They can read, but they take their teaching test using a standard book. Only 30 per cent. of the teachers are qualified, and, at the same time, we have seen an expansion of the number of children per class. Are those classes producing better qualified pupils? I suggest not, and the statistics say not. Only 7 per cent. of children in Sierra Leone passed their GCSE in English last year, but they need to be able to read if they are to go on into further education. That is what the country needs, but it lost that capability during the war. During that terrible strife, the nation lost the technical capacity to deliver, but if its children cannot read, it will not be able to regain that capacity. The 70 per cent. of teachers who are untrained are now being trained, but they are expected to deliver more education to bigger classes.

As a consequence, a big private sector in education is emerging. In Sierra Leone, where many people earn less than a dollar a day, the people who earn a dollar are much richer than those earning half a dollar. They see their children going off to school and they wonder what kind of education they are receiving. They say to themselves, "For a few extra leones a week, I could get access to a private school." In countries where we are not investing a substantial amount of money in teacher education—alongside the development of physical capacity in the shape of buildings and more qualified teachers—the education millennium development goal is generating a second, private sector market. What does that mean for the children left in the other schools? They will get a poorer education.

We in this place might feel great because more children are going to school, but that is not an end in itself. More correctly, we should be looking for quality education. If that meant that only 60 per cent. of the children in Sierra Leone went to school, but that they got a better education, I would be up for that. We have to consider what happens to those children afterwards.

I have talked today about a lot of money being invested in Sierra Leone, but what do we get for our buck? What do the people of Sierra Leone get for that money? We get an awful lot of consultants and aid agencies that make a lot of money, but we do not require any of the agencies acting on our behalf to train any organisations. Let us think about some of the major infrastructure projects in Sierra Leone. The EU has provided a significant amount of funding to build a new road, but there is no competent highway engineering group there because there is no public money to build highways.

Mr. Lilley talked about the need for trade, but sustainable transport is necessary for that to happen. It is all very well talking about that, but there needs to be an indigenous engineering capacity to provide such transport. I looked at the EU contract and saw that it was left to a European company to deliver the project, which is rather like what happens with some Chinese investments. At no point was there a requirement for that organisation to train anybody in Sierra Leone. It came to the country, learned from doing the job, got the money paid by the EU, but what was the benefit of that contract to the nation?

If public sector money is being invested, I expect my money to pay for training in the relevant country. My colleagues know that I am an engineer and when I went to the universities in Sierra Leone, I talked to the engineers and asked them what work-based experience they had gained as a result of the investment in the country. The answer was none. We, this Government, have built police stations and new courts in Sierra Leone, but only two companies in Sierra Leone—I know this, as I have technically audited all of them—are fit to build anything to the standard of international regulations. If those building structures were done well, it would reassure investors that the country has the capacity to build well, because what investor will invest in the country if they cannot see good build?

My questions to the construction companies are these: what training have they provided for local people and what hook-ups do they have with colleges of further education or higher education? Often, there are no such links. We are waking up, are we not, to the fact that the public sector in this country receives a huge amount of money, and we are now requiring it to look towards supporting apprenticeships—which is absolutely right and proper—and other forms of training. One sort of investment is therefore used to deliver another investment.

Too many apprenticeships in this country are not completed, simply because there is no work-based experience. In countries like Sierra Leone, it is absolutely imperative to drive job creation and technical capacity so that we do not go on creating activities artificially. We should say, "We are doing a job; you require that job, but we will offer training and link up with your FE and HE". When we pull out of such countries—and we want to pull out—we should not leave them with a given road, but no local highway engineers to maintain the facility. For me, those days have gone. We have got to achieve much more with our money.

If we are going to build new schools and a new contract is drawn up to do so, it should say how many young people are going to be taken on from FE colleges. When we go to the Government departments in countries such as Sierra Leone, as I have, we find very clever Ministers leading—they are first-class people—but when we ask who will deliver the plans, we see where the problem lies, because there is insufficient technical capacity in the country. That is lacking because those countries have not had the opportunity to put into practice what their people have been taught.

Why would anybody go into engineering or health care in those countries? Why should they go to university to study those subjects when they know that there will be no jobs for them? I must tell the Minister that I really want to know how to get much closer to our investments in those countries. I want to know how we can make more from the money spent, make better use of our investment, and how we can deliver better results for the people of those countries. People do not want to have things done to them; they want a stake in their own futures and in the development of their own facilities. I just do not see that happening now, so I would like the Government to think more creatively about how we could achieve that.

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