Global Campaign for Education

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:05 pm on 13 June 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:05, 13 June 2007

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-40, in the name of Karen Whitefield, on education. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the Global Campaign for Education event at Moray House on 30 May 2007 with young people from Clarkston, Lawmuir, Echline and Dunnikier primary schools and Kirkcaldy High School, from Malawi who are visiting Kirkcaldy High as part of a school exchange programme and from Save the Children's YES project in Glasgow and young gypsy/travellers attending to highlight the campaign; acknowledges that education is a basic human right; notes that 80 million children around the world, most of whom are girls, are still being denied the opportunity of going to school and almost one billion adults are illiterate; supports the goal to ensure free and compulsory primary education of good quality for all by 2015; considers that this important agenda should continue to be driven forward in order to deliver for children around the world, and supports the efforts of the members of the Global Campaign for Education, including Save the Children and Oxfam in Scotland, in raising awareness of the campaign.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 5:07, 13 June 2007

I thank all the MSPs who signed my motion, which is on a topic that is important not just for Scotland but for the world. It seeks to raise awareness of the vital work of the global campaign for education and to welcome recent events that it has held, with the aim of building links between young people across the world.

I start by paying tribute to Oxfam and Save the Children—two organisations that have played a key role in highlighting and campaigning on the issue. Although the campaign has always been of interest to me, I became more involved in it when I was approached by pupils from Clarkston primary school in my constituency. Last year, they were selected by Save the Children and Oxfam to make a presentation to MSPs here in the Scottish Parliament. I was impressed when I listened to those pupils, who told me about their work to develop links with pupils in Africa. They told me about their campaign for more teachers across the world and about the shocking fact that millions of children have no teacher, no school and no education. Thankfully, here in Scotland, many of our children are able to take those things for granted.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the pupils from Clarkston primary, who also gave me a petition addressed to the Prime Minister. In February, I had the great pleasure of accompanying them to Downing Street, personally to deliver the petition, which demands education for all. The children were made very welcome, and I am proud that they came away excited by the fact that they were listened to and that they have a Prime Minister and a Government that have demonstrated their support for the global campaign against poverty. It is essential that the campaign to ensure universal education across the world by 2015 is driven forward.

The motion draws members' attention to an exciting and innovative event that took place last month at the Moray House school of education. It brought together young people from Clarkston primary in my constituency, pupils from Lawmuir, Echline and Dunnikier primary schools, pupils from Kirkcaldy high school and young people from Malawi who were visiting on an exchange programme. We also heard from young Gypsy Travellers, who told us about their experiences of education. They gave us an interesting presentation on the similarities between their experiences and those of children in Africa whose families also travel around.

There were also young people from Save the Children's young east end speaking project in Glasgow. Frank McAveety has had to return to his constituency tonight, but he asked me to tell members that he is sorry not to be here to support the debate and that he has been very impressed by the work of the YES project.

The event at Moray House was a huge success. I am sure that all members, from various political parties, who participated agree that such events are vital in bringing our young people together. They help to build bridges between our communities and our countries, so that we can work together to break down barriers and towards common goals and aspirations.

I would like to pay tribute to the work of the former First Minister, Jack McConnell, who ensured that his Government worked with Malawi. Campaigning on global poverty has been a priority for many members across all parties, and for many organisations in Scotland. Labour in government has done much to raise awareness of the issues and to contribute resources to tackle the problems. I hope that the new Administration will continue with the commitments that we have made, particularly those to Malawi.

Bringing the campaign for global education into our schools and communities is important. We aim to get every parent, student and school in Britain and in the developed world to become campaigners, united in a common drive to deliver a better future for the world's children. We aim also to promote links between our schools and those in developing countries in a global call to all Governments to make education their number 1 priority.

Education is a basic human right. It is every child's birthright: it is a right that should not depend on who the child is or where they live, yet 80 million children have no schooling and almost 1 billion adults are unable to read and write.

