UN International Day of Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 28th January 2021.

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Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education) 4:36 pm, 28th January 2021

I thank Harriett Baldwin for bringing forward this important debate. On the UN International Day of Education, we must renew our commitment to UN sustainable development goal 4, pledging that by 2030 quality education will be accessible to all children and young people, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or class. This was always going to be a challenge. However, the pandemic has further highlighted unequal access to education. We must redouble our efforts to address long-standing educational obstacles and the new challenges that we face as a world in lockdown.

At the height of covid restrictions, schools were closed to more than 1.6 billion learners globally, and the impact has been felt most acutely by the most vulnerable. In the UK, as many as 1 million children and young people suffer from digital exclusion. I welcome measures from broadband providers to extend internet access to the most disadvantaged children. I also pay tribute to teachers in Glasgow, who, in some cases, have been going around houses to hand out dongles to those in need. However, more needs to be done at a UK Government level so that no young person is ever disadvantaged because of digital exclusion.

Internationally, remote learning remains out of reach for at least 500 million students. Many Members have pointed out that those most affected will be girls. Pre pandemic, 132 million girls worldwide did not attend school due to poverty or gender-based discrimination and violence. As a result of covid school closures, millions more are dropping out of school, with the Malala Fund estimating that an additional 20 million girls could be out of school by the time the pandemic ends. This is an entire generation of girls for whom life chances and choices are limited. We should also all take note of the comments from Fleur Anderson regarding WASH.

Although I welcome the Government’s commitment to supporting 12 years of quality education for girls, and their support for the UN Refugee Agency for education of refugee children, these announcements are sullied by the decision to reduce the UK aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI. Even a short-term cut will impact children struggling to access an education, and it is notable that Members on both sides of the House have criticised this cut today.

One of the most challenging groups to support are learners in conflict zones. The Secretary of State has previously stated that he is proud of the UK’s aid generosity and that aid is a very positive vision for the UK as a “force for good” in the world, but if we are truly to emerge as a progressive global Britain, we must also acknowledge the impact on children and their access to education of UK foreign policy. Whether we are discussing generations of Palestinian children confined to refugee camps or the plight of children in Yemen after years of a war partially facilitated by the arms trade with Saudi Arabia, it is our duty to recognise the consequences of our actions and flawed foreign policy decisions. Only then can the UK sincerely call itself a resolute force for good in the world.

Finally, I echo the words of the UN Secretary-General:

“education is the foundation for expanding opportunities, transforming economies, fighting intolerance, protecting our planet and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

These are objectives that all Members share, so I call on all of us to continue working towards safe, accessible and quality education for all—especially girls—both at home and around the world.