(pt 1)

21 Jun 2005 : Column 165WH

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 21 June 2005

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Great Lakes (Education Providers)

9.30 am

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Watts.]

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak this morning about this particularly important issue. Few Members are present, but I hope that one or two of my colleagues will pop in in due course.

My former parliamentary colleague, Oona King, who is still my colleague in the Labour party, started the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, and it has done a great deal of tremendous work. It is still a staffed group, and some of the staff are present. It is especially important to keep the group going, because we have good contacts with countries across central Africa, especially the great lakes region, and with people in those countries.

It is particularly timely that I have a chance to debate this issue this morning. It covers the whole of Africa and the developing world, although my interest and personal experience relate to central Africa, so I shall focus on that. The lessons can, however, be generalised and applied across the developing world. The United Kingdom holds the chairmanship of the G8 and will, in due course, hold the presidency of the European Union, so we are in a pivotal position and will be able to have an impact on events over the next few weeks.

There has been a great deal in the press about development issues in general, but I want to focus on education. I recently visited three schools in my constituency—St. Mungo's high school, Larbert high school and Stenhousemuir primary school—which were participating in the "Send My Friend to School" scheme, which is part of the Global Campaign for Education. Across the world, children and campaigners have made model friends, each of whom represents a child who is missing out on an education. Many of those children are in Africa and, of course, in central Africa.

The campaign is designed to enable school students in developed countries to make the link between their own education, which is, quite correctly, taken as a right, and the lives of the many children of their age in the developing world who have no access to education or who access it only for relatively few years and only for as long as their parents can afford to pay for it out of their meagre resources. On 6 July, at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, which borders my constituency, 1 million models made by schoolchildren and representing children who are missing out on an education will be presented to the leaders of the richest and most powerful nations on earth.

The "Send My Friend to School" scheme is, in effect, the children's element of the "Make Poverty History" campaign, which, as pretty much everyone in this country, including hermits, knows, will reach its climax
21 Jun 2005 : Column 166WH
between the "Make Poverty History" march in Edinburgh on 2 July and the concerts organised by Bob Geldof and others, which will be held on 6 July to coincide with the G8 meeting in Scotland.

The aims of the "Make Poverty History" campaign are worth restating because they come at a remarkable moment of opportunity and leadership for this country, which, as I said, will simultaneously hold the chairmanship of the G8 and the presidency of the EU. The campaign aims to drop the debt, to have more and better aid and to make trade fairer by removing unfair subsidies to producers in developing countries. If the UK can lead the world in delivering, it will enable developing countries to develop. Development implies hospitals and roads, a growing economy, with inward investment, and the rule of law and democratic governance. It also implies education for all, and that, more than any other area of experience, is the point of contact with the lives of children and older pupils and students in developed countries. That is why initiatives such as "Send My Friend to School" and the Global Campaign for Education are so important.

At this pivotal time in our national and international life, we should constantly re-stress that 100 million children have no access to education. Another 150 million cannot finish primary school; in some cases, they have just a few months of primary school. Those, of course, are rolling figures. Their impact is not only personal, bad though that is. The wider impact is that it is impossible for countries to move out of the cycle of poverty and non-development; they are not able to call in sufficient financial or human capital to run their schools. Without an education system to which all children have entitlement, there can be no justice for developing countries.

As a result of war, poverty and the collapse of states, education in the region has suffered hugely. In a region where more than 4.5 million people are thought to have died as a result of conflict and genocide, education is vital for two reasons—it can address the poverty and hunger that are one cause of conflict and it can neutralise ethnic and political divisions.

Education in the region has been hard hit by conflict, and in many parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo it has disappeared. Grass roots organisations have taken the lead in creating a local education structure, which shows that learning is valued, but the biggest problem, especially in the DRC, is the general collapse of the state, which affects everything from health to roads. According to some estimates, only a third of children attend primary school. Before the civil war began in the late 1990s, at the end of the Mobutu period, the figure was about two thirds, so there has been a substantial decline. The figures are similar in Burundi.

The education system was targeted in the Rwandan conflict of 10 years ago. Teachers and other educated people were singled out for assassination, and teachers were both victims and perpetrators of the genocide in state and, sadly, church schools. Schools were ransacked and destroyed, as was the ministry of education. Many teachers lost their lives. Little documentation or school supplies remain. Hundreds of thousands of households were left headed by children, who as a result did not receive an education. Although in theory education is free, fees and the cost of materials keep many children away from
21 Jun 2005 : Column 167WH
school. Having said that, the Government were quick to re-establish an education system after the genocide, and by 2000 the primary school enrolment rate was 97 per cent. for boys and 95 per cent. for girls. A quarter of men and just under two fifths of women are illiterate.

Access to education is an issue, especially for vulnerable groups. When money is tight, girls are often kept at home, although the figure of 97 per cent. is extremely good for the area, particularly since the reconstruction following the genocide and civil war. In the Congo, 4.6 million children are out of school, of whom 2.5 million are girls, and almost half of adult women are illiterate, compared with about a quarter of males. The gender issue clearly applies as strongly there as it does everywhere else.

Pygmies are another vulnerable group; they tend to be especially poor and find it harder to pay school fees. Pygmy children are subject to bullying from other ethnic groups. The times when families leave their settlements to go to the forest usually clash with the school calendar, so children are often left with relatives in the village. As a result, children miss vital training on how to live in the forest and use it sustainably. The education system in the Congo does not value the understanding that many Babongo or Batwa have of the forest; indeed it conflicts with their being able to pass on their deep understanding of forest use, and it undermines important cultural practices.