The majority of those who are missing out are girls. One in five girls of primary school age is not in school. When girls miss out, not only are they denied the chance to learn to read and write, to earn a living and to participate in democracy, but their lives and the lives of their children are put at risk.

I will not bore members with statistics, but if a woman completes school, her children are 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. Furthermore, if every child went to school, 7 million cases of HIV/AIDS could be prevented in the next decade alone.

The year 2007 is crucial as it is the midpoint towards realising the goals of education for all. Time is starting to run out, and we need urgent action to meet the deadlines and make our goals a reality. Millions of children around the world have known AIDS, poverty, war, hard labour and hunger, but they have never known a teacher or had the pleasure of reading a book.

The goal of ensuring free and comprehensive primary education for all by 2015 is vital to ending world poverty. Education is the world's best weapon against illness, disease, poverty and conflict. If we are to meet the 2015 targets, the next few years will be vital.

Our responsibility and obligation in the Scottish Parliament is to do whatever we can to ensure that the education for all targets are met and that the G8 delivers on its commitments; to offer our full support to the global campaign for education's work and to events such as the one held last year in the Parliament and this year in Moray House; and to do all we can to raise public awareness, to keep our young people and communities involved and to ensure that the issues that I have highlighted remain centre stage. By doing so, we will help to secure a better, brighter future for children across the world and to make our aspirations a reality.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 5:15, 13 June 2007

I congratulate Karen Whitefield on securing a very important debate. I feel that I can speak about the value of education because, 50 years ago—there it is; I am very old—I was the first in my council house scheme to go to university and because I spent 12 years as a secondary school teacher before I took on a second degree, this time in law.

It does not matter whether one is brought up in Scotland or in Africa: education is still a basic human right. As you know, Deputy Presiding Officer, two years ago, during the G8 summit that Karen Whitefield referred to, we had the W8 summit, which was addressed by eight women from Africa. The story of one of those women, Hauwa Ibrahim from northern Nigeria, illustrates not only the value of education but women's struggle for education. She brought the W8 conference to silence; indeed, one could have heard a pin drop as she explained how, every day, she would walk for three hours each way to bring water for cooking and washing back to the village where she lived with her sisters and brother. Her father and brother had priority over that water and the women in the family had to use whatever was left.

Hauwa Ibrahim's destiny would have been much the same as that of many young women in that situation, but for the fact that she had a very strong temperament. I will read out her own words, which I first read out on 23 June 2005, during the members' business debate on the W8 summit. She said:

"I was born and brought up a Muslim. My father was ... one of the mullahs who call for prayers. It was not allowed for girls to go beyond the elementary schools (in my village). At the age of 12, 13, you should be ready for marriage. I refused to get married because I thought, 'I want to get more education.' I picked up a newspaper on the road, and I saw a university graduate with a four-square cap. And I thought, 'I must be like that person.' I funded my schooling by picking roots to hawk. I was hawking anything that is hawkable—food items, vegetables, peanuts."

She went on to have an extraordinary career. As an advocate, she took on Sharia law by using its very elements. In 1999, when she first appeared in court to conduct an appeal, a man had to speak her words because, as a woman, she was prohibited from speaking.

What did this woman to do with her education? She practised law in the northern part of Nigeria, which, as she told us, exposed her to all 19 states of the federation. She had to go into the hinterland. Because the villages that she went to could not be reached by bicycles or motorbikes, she had to travel by camel and donkey. Once there, she tried to stop the amputations of young men who had stolen because they were starving and the stoning to death of young women who had allegedly committed adultery. She was not simply trying to save individual young men and women; she knew that, once one of those punishments was carried out, the whole thing would spread.

As I said, Hauwa Ibrahim operated within the terms of Sharia law, which meant that she was well aware of the difficulties that she faced.

Indeed, she went on to say:

"I do feel uncomfortable, at times fearful. When it comes to the issue of death, the moment you stone the first woman, there may be no stopping of it. And I cannot live with that. Because of that, I fight ... I fight my fear. Almost all those women ... are from a very poor background, the same background that I came from. I feel that I'm returning back to humanity what I was given in terms of my education".

