I congratulate Harriett Baldwin on securing this important debate.
Education is essential to eradicating global poverty, achieving every child’s potential and achieving the global goals. Girls’ education is especially neglected, and it too is essential. We can all agree on that, but one crucial element of education is often overlooked. By underfunding that element, not asking whether schools have it and not giving it priority in educational terms, we are letting down another generation and holding back the post-covid opening of schools.
So what is this magic but missing educational ingredient? It is WASH: water, sanitation—toilets—and hygiene education. Cleaning has become a major part of covid control in schools here in the UK, and it is no different around the world, yet I went to many schools before covid that had very few toilets or sinks and very little soap. Teachers are doing a great job of struggling on, but their educational facilities mean that girls miss school every month because they cannot manage their period at school, and many children with disabilities cannot go to school because there are no toilets accessible for them.
Half of all schools globally do not have soap and water available to students, 620 million pupils do not have decent school toilets, and every year, diarrhoea and intestinal infections together kill nearly 140,000 school-age children. Poor WASH in the first years of life is closely linked to chronic malnutrition, leading to stunting, which then leads to long-term effects in the development and learning potential of children.
Opening schools safely when it is covid-safe to do so is an urgent priority, but clean water, toilets and hygiene are essential to enable that. A school without those is not a safe environment. I urge the Government not to cut the 0.7% aid budget, and I urge the Government, the Minister and all Members to keep asking, “What about WASH?” in every discussion about education. This summer, the UK will co-host the Global Partnership for Education funding summit, with Kenya, and there will be a particular focus on getting girls to school. That is very welcome, but we need to have ambitious amounts of money dedicated by the Government—civil society is calling for £600 million—and for ensuring that WASH investment is a part of that as well. Facilities must be inclusive and accessible, and ensure privacy, safety and dignity. So I hope to hear this addressed in the Minister’s response today to this crucial question for global education: what about WASH?