Before the genocide the Rwandan education system mirrored and reinforced ethnic divisions in the country, with ethnic and regional quotas. The current view seems to be that formal education in the great lakes region is not a major factor in causing conflict. However, there are problems. In Rwanda, under President Kagame, ethnic classifications have been abolished and discrimination banned, but history, an important subject, is still not generally taught. There have been no new textbooks since 1994, and—this might be a secondary challenge—no agreement on how to present the years of genocide, which will become more important as time passes.

In Burundi, there is a strong geographical imbalance in that southern and central provinces are much better provided for. That is the result of various factors, not least of which is the fact that every president from 1965 to 1993 came from the south. Army officers need at least a secondary education, and the army wields enormous power, so the imbalance has serious political implications. According to International Alert, the

in Burundi.

In a broader sense, education and training are a crucial part of practical measures to stabilise the region. The training and education of customs officials is seen as an important part of efforts to fight uncontrolled flows of arms and natural resources fuelling armed groups in areas such as the Kivus and Ituri. The training of the civil service and the new national army are vital to re-establish the state, to reduce corruption and the abuse of power and to bring some measure of development to the region.

In Rwanda, the education system is strong compared with that of Burundi and the Congo and pays its teachers relatively well. The Department for International
21 Jun 2005 : Column 168WH
Development, as the Minister might mention, has a substantial programme in Rwanda and is contributing to teachers' salaries by giving direct budget support. It might do the same in the DRC and Burundi in due course.

In the great lakes, and in the DRC especially, the education sector needs enormous support for materials, salaries, buildings and administration—the stuff of education in the United Kingdom, and which seem fairly prosaic, but there are almost no resources in many parts of the country. Indeed, there are literally no resources at all in parts that I visited, particularly at points further away from the main conurbation in Kinshasa and the east, and from the smaller conurbation, if we can call it a conurbation, around Goma.

Schools would attract many more children if they provided meals and were genuinely free. Education is enormously important if the region is to recover from the devastation of the past decade and is to avoid a repeat of past conflicts. The UK is in a strong position to help.

I know that the Minister will have several things to say about the many very good things that the UK Government are doing in conjunction with our European Union allies and other developed states, but I must tell him of my experiences in the Congo and the reason for my interest in the subject. I first became interested in the Congo on a visit there as part of the all-party group with colleagues from the Labour party and the main Opposition parties. We were shown around a series of educational and health assets in Kinshasa and Goma and at points some distance from Goma. When one visits these places, one has a particular idea of what words such as school, hospital or clinic might mean. In the Congo, however, they do not look much like schools or hospitals. We visited one hospital that was just a collection of huts. One hut had a bed in it and was described as a ward. A woman was dying in it, entirely unnecessarily. That experience branded me, but it was a crucial political lesson.

We visited several schools, which again in essence were collections of huts. Invariably, four or five children would be sitting on the floor. Some would have slates, if their parents could afford them, but others would not and would share or look on. Around the top of the huts—it was the same in each place that we visited—there might be four or five children in the classroom and 30 or 40 children peering through the gap between the walls and the roof. Those were the children who did not have access to any kind of education because their parents did not have the means to fund it. In good times, those parents had the agricultural wherewithal to exchange to pay teachers to teach their children, but quite frequently their children were withdrawn after a very short period.

Such visits—in this instance conducted under the auspices of the all-party group, but funded by organisations such as Save the Children, Christian Aid and the Tearfund—bring home the importance of tackling the whole issue of education and other aspects of infrastructure development in Africa.

The example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo helps us to understand the immensity of the human and technical problems facing people seeking to build a new infrastructure in an African country with
21 Jun 2005 : Column 169WH
much potential but very little material wealth. Until the early 1960s, the infrastructure of the DRC, which was then the Belgian Congo, began to develop. That period ended—this is relevant, at least historically—when Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was elected but murdered shortly thereafter. There were schools in the more developed areas, in Kinshasa, and there were universities too.

Following the death of Patrice Lumumba, we had many years of President Mobutu, who constructed a classical African dictatorship, whereby the natural mineral wealth of the country was looted to buy mansions in Brussels and elsewhere. Those of us who were thinking about spending ill-gotten gains—which none of us would have, of course—might not choose to buy a mansion in Brussels, so perhaps he had bad taste as well as a great deal of loot stashed away. Essentially, that was what this classical African dictatorship used its resources for, and certainly not for infrastructure or education. It was the epitome of the corrupt dictatorship, which led to so many people to hold the wrong-headed view today that African states are intrinsically incapable of achieving progress. That, of course, is so far from the truth.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo's own Parliament there is an all-party group that mirrors our group—the imaginatively named all-party group for the UK. Its members told me that, after several years of armed conflict and many years of mismanagement, the    Congolese education system has deteriorated considerably. There is, however, some room for hope because there is a degree of stability under President Kabilla. Resources are extremely modest, and most of them come from outside the country. Only about 1 per cent. of people in the DRC have taxable employment, and most of them work for non-governmental organisations. There is a limited tax base and, outside the main cities, almost no funding for schools and education and hospitals.

School attendance has been weak According to my parliamentary colleagues in the Congo, almost half the children who are eligible do not attend school—about 48.3 per cent. About 4.5 million eligible children are at present outside the education system. Only 25 per cent. of children reach year 5. The figures are much worse for provinces directly affected by the civil war and, of course, for girls, where the gender element kicks in.