As far as I know, she has succeeded in everything she has done and in preventing women from being stoned.

Adding to what Karen Whitefield said, I feel that if the women get educated, the family gets educated, and that if one generation gets educated, it educates the next.

The political ramifications of Hauwa Ibrahim's actions are extraordinary. Through her deeds, she has taken a small step towards preventing the spread of the misinterpretation of Sharia law. Her story of being educated against all the odds in Africa supports Karen Whitefield's motion.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 5:20, 13 June 2007

I begin by congratulating Karen Whitefield on her motion. We always offer our congratulations in members' business debates, but the subject of this evening's debate is extremely important and I agree with every word of the motion and with all that has been said so far.

The subject of the debate puts into perspective our local debates in a country where, despite the challenges that it has faced, there has been a right to free and compulsory primary education for, I think, 130 years and an aspiration to have a school in every parish since at least the reformation of 450 years ago.

Aspects of tonight's debate relate both to this country and to countries far away. I was not able to get to the Moray House event that Karen Whitefield mentioned, but last night I went to a British Council event in the Scottish Storytelling Centre here in Edinburgh on the linked subject of global education. As an MSP and a former minister, I have launched or attended quite a few international education events. The work that has been done by Oxfam, the British Council, Save the Children, the Scottish Executive Education Department and councils, schools and teachers throughout Scotland has led to a great expansion of good twinning links and school exchanges with many countries, prominent among which have been Malawi and other African countries. I strongly agree with what Karen Whitefield said about the work of the previous Executive—especially its work with Malawi—which I hope will be followed up by the new Executive.

More important than those links have been the friendships that have grown up between teachers and educationalists across the continents and the insights that young people have gained in their formative years. It is no exaggeration to say that, as a result, the attitudes, interests and motivation of many thousands of children in Scotland have been broadened, to the huge benefit of Scotland and of Britain as a whole.

That is the perspective, from our end, of the benefits that our young people gain from the encouragement of global citizenship and the spread of knowledge and understanding of such wider issues across the world. However, the motion is primarily about the 80 million other children in countries both far away and not so far away who do not get to go to school and the many other children who have access only to rudimentary education facilities.

I had not realised, until a visiting teacher from Malawi told me in a matter-of-fact way, that teachers and pupils in some countries that are afflicted by high levels of HIV/AIDS spend rather a lot of time going to funerals or that investment in teacher training can—before the investment bears fruit—be wastefully and tragically brought to nothing by the loss of teachers at an early age to the ravages of disease. The education challenges that are faced in countries such as Malawi, Burundi and Sudan are not just to do with class sizes, poverty, geography, buildings or textbooks, although all those issues are relevant; there are aspects that are world wide, as anyone who listens to conversations between teachers as they share their experiences in widely differing societies can testify. As well as the challenges that are specific to particular developing countries in Africa, there are common issues across the world.

The motion makes an important point that has wider provenance, which is that education is a human right and that in many developing countries human rights are a powerful and central driving force in the development of a peaceful, modern and successful society. It is important to recognise that the actions of this country and of other western countries can be hugely supportive or hugely damaging to the interests of the third world—although that is perhaps a debate for a different day.

I turn to one of my favourite voluntary sector organisations, Castlemilk Community Can Cycle, which is based in Glasgow, the area that I represent. It began as a local project renovating bikes and providing them to local children, but it has expanded and now sends cycles to Africa, to enable young children who may live some distance from school to get there without having to make a very long walk. By supporting education in faraway countries in that small way, the organisation has a big effect.

Karen Whitefield said that education is the best weapon that the world has against poverty, deprivation and war. That important insight sums up the debate. It is a privilege for me to take part in the debate and I thank Karen for bringing the matter before the Parliament.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 5:25, 13 June 2007

It is also a privilege for me to lend my support to Karen Whitefield's motion.

