We must end the global education emergency

Monday, 22 January 2018 12:36 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Actor David Oyelowo attends a news conference to promote the movie 'Selma'at the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival in 2015. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

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Golden Globe nominated actor urges world leaders to make meaningful pledges at upcoming global education summit

David Oyelowo is an actor and supporter of the ONE campaign who champions the cause of universal education to help combat poverty 

When world leaders gather for a pivotal education financing summit in Dakar, Senegal on 2 February, they must deliver. Our collective security and prosperity depend on it. 

As British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government seeks to reinforce the Global Britain brand, showing up with a transformative and conditional commitment is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

As both a British and Nigerian citizen, I’ve seen and heard both sides of the argument for supporting countries such as Nigeria – and regions such as Africa – in the fight against poverty, extremism, inequality and corruption. 

Through my own work and experience around the kidnapped Chibok Girls of Nigeria, I’ve learned how profoundly education can affect a girl’s life-chances – delaying early marriage, reducing family size and boosting her lifetime earning potential. These benefits also have a ripple effect, helping to lift families and communities out of poverty, hunger, and disease. All told, education – especially for girls – can lead a developing nation to long-term economic development, prosperity and stability.

But I’ve also seen how aid money fails to deliver when there is no clear strategy to fight corruption and no public plan for how the money will be spent. That’s why I am backing the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which supports innovative, citizen-led solutions that involve people in how their education budgets are spent. The GPE gives citizen-led organisations the resources they need to track whether aid money is really getting to those schools that need it, and to ensure students are receiving the quality education they have been promised. 

This approach protects against corruption and improves value for money. I believe that all aid should be programmed in this smart, strategic, data-driven and highly accountable fashion. 

Some fear these anti-corruption conditions can be patronising. But I don’t, because these conditions are not driven from London, Brussels or Washington, but from the citizens of African countries who know their systems best and offer the strongest voices against corruption. The GPE approach is about listening to real, local leadership. It is bottom-up, citizen-led accountability of the best kind.  

The global education emergency has many faces. On one level, there is a worldwide shortage of digital industrial revolution-ready skills – we need more graduates with an artful combination of science and creative capabilities. In the poorest countries, this shortage is compounded by the lack of decent, basic education for far too many.

Three-hundred-and-thirty million children are estimated to be in school but learning little, and for hundreds of millions there is simply no schooling at all – and this all gets worse if you are poor, female and African. One-hundred-and-thirty million girls globally aren’t in school at all and 500 million women can’t read or write.

These are astonishingly awful statistics. I’ve met many of the humans behind these numbers having lived and worked in countries like Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, and Morocco. This generation is potentially lost to the enlightenment of education, and as such could become part of a growing security question for the international community.

By 2050, the population of Africa will be 2.5 billion and will comprise 40 per cent of the world’s youth, with 10 times more young people than Europe. What will this huge generation of young Africans think, buy, sell, create and aspire to? With the right investments in their education, employment and empowerment, they can be the energy to drive inclusive global growth far into the future. 

But if we don’t make these investments, we risk mass displacement and destabilisation as the effects of extreme poverty, extreme climates and extreme ideology threaten both the region and its neighbours in Europe. 

This emergency has many solutions. We must invest more in teachers and technologies, alongside better data and metrics to measure learning outcomes. This will be contingent on connecting schools to electricity, to the internet, to water, and to sanitation so that pupils, particularly girls, can make it to school and leave with a future-ready education.

Many of these policies are being modelled effectively in Senegal, the education summit’s host nation. President Macky Sall is prioritising girls’ education and, importantly, putting the finances behind the rhetoric. Senegal now spends more than 20 per cent of its national budget on education – a smart move, as the nation’s future depends on the abilities of these young citizens. 

The ONE Campaign has estimated that if we achieved the universal education goal, 35 million lives could be saved. This is why over 700,000 people have signed their petition calling on the UK and other nations to lead the fight against this education emergency. 

The investment required of the UK for the Global Partnership for Education is £380 million over three years. And this investment must be tightly linked to anti-corruption conditions, lead to an increased focus by all partners on the marginalised – especially the poorest girls – and linked to improvements in data to measure learning outcomes. It must also be conditional on countries across Africa taking a lead themselves and committing 20 per cent of their national budgets to education. 

Such an investment would help lead the world in rising to the challenge of the education emergency, empower the vibrant youth population on Europe’s borders, and protect us all from the worrying challenges looming on the horizon. 

This is not just in our nation’s economic and security interests, it is also profoundly consistent with the very best of British – and African – values.