The Congolese Government at present allocate about only 1 per cent. of their budget to the building of school infrastructure, further weakening the imbalance between the needs of the people and the resources available. In order to improve school admissions and to increase the number of eligible children attending school, the focus needs to be on the rehabilitation of the school infrastructure. Funds are needed to build new schools to cope with the great demand among the Congolese people—reflected well across central Africa—for a decent education.

The emergence of a rehabilitation and reconstruction programme, which was put together with the international donor community, calls for the rehabilitation of 265 schools—about 25 schools per province. That would restore hope and contribute, with other social programmes, to improving the living conditions of Congolese children, but is clearly, ultimately, a drop in the ocean.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 170WH

The university sector in the DRC is fairly modest in its operations but it has some capable and dedicated academics, working, as one can imagine, with incredibly meagre resources. After independence, the Congo had three universities. Lovanium university was built by the Catholic Church and the University of Kisingani by Protestant missionaries—historically there has been a heavy Church influence in the provision of higher education in the Congo. The only public tertiary education institution was the Université Officielle du Congo. The universities were essentially merged under Mobutu in 1971 for political reasons that are now somewhat opaque. They were run down, had no lights or running water and were not what we would describe as universities.

Since the end of the civil war and the beginnings of a degree of hope and reconstruction in the DRC, a modest amount of funds has been generated and directed towards higher education. However, one needs a higher education sector as one needs tertiary and vocational sectors in between primary and secondary education to ensure that countries such as the DRC are capable of developing talent and working on their infrastructure. Retaining their talent also requires funding to keep people employed in jobs so that as soon as they are trained they do not disappear abroad to earn more money in South Africa or the UK. That is an issue for the UK Government to address and I know that the Minister and other Departments—particularly the Department of Health—are aware of that.

Central Africa has often been passed over by the media because it does not hold much strategic interest for developed countries such as Britain. A great deal is being done by non-governmental organisations such as Save the Children, Christian Aid, the Tearfund and the Red Cross, which all have an impact on education, whether it be through the provision of water, the establishment of infrastructure or helping to fund teachers. As Britain chairs the G8 and serves—through the Government and the Prime Minister—as president of the European Union, we are in an unparalleled situation. The actions that we take now and over the next few weeks will have the most fundamental impact on the quality of life of people in countries across Africa and the developing world such as the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will make some remarks about Government policy in some areas that I have mentioned—fundamentally, primary education. However, we must not forget what might be considered to be the more rarefied areas—the higher reaches of higher education—because they also matter in the development of the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say.

9.53 am

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) for raising this debate on a topical and important issue. Like him, I recently visited a school in my constituency and was pleased to see the children preparing the cut-outs that the teacher will take up to Gleneagles. That is a visual way of emphasising the importance of universal primary education, something we tend to take for granted in this country but which, in many parts of Africa, people struggle and save to get.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 171WH

I want to use my experience in this field. Until the election on 5 May I was a teacher in a school in Bradford that had a link with a school in Kenya, and I have the papers in front of me on the group of students who will, I hope, come to this country in a few weeks' time. I have also been involved in Uganda where I saw at close hand some of the work being done, particularly to develop primary education and, as the country grows, to address the need to expand secondary education and put in place systems of educational administration to allow the country to evolve.

I shall start with Kenya. I first got involved in Kenya back in 1992 when, as a member of my community, I was asked to help raise the funds to build a school in what was then part of the President of Kenya's constituency. Having got a container full of material from schools in Bradford, the container went missing and the material never got to the schools for which it was intended. That emphasises one of the issues that people face: corruption. Although the people in the schools wanted the materials, certain officials along the way were keen that the money went elsewhere. I therefore believe that systems of governance and control are key in terms of any funding and support that we develop for the future.

Thankfully, when Mwai Kibaki was elected a few years ago—I know that there are problems with his Government at the moment—one of the first things that his Government did was to reintroduce primary education. However, last year, when I took a group of students from Bradford to Kenya, I saw at first hand the effect of a blanket reintroduction of universal education without the necessary funding. The primary school that I visited, with which we have a link, had seen its roll grow by 60 per cent. There were more than 1,000 students in that school, and it had had an extra two teachers to cope with the influx. The only way in which the school was able to cope was by running the school in two shifts. Although it is good that children are getting primary education, they may not get the full quota, and there are still children in Mygat in the Rift valley who are not being educated. Again, the only way in which progress will be made is for there to be greater expansion of training of teachers and investment in buildings.

In Uganda, except in the north of the country, there has been a very long period of stable democratic government, although we will see what happens next year when the multi-party elections take place. That has enabled many schools to develop. I have visited several schools in Uganda, and have seen at close hand the work that they have done. I have also seen the work that the British Council has done. It has introduced initiatives such as working with the administration in Masindi to organise exchanges of education officers with officers in this country. That has gone a long way, not just to dealing with the issue of providing universal education, but to developing the systems that need to be put in place to support its structure. I hope that the Minister will be able to encourage the development of more schemes such as those. They have provided lasting links, which have enabled both groups of young people to move forward together, and helped to develop education for students both in Bradford and in Kenya and Uganda. The next few months provide an historic
21 Jun 2005 : Column 172WH
opportunity to build on that good will. I hope that the links and the experience that has developed over the past few years can be developed further.

10 am

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) on introducing the debate, and apologise for missing the first five minutes of his clear and important account. I have been to Democratic Republic of the Congo once, with Oona King, who was an excellent chair of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, and with my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). It is good to see some of the officers of the group present.