Education is many things. It is the foundation on which we base our hopes and aspirations for our children, as well as something that touches our deepest emotions—a point that Christine Grahame rightly brought to our attention. It is also the prerequisite for economic wealth, the guardian of our culture, the vehicle by which we learn about our rights and responsibilities and the key with which we can unlock many doors to the wider world. Like health, education matters to everyone and it is often used as the yardstick by which we measure the progress of a nation.

It is tempting to focus solely on the need to ensure that all children across Scotland, whatever their backgrounds or physical and mental abilities, have their respective educational needs addressed. That is a major challenge in itself, but the wider moral issue of what to do about the international situation is also at stake. In that context, it is right that education is defined as an inalienable human right and that it should be defined as such in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it is not right that education is still denied to almost 80 million children across the world. It is our duty to rectify the situation in whatever way we can and to ensure that the privilege of education is extended to the many millions who are currently without that fundamental human right. What should we do?

In the first instance, our international aid programme must be refocused to ensure that money goes to those who are most in need. Currently, only 32 per cent of our aid budget is spent in the poorest nations. When we consider the nature of the challenge that we face—1.2 billion people, which is around one in five in the world, survive on less than $1 a day; life expectancy is actually falling in some nations; 30,000 children die every day from easily preventable diseases; 11 million children are AIDS orphans and another 40 million are HIV positive—it is clear that far more money must be directed at the poorer nations and that aid should remain independent of British commercial interests. Not only is it important to end the practice of tied aid, but my party would also like there to be more opportunity for money to be sent directly to those who are most in need. Perhaps that would be best managed in the form of aid vouchers that can be redeemed collectively by individuals in the poorest communities for development services that can provide new schools and new medical centres.

There is a moral obligation on the British Government not only to meet the United Nations' target figure of 0.7 per cent of gross national product being spent annually on aid, but to try to ensure that that happens before 2013. In particular, more money needs to be spent on medical services—for example, on projects such as the millennium development goal on malaria—so that more children have the opportunity to have a better health record that will allow them to attend school regularly.

One of the most important ways that we can assist with education is to export knowledge; to ensure that a growing number of businesses and individuals with professional expertise have the incentive to work with the poorest nations to build new infrastructures and public services that give people a better start in life.

Such is the scale of poverty and educational disadvantage that it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the challenge that we face. However, there are positive policies that we must pursue, and it is incumbent upon us all to play our part in delivering a more efficient structure of international development that will help to provide far more individuals everywhere with the education that they have a right to receive.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 5:29, 13 June 2007

I thank Karen Whitefield for bringing this extremely important and worthwhile initiative to the Parliament's attention. As a minister, it takes a bit of getting used to not being allowed to sign motions, but I and my colleagues would, I am sure, sign up to the motion that we are debating.

Not only is the Government committed to a fairer and more equal society in Scotland, but we richer nations of the world have an obligation to ensure that the world becomes a fairer and more equal place. That includes the fundamental right to an education that everyone has. It is clear that we have not managed to come anywhere near to achieving that goal. Debates such as this one will help to raise the profile of continuing inequalities and ensure that that agenda remains high in our conscience and priorities.

Children are crucial to the debate. All children deserve an equal chance to have a happy and safe childhood and to realise their full potential. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights and protections that every child should enjoy, wherever they live. This Government fully supports the provisions of the convention and I welcome the fact that almost every country in the world has signed up to it.

The Scottish Government's strategy on international development helps to promote those rights in developing countries by supporting a range of projects that tackle infant and maternal mortality and ensure that children get the education that they have a right to, for example. We congratulate the former Executive on the Malawi exchange programme and on the work that has been done. We are committed to carrying on that work.

Nelson Mandela said that

"there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."

Leaving so many of them without an education is no way to treat children. As Robert Brown said, children may know poverty, hard labour, ill health and HIV-AIDS, but they may never know the inside of a classroom.

