It is right that there is a recognised day to highlight the importance of education internationally. As a former teacher of 23 years’ standing, I am deeply saddened by the current closure of our schools during this pandemic, although I understand why it is necessary. I genuinely feel for all the pupils who have had their learning disrupted. The socialisation that school so uniquely and comprehensively allows them is currently beyond them. Covid has disrupted the education of 1.6 billion students in more than 190 countries, and it is very damaging that they are all being denied their right to quality, safe and inclusive education.
I am sure we all welcomed the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development, which was adopted by UN member states in 2015 and recognises the importance of education globally, but the goals must be delivered. Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating global poverty. Better-educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in formal labour markets, have fewer children and marry at a later age. Better-educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, and their children are usually healthier, too. Combined, they are more likely to help to lift countries and communities out of poverty.
Undoubtedly, educating girls strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals, including men and boys, the opportunity to fulfil their potential. For this to happen, girls must feel safe in schools, which is why the safe schools declaration is so important. Too often, girls in developing countries face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms, poor infrastructure and the threat of violence, so international collaborations between Governments, civil society and a whole range of agencies should and must do better to help to mitigate and overcome these challenges, and the UK aid budget must reflect how important that is.
Even in the UK, schools can be an outlet through which to access richer cultural experiences through literature, poetry and debate, an escape from poverty and an opportunity to work for a better life. That is certainly what school offered me, and so many others. Today, let us celebrate the transformative power of education and vow to ensure that we will do all we can to make sure that the reach of education is truly global, so that we can change the lives of all children—boys and girls—for the better.