I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to think about one point in particular, which does not take us away from what my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk was talking about. As an educationist I found it moving to visit a couple of schools in Democratic Republic of the Congo where children were learning in the most difficult circumstances. There were huge numbers of them in small, dilapidated school rooms.

The most moving thing of all was to see peer education, in its widest definition, going on. Other children, who could not afford to go to school, would be standing about outside the school. When school finished, the children who had been would come out and do some teaching for those who did not have the opportunity. Sometimes the children outside would be from the same family as those who had been to school; families had to pay for schooling, and to decide which children would go there. What better example could there be of the way in which education can be passed on, by the very youngest?

Clearly, we want to ensure that all the children can attend school. The Minister will no doubt discuss the moneys that are to be provided in the aid budget to advance the school building programme.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend was right that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk gave an excellent account of the state of the education system in the great lakes region, but does he agree that one area in which our Government can assist is teacher training? Many of the teachers in Democratic Republic of the Congo were lost in the conflict, and many have also died because of HIV and AIDS. There are teachers, but many are unqualified and have had no formal training. Accordingly the education is very basic. We can assist with both curriculum development and teacher training.

Mr. Drew : My hon. Friend has obviously read the speech that I have not written; that is exactly the point that I wanted to make, and I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk spent very long on that. The most important thing that we can do by way of aid provision to enhance education in places such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi is to bolster the teacher training framework. We can do that well by trying to match every teacher training institution in this country to Africa; not
21 Jun 2005 : Column 173WH
necessarily the great lakes region. I worked for 10 years in one of our great teacher training institutions; perhaps we could challenge the institutions to form a partnership, establish links and see how they might inform the teacher training that is already happening.

The saddest thing is that the best teachers are the ones who are taken from the classroom to train other teachers. Perhaps that is inevitable, but we cannot afford to let that happen in isolation. We need advances to be made on the framework, which we need to be built on to a considerable extent. Otherwise, sadly, the very children who need that education will lose out.

My institution, the university of the West of England, has links that I have tried to deepen and widen because that is something simple that we can do. It will not be enormously expensive; we are talking about a free exchange, in which we bring people over to this country and, more particularly, go over and help them to set up their structures. When I visited the Sudan, the obvious weakness was the insufficient structure to ensure that the education system was robust enough.

I hope that we can take something from this debate. Often, Adjournment debates are about Back Benchers just making our points and hoping that we receive a polite and helpful response from the Minister, but I am giving the Minister a direct challenge. We could write to every teacher training institution in this country and tell them to form a partnership with one of the African countries—perhaps, given the size of those countries, a region in an African country—and see how we can advance the teacher training framework. I look forward to seeing how that proposal goes down with the Minister.

10.6 am

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I begin by warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr.   Joyce), not only on securing a debate on an extremely important subject but on demonstrating his deep knowledge of it, as well as his passion and commitment to it. In the context of the debates in which a large number of countries will be engaged—at the G8 summit, the UN millennium council in September and the World Trade Organisation later in the year—getting fundamental issues such as improvements in the availability of education opportunities in countries in the great lakes region of Africa and other developing countries should be high on the agenda if we are to break through the cycle of deprivation and conflict that countries such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and others have experienced.

The hon. Member for Falkirk emphasised that those countries, particularly Rwanda and the Congo, have in the past decade been riven with conflict, genocide and war, and the poverty and displacement of people that they create. I understand that in the great lakes region more than 4.5 million people have been killed through genocidal violence in the past decade. As he said, a large number of children in the Congo and in other countries are not attending school. A great deal of emphasis must be placed on widening the education opportunities in those countries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) spoke about his visits to Uganda and to Kenya and emphasised that his attempt to take aid our from a
21 Jun 2005 : Column 174WH
school in Bradford was a salutary experience; many others attempting to bring aid to developing countries have had similar experiences. There was a silver lining to the cloud, in that he said that he can see that structures can be built to ensure that aid, particularly for educational development, can be delivered. We want to ensure that that is delivered.

Similarly, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) rightly emphasised the importance of making links with developing countries and of providing opportunities for teacher training so that their educational capacity can be developed in the way that he described. Perhaps, he would argue, that is the greatest contribution that we in the UK can make.

Looking at the wider picture, the conundrum that developed countries have to face is the extent to which we feel it appropriate to micro-manage the delivery of civil society in developing countries. Should we stand back, provide basic tools and ensure that we do not hold them back through our trading relationship and cripple them with debt, simply leaving those countries to find their own solutions? Is that not a better way of helping them out of their problems in education, health and other sectors if we want development in those countries?

It is difficult for countries to look at the microcosm of a particular school or sector in developing countries such as those in the great lakes region and to judge whether it is appropriate for the Department for International Development, for example, to engage in individual funding programmes for teachers in Rwandan schools. I think that judgment is right, but one has to watch and to take care that the aid and support given for funding teachers in Rwandan schools is not misused and treated as replacement funding for what the Government of Rwanda should be contributing themselves, but are using for other purposes. There must be an exit strategy in any such funding. The aim is not for the United Kingdom to continue to fund education in Rwanda for ever.

No doubt the Minister will comment on the Government decisions in his reply—it seems that he will have a reasonable time to do so—and on the Department's contribution now, and on what efforts it is making to ensure the development of the Government's capacity so that the Department can withdraw its support and direct it elsewhere in such a way that the systems do not then collapse.

