UN International Day of Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 28th January 2021.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:33 pm, 28th January 2021

I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to slip under the wire for this very important debate. Like other hon. Members, I reflect on what education has meant for my family. I have two sisters, and the three of us are the first generation in our family to have gone through higher education. That is not an accident; it is not some freak of nature whereby this is suddenly a generation where the Carmichaels got smart. It is because my generation were given opportunities that were denied to my parents, grandparents and other generations before us. So it pains me to see that with 90% of our children out of school as a result of school closures arising from the pandemic, we risk losing and taking away these opportunities from our own coming generations. The pandemic has illustrated better than most things the full consequences of the digital divide, with which we have lived for too long; we see those areas of the country that have access to connectivity and those that do not, and the families who have broadband and sufficient devices for everybody to get home schooling opportunities, and those who do not. So when we come to the end of the restrictions and to rebuilding our economy, we must also look at rebuilding our own education system. Significant though these problems are, I suspect that most young people and teachers in most countries in the world today would love to have the problems that we will have when it comes to rebuilding after the pandemic. The progress that we made against the millennium development goals in terms of getting young people into primary education was significant, but let us not ignore the fact that we did not actually meet the millennium development goals, so it is now more important than ever that we try to meet the sustainable development goals.

The one point that we have to understand is that giving opportunities to young people in other countries—in the developing world, in particular—is not some act of altruism; it is actually good for our own children and communities. I look at the work that has been done by Anderson High School in Lerwick for decades now through its participation in the Global Classroom Partnership, and I see what that has added to the young people coming through that school in Shetland. The money—in hard cash terms—that we would be required to put in to meet the 0.7% GNI target would already be much reduced; not actually to meet that 0.7% target is criminal. The Government must think about this again, not just for the benefit of people in the developing world, but for the benefit of our own children and their educational opportunities.