More and more Governments are responding to popular pressure by announcing an end to primary school fees. As a result, millions of children have flooded into schools. It is great to see the co-operation between our schools in Scotland and schools in, for example, Malawi. As far as we know, 80 schools in Scotland are involved with schools in Malawi—the initiative has taken off throughout the country. Karen Whitefield should be proud that, like schools throughout the country, Clarkston primary school, which is in her constituency, has joined the programme. However, without a consequent increase in teaching resources, most children drop out of school long before the end of their viable schooling. As Robert Brown said, some teachers who die of AIDS are not replaced.

Scotland has a long history of helping countries to develop their education systems. As I said, education plays a strong role in our Scotland-Malawi co-operation agreement. The education strand of our joint action plan stresses the importance of education for all children and aims to increase access to education and to improve retention levels, especially for girls. Christine Grahame highlighted how important it is to educate women and gave the striking example of the young woman from northern Nigeria. I think that it was last night that I witnessed on TV the beating in another part of the world of a young woman who had clearly gone against Sharia law. It is clear that we need more women like the woman whom Christine Grahame mentioned: women who stand up for equality, justice and human rights.

I recall that three adults and three school-leavers from one of my own local churches went to Malawi two years ago to help. They found themselves teaching the children arts and crafts. The young girls were astonished by the enthusiasm and good behaviour of the children. As Karen Whitefield said, unfortunately some of our children take education for granted and treat it accordingly—no doubt, that is something that we will have to work on.

Another example of how Scotland is helping to get children in Malawi into education is the enterprising global citizen project, which is jointly funded by the Executive and the United Nations Children's Fund as part of the UN rights of the child programme.

As Karen Whitefield said, voluntary organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children add value to such work. All Scottish local authorities have been offered the opportunity to participate in the enterprising global citizen course. Through the Scottish Executive's international development fund, the EGC course has also been introduced in Malawi. Working through the EGC course shows each child how to create and develop their own child-led enterprises—in other words, how to educate themselves out of poverty. Malawian children do not want handouts: they want an education that will lead them to make their own way in the world, give themselves a good standard of living and ensure that their own children receive the education that their parents—whom they will be better able to support—were denied.

We in Scotland cannot be complacent. Research indicates that 23 per cent of Scottish adults have low numeracy and literacy skills. We must strive to make that a statistic of the past.

I note that some of the participants at the event that Karen Whitefield mentioned were from the Gypsy Traveller community. Cathy Peattie is no longer in the chamber, but she and others will know of my commitment to that community when my party was in opposition. We must ensure that the Gypsy Traveller community has equal access to an education that takes into account their itinerant lifestyle.

We should also not forget children with special needs, both here and in the developing world. Every child has the right to full access to an education system that develops them to their full potential. All of us present today have a duty to ensure that we do not fail them in that goal.

Through education, we can directly influence the thinking and approach of future generations in dealing with health issues and the prevention of disease. We can also provide a broader understanding of sustainable economic development and can help to establish sustainable, thriving and healthier communities.

What can we do in Scottish classrooms to raise the profile of global issues in general and the global campaign for education initiative in particular? We can raise awareness and, through awareness, understanding—so that the children involved, as the voters of tomorrow, can continue to put pressure on Governments to increase meaningful aid. None of us who took part in the make poverty history march can forget how meaningful the campaign was—not only to the participants but to all the G8 members who came to Scotland for the summit.

It is imperative that our education system ensures that all our young people acquire a knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it. Young people must learn about the increasingly interconnected world that they live in and about the major challenges that we face, including globalisation, climate change and world poverty. If we fail in that, not only do we fail our young people, but our society as a whole will be poorer. With that in mind, I confirm that this Government is committed to ensuring that an international education is taken seriously in all our schools. That will provide opportunities for all young people to become responsible and knowledgeable citizens as well as successful learners, confident individuals and effective contributors.

The schools involved in the global campaign for education event that Karen Whitefield mentioned should be congratulated by all of us on the fantastic work that they are doing in educating their children about the world and the challenges that we all face. I hope that many more schools will follow their lead. By raising the profile of the aims of the global campaign for education, we can assist those aims. I urge members to do all that they can to help; we will do all that we can.

Meeting closed at 17:38.