The hon. Member for Falkirk raised the issue of tertiary education in the Congo. Reports and assessments of the capacity of tertiary education in Democratic Republic of the Congo show that a great deal of work needs to be undertaken in the tertiary sectors, not just in the primary and secondary sectors. When one considers the agricultural capacity of a country like the DRC, there is tremendous disappointment that the country is not currently training its future agronomists and undertaking sufficient research to be able to fulfil its capability.

The hon. Member for Falkirk is absolutely right; I should be interested to know what assessment the Minister and his Department have made of the need to support the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors in the great lakes region.

In preparing for the debate, I received a report from the Aegis Trust, which updated me on the arrangements for the Kigali memorial centre and other memorial
21 Jun 2005 : Column 175WH
centres in Rwanda, the purpose of which is to teach the children and other residents of Rwanda the lessons of the period of genocide. Most of the centres were developed 10 years after the genocide. The Department for International Development has provided Rwanda's Ministry of Education with capital funds and has helped the Aegis Trust to preserve some of the memorial sites, so that lessons will continue to be learned in the same way as lessons are learned, appropriately, about the holocaust in Europe.

Given the utmost importance and urgency of the need for young people to engage positively and to learn from the genocide, and given the respect that the Aegis Trust has established among the general community and the Rwandan Government, as well as the international recognition that the memorial sites are receiving, does the Minister agree that support from Her Majesty's Government for the ongoing education programmes at the genocide memorial centres would contribute significantly to the long-term promotion of peace and stability in a volatile region?

Clearly, one thing that we know from this debate and the experience of the genocide is that education programmes cannot be undertaken when people are running in fear for their lives. The only thing that they, and especially children, learn in those circumstances is fear, violence and the truisms of inhumanity if there is no protection. Clearly, every effort must be made to avoid the possibility of future conflict.

I understand that great efforts are being made in Rwanda to ensure that there is proper integration in schools and that lessons are learned from the fertile soils from which conflict grew in the education system itself in the early 1990s. I understand also that Rwanda's education system is strong compared with, for example, those of Burundi and the Congo. As I said, the teachers are paid relatively well, and DFID contributes significantly to teachers' salaries through direct budget support. The question is what assessment the Minister has made of the rod that the Department has made for its back by providing funding in Rwanda but not, for example, in the Congo and Burundi. Teachers from the DRC and Burundi are going to Rwanda, where they can be better paid. Is there a case for making a greater aid package available through direct budget support for paying teachers?

The education sector in the great lakes region and especially in the DRC needs enormous support in terms of materials, salaries, buildings and administration. If schools provided meals and they were genuinely free, they would attract a great deal more teachers. Education will be enormously important if the region is to recover from the devastation of the past decade and avoid a repetition of past conflicts. I am sure that the UK can continue to play a strong role in developing education in the region.

10.19 am

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I add my congratulations to all hon. Members who have spoken and to the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) on securing this important debate at this significant time, particularly as the United Kingdom holds the
21 Jun 2005 : Column 176WH
presidency of the European Union and the G8. The hon. Member for Falkirk spoke with great knowledge and experience of that part of Africa. He was absolutely right to highlight the role that Oona King has played in keeping such issues at the forefront of the political agenda. I have read that she may continue her interest in the area, either through the United Nations or some other body, and I hope that she will continue to work for the people of the great lakes region of Africa.

The hon. Member for Falkirk rightly highlighted the significance of education in developing many of Africa's economies and societies, and mentioned some of the visits that he and I made to local schools. Those visits are important, not only in forging links, mentioned by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), but in trying to educate primary schoolchildren in the UK to make them understand that not everyone in the world benefits from the educational system that they do, or is as fortunate as they are, and that they should understand and do what they can to facilitate better education elsewhere in the world, particularly in that poor part of Africa.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made a brief but intriguing contribution. I hope that the Minister will respond in his winding-up speech; he has plenty of time to do so, which he will be delighted about. He was asked about bolstering the teacher training network, which would increase capacity, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) stated. I should like to know whether the Minister has thought about that but also about increasing links between the tertiary and the further education sectors in the UK and its counterparts in Africa. Significant parts of the further education sector in the UK are keen to increase such links.

It is clear that education must be a priority in sub-Saharan Africa if the area's fortunes are to change. The Conservative party supports educational initiatives in the great lakes region, both through non-governmental organisations and direct budgetary support. The area suffers from tremendous geographical, political and economic challenges, on which both the Department for International Development and the international community need seriously to focus if we are to find a successful conclusion. Like the Government, we are committed to working towards the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of our national income on aid, facilitating projects and income streams on top of those that are being currently provided.

As well as our strong commitment to development assistance, our long-term objective is to ensure that developing countries graduate from dependency to functioning democracies and sustainable economies and societies. That can be achieved only if we help African countries to develop their education systems. The World Bank has said, quite rightly, that the most important key to development is education. Education is the cornerstone of an economically and socially prosperous society. Without a properly educated work force, it will be impossible for the sub-Saharan nations to reduce poverty, increase trade and ultimately see sustainable economic growth. Across the world, it is estimated that 115 million children do not go to school, and eight out of 10 of those live in sub-Saharan Africa or southern Asia. If we are to see an end to poverty and suffering in Africa, we must improve education.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 177WH

The millennium development goals provide ambitious targets for the world to attain. Achieving universal primary education by 2015 will be challenging but Britain must continue to provide support for educational projects, especially in the great lakes region. Raising educational standards has beneficial side-effects and will contribute towards making the other millennium development goals more achievable. Higher standards of education may help to control the spread of disease, increase economic activity and encourage a more pluralistic and tolerant society. I welcome the progress made so far by nations that now offer free primary education. That is a fundamental step if we are to see a real step-change in the educational prospects of the population.

Ensuring that pupils stay on for a full course of schooling is clearly an even greater challenge. Unfortunately, none of the great lakes nations is close to providing a full course of primary schooling. Only 40 per cent. of children in Rwanda complete five or more years of education. The figure is 64 per cent. in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, but Tanzania has made significant progress. With great assistance from DFID, 1,925 primary schools have been built, more than 3,700 new teachers have been employed and, next year, every child in Tanzania should receive free primary school education.

Sadly, there remain severe gender disparities. Worldwide, more than 74 million girls are not enrolled in school; two thirds of the total number. The countries of the great lakes are no exception, with just 47 per cent. of primary school age girls attending school in Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo. For there to be gender equality in education, there need to be major cultural changes. That cannot happen overnight, but as 70 per cent. of the world's poor are female, it is vital that there be an improvement in quality education for girls. Cultural barriers often leave girls without legal, political or economic rights. High-quality education for girls is the first step toward redressing the balance.

Improved education for girls has long-term knock-on effects. Educated women tend to have fewer and healthier children, and those children tend to receive an education also. By having children later, women are often able to participate in economic activity. In Africa, children of mothers who received five years of primary education are 40 per cent. more likely to live beyond age five. That is a staggering statistic. The UN girls' education initiative will, we hope, start to redress the balance and bring an end to gender inequality.

The Conservatives recognise that DFID contributes in various areas and assists countries that have fallen behind, particularly in implementing the millennium development goals. Unfortunately, the education systems of the great lakes countries are characterised by limited access, hidden costs, poor quality and illness. I shall address all those issues, which need to be tackled simultaneously if we are to make a significant difference to education in the great lakes area.

First, I shall address the problem of limited access. Although primary education is now nominally free across the whole great lakes region, access remains far from universal. In countries such as Uganda, education facilities are mainly in urban areas, leaving those in remote villages, and particularly those in the fishing, nomadic and conflict-ridden areas, without access to
21 Jun 2005 : Column 178WH
education or teaching facilities. What does DFID propose to do to ensure that people in those difficult-to-reach areas can access education? What progress is being made toward that goal?

In countries in which conflict continues, such as the DRC, children are unable to go through areas of continuing violence to reach schools. The hon. Member for Falkirk gave some interesting statistics to demonstrate that the level of education has decreased since the conflict began in terms of the number and percentage of children going to school.

Even in areas in which education is provided, there is often overcrowding. In Kenya, teachers are regularly in charge of classes of 100 children. That has led to learning shifts, which have been criticised for overstretching teachers who often have to teach significant numbers of children in consecutive shifts, which must have a detrimental impact on the quality of education.

Of those children who enrol in school, the drop-out rate remains concerningly high, with one third of African children dropping out of school before they have acquired basic numeracy and literacy skills. For those who complete primary education and are willing to further their studies, there are few high-quality, low-cost secondary and tertiary education facilities. In a modern, globalising world, primary education is not sufficient to equip students with relevant skills such as IT, nutrition, hygiene and basic health care education.

Of those students who make it to tertiary education, a substantial proportion—some 20 per cent. in Uganda—leave their countries to follow a career abroad. Greater investment is needed to equip students with practical skills that will benefit their countries of origin by ensuring that they stay there and contribute economically and socially to their countries' development. We must work with countries and NGOs in specific regions to ensure that the brain drain is minimised.

UNESCO is trying to address the adult learning problem in Burundi, by focusing on adult literacy and technical and professional education. Some 260 adult literacy volunteers across the country have so far been trained. I very much hope that adult learning programmes will feature in other countries' education programmes. I would be interested to hear what DFID is doing to ensure that the education focus in the great lakes region is not just on the primary sector but on expanding the secondary and tertiary sectors.

Secondly, I want to mention the hidden costs. Despite the acknowledged steps that have been taken to provide free primary education, the evidence shows that it is rarely completely free, and parents are often forced to pay hidden costs, levied under such pseudonyms as development funds or contributions. In Uganda, which is often held up as an excellent example of free education provision, the costs can be as high as 33 per cent. of the discretionary household expenditure, and many parents are unable or unwilling to pay.

The third element is poor quality. The educational progress of the countries of the great lakes region is harmed by the poor quality of much of the teaching. There is no universal curriculum, so standards vary and providers change regularly, which results in repetition and a lack of continuity. In many cases, schools are
21 Jun 2005 : Column 179WH
failing to equip their students with the skills and knowledge that would benefit their countries in the long term. Education in Rwanda and Tanzania in particular has been criticised for a lack of focus on development priorities.

Fourthly, pandemic illnesses, such as malaria and HIV, contribute to the very high drop-out rates experienced in many schools, either due to pupils themselves becoming ill or because the death of a parent or guardian leaves the child as the primary provider for their siblings. That is why education must not be considered in isolation. Providing vaccines and medicines to the largest number of people in the widest possible area will not only improve the health of the population, but help to combat drop-out rates in education.

To reach the millennium development goals by 2015, it is estimated that Africa will need 3 million more teachers, but in 1999 alone in sub-Saharan Africa nearly 1 million children lost their teachers to AIDS/HIV alone. When that is coupled with a loss of teachers in conflict areas—particularly in Democratic Republic of Congo recently—it has a serious impact on countries' ability to provide the necessary education.

We are all familiar with the atrocities in Rwanda and during the civil war that ravaged the DRC, and many other Members referred to them. Divisions in the education system, particularly between ethnic and tribal groups, can lead to disproportionate levels of power accruing to a dominant or powerful group, allowing it effectively to take over the running of a country and keep power and wealth in a small group of hands. As we have seen, that sometimes has disastrous effects. I understand that there is evidence that that problem is being seriously addressed in Burundi, and I would welcome any comment from the Minister that DFID is monitoring the situation carefully and ensuring that any aid for education is channelled across the tribal and ethnic spectrum.

I have just a few specific further questions for the Minister. Do the Government favour channelling bilateral aid for education through national Governments or through non-governmental organisations and other channels? The hon. Member for St. Ives mentioned that, and there are dangers in creating dual streams of income, as the NGOs can pick the best people from the Government because they pay more, leaving the Government lacking people. What other countries are providing similar assistance for education in the great lakes area, and is the Department for International Development working closely with other donor countries to ensure that there is no duplication in provision? How often do the donor countries meet, and is there a difference among the countries in the great lakes area?

I welcome DFID's support for the fast-track initiative, but does the Minister believe that it will be successful in improving co-ordination of aid and African countries' national education plans? How does that fit with the disparate nature of the funding streams going to different organisations to provide education? Finally, what progress is DFID making towards funding the new scheme for higher education, with particular reference to the millennium development
21 Jun 2005 : Column 180WH
goals in sub-Saharan Africa on science and technology, which replaces the existing scheme that, I understand, ceases in March 2006?

I am aware of the important contribution that DFID, UNICEF and others have made to the education systems of sub-Saharan Africa. I believe that programmes such as the UN girls' education initiative and the fast-track initiative, which encourages partnerships between international agencies, Government and civil society, are the way forward if we are to bring high-quality, universal education to the children of the great lakes countries.

Sustainable and substantial improvements in the quality of life in sub-Saharan Africa depend on the continent being able to tackle the underlying causes of poverty, foremost among which are poor education standards. The education systems in the countries of the great lakes area urgently require further investment and support if they are to meet the MDGs of providing universal free primary education and gender equality in education. I hope that the Minister understands that he will get our full support if he continues to do what DFID is doing now.

10.35 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) : I join others who have spoken in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) on securing this debate. I am not at all surprised that he should want to pursue the subject in this way, having had the privilege of visiting his constituency and talking with many of his constituents who are interested in these issues at a meeting chaired by Pastor Michael Rollo at Larbert Pentecostal church. When my hon. Friend's constituents read today's Hansard, I am sure that they will be impressed that he has so skilfully articulated the concerns that they expressed to me at that meeting.

I enjoyed listening to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), in what I think was his first contribution in the House in a debate on development. He was clearly drawing on a long-standing interest in the great lakes region, and I am sure that he will make many more contributions on such subjects.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk in paying tribute to our former colleague Oona King for the way she led the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention and for the way she championed education and, more generally, the need for more international assistance for the countries of the region. My hon. Friend clearly intends to continue and accelerate her work, and I pay tribute to all those involved in the all-party group.

I welcome the Global Campaign for Education's "Send My Friend to School" initiative, which is trying to present 1 million buddies—that, I think, is how they badged it—to the leaders of the G8 in Gleneagles on 6 July. If hon. Members will indulge me, I want to pay tribute to the children of Alexandra school in my constituency. They dragged me along to design a buddy, but it was very substandard in comparison with their own efforts, and they put me very much to shame. I pay tribute to their work and interest, as well as to the interest of their teachers, and I know that their buddies are winging their way to Gleneagles.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 181WH

It is appropriate that my hon. Friend, whose constituency neighbours Gleneagles, should initiate the debate so close to such a key meeting. It is a key opportunity for the international community to begin the process of regalvanising political will and increasing momentum behind efforts to meet the millennium development goals, especially the key goal of providing access to universal primary education.

Let me touch briefly on the interesting suggestion made by the hon. Member for Rochdale about the need for more schools in the UK to link up with schools in Africa. Since 2000–01, we have been funding initiatives exactly like that through DFID's development awareness fund; for example, we are currently funding the global schools partnership, which is being implemented through the British Council. Some £3.2   million will be provided over three years to encourage precisely the types of link to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Similarly, we have funded 11 projects worth a total of £909 million to encourage knowledge and understanding of the prospects for development and of efforts to reduce poverty across the developing world, particularly in Africa. One project has sought to encourage regional educational links between schools in Oxfordshire and a region of Uganda. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), whose constituency is not that far from Oxfordshire, may well be familiar with that initiative.

On the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk raised in relation to the great lakes, it is clear that, as those countries begin to emerge from conflict, one of the best ways to consolidate the peace and the progress out of war, and to encourage sustainable development, is to try to give every child at least a basic education and the skills that they need to participate in the modern world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) rightly pointed out, every child has a fundamental right to education. More than that, we know that education can unlock progress towards all the other millennium development goals, be it reducing child mortality, improving maternal health or making progress in tackling HIV/AIDS.

We know that, sadly, progress to date has not been anything like good enough. Some 100 million children are still out of school and, as hon. Members made clear, 60 million of them are girls. We are not even on track to meet the first millennium development goal, to get equal numbers of girls and boys in school by the end of 2005. The last time I saw the figures, some 75 countries were off track for meeting that millennium development goal. Again, that is a powerful reminder of the importance of our G8 and EU presidencies, and the opportunity to regain the momentum behind the need to meet the MDGs.

There are many reasons to support and fund education, which hon. Members have touched on, and I should like to raise two in particular. The World Bank conducted a study in 17 African countries that showed a clear correlation between education and lower HIV/AIDS infection rates. Similarly, research has indicated that giving girls just one extra year of education increases their eventual wages by, on estimate, between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 182WH

In January this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development published our strategy on girls' education, announcing, in rough terms, a doubling of our funding for education. He also highlighted how we were working with Governments in Africa: first, by seeking to remove tuition fees and other barriers to accessing primary education; secondly, by tackling capacity and supporting Ministries of Education in providing leadership, helping to develop capacity and promoting girls' education in particular and education more generally; thirdly, by strengthening community and parental education; fourthly, by ensuring that appropriate measures are in place in all our partner countries to tackle abuse and violence towards girls and to prevent the spread of HIV; and fifthly, to provide the physical facilities, such as clean water and good sanitation facilities in schools, which are also essential if we are to attract people into them.

There is reason for hope, given the progress being made on education in the great lakes region. There are good stories to tell, particularly in Uganda and Rwanda, which are examples of what can be achieved when Governments recognise the importance of investing in education as part of the process of peace-building and reconstruction. Uganda introduced universal free primary education in 1997, although I recognise that "free" needs to be couched with the caveat to which the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness and others alluded. However, that removal of user fees has resulted in an increase in enrolment from some 3 million pupils in 1996 to some 7.6 million in 2003. Nearly as many girls as boys are now enrolled in primary schools in Uganda.

The key challenge in Uganda is to address the quality of education being provided in the context of such a large expansion at the primary school level and then, as hon. Members have mentioned, to start the same process of expansion in secondary education and at the higher and tertiary levels. The proportion of those who actually complete primary education is still disappointing, as are the numbers who satisfy the requirements for post-primary education.

One needs to acknowledge that the Ugandan Government have been the first to recognise those challenges, and have a strategy in place for improving the quality of and access to all levels of education. The UK Government's task is to get behind that strategy and support the Ugandan Government in tackling those challenges, and in the past 10 years, we have provided some £75 million in direct assistance to the education sector through projects and targeted budget support to do exactly that. We continue to support the expansion of the education sector through budget support. In addition, mindful of the continuing insecurity, particularly in the north, we are also supporting UNICEF by funding projects through NGOs that are seeking to improve access to basic services such as education.

The situation is similar in the DRC, where NGOs such as Oxfam, War Child, CARE, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Catholic Relief Services all play a crucial role in service delivery because of the disruption to Government services caused by conflict, of which we are all aware.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 183WH

At the end of his remarks, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness asked how we get the balance right between investment in education through budget support and investment in education through NGOs. One must recognise that, in the DRC and in conflicts generally where Government systems have broken down or have almost broken down, NGOs are often the best way to have an impact on education, but that in the long term one needs to build up Government systems. Budget support is often crucial if we are to expand access to education to reach all parts of a country, not only those parts in which NGOs can operate.

Rwanda, too, has made remarkable progress in rebuilding the education system since the genocide in 1994. Net enrolment in primary schools is 91 per cent., which is the highest percentage in the great lakes region. The Government have put in place a comprehensive education plan, and there is parity in enrolment for girls and boys at both primary and secondary levels. The Government of Rwanda are also committed to redressing the legacy of ethnic quotas, which were practised up to 1994.

Mr. Joyce : Does my hon. Friend agree that although schools clearly have an educative function, they also have a fundamental function in strengthening social relations and making them more cohesive? To that end, the all-party group has a relationship with Professor Zeldin of Oxford university, and has produced a report on how that function might apply in Rwanda in particular. May I provide the Minister with a copy of that report at the end of the debate?

Mr. Thomas : I would be delighted to read the report, and to discuss it further with my hon. Friend if he so wishes.

The point about Rwanda is similar to the point about Uganda; although good progress has been made, much still needs to be done. Rwanda also has similar problems with its levels of completion. Half the country's children do not complete their primary school education, and one in 10 do not enter education at all. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) made a point about the need to extend access to some of the more difficult rural areas as well as to the urban ones.

We also know that the educational performance of girls is worse than that of boys, and that sadly girls have disproportionately less access to Government-funded education. Similar issues about the capacity of education systems in Rwanda are still very current. There is a need to build capacity at national and district level and to reform and modernise the teacher training system and the curriculum.

DFID is working very working closely with the Government of Rwanda to try to tackle those issues. Last year, it disbursed two thirds of its £46 million aid portfolio for Rwanda through general budget support. Since 2001, we have also given £13 million directly to the education sector to provide textbooks, distance education teacher training, education on HIV/AIDS, ICT technician training, and a rural technology transfer project. On the gap between the levels of enrolment of girls and boys, we are working with the Rwandan Ministry of Education, focusing on how we can improve access to girls' education together.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 184WH

With DFID support, the Rwandan Government removed all user fees on primary education in 2003 and are now examining ways to extend the removal of tuition fees to nine years of basic education. We have provided considerable technical assistance to the Ministry of Education, not least to improve the educational response in Rwanda to the challenge of the   HIV/AIDS epidemic. As a result, many more teachers and education officials are aware of the crucial role that education can play in that regard.

Andrew George : I asked whether the Department has considered extending the direct aid for schools and teachers' pay in Rwanