Even before the pandemic, 258 million children were out of school, including one in two children with disabilities, more than half of school-age refugee children and 75 million children whose education was disrupted by humanitarian crises. Covid-19 has obviously made everything so much worse. This week, the International Development Committee released a report on the secondary impacts of covid-19, highlighting a global education crisis. With schools shut down and teaching disrupted, decades of progress are at risk. Some 1.6 billion children and young people are suffering educational disruption and are unable to access their basic rights. Over 460 million children are unable to access remote learning while out of school. In addition, as livelihoods are lost, informal economies shrink and remittances from abroad plummet, struggling families are left unable to pay the school fees required in many schools. Unsurprisingly, all this impacts most on the children who are already marginalised: refugees, the internally displaced, children with disabilities, and girls.
This is a gendered crisis. Girls of secondary school age are far less likely to return than boys when the schools reopen. That is already against the backdrop of young women accounting for 59% of the total illiterate youth population. Online and remote learning is insufficient to reach all children during lockdown, as many do not have internet access or mobiles. Covid-19 has heightened economic pressure on family finances, with children forced into child marriage and child labour to help support their families. It increases violence and sexual exploitation, leaving children, particularly girls, to drop out of school permanently—and there are strong links between girls leaving education and subsequent increases in trafficking and exploitation.
With both the presidency of the G7 and the Global Partnership for Education, the Government have two major opportunities to galvanise action and remedy stalled progress towards SDGs 4 and 5. The Government made strong educational pledges before the cuts were announced. I ask the Minister: do those pledges still stand? The UK has still not pledged a penny to the Global Partnership for Education. The Government must pledge big and pledge now. The UK spends a paltry 5.6% of aid on education, and in 2018 just 0.3% was spent on ending violence against women and girls. I commend the Government’s intent on girls’ education, but their aim can only be achieved by increasing gender equality and real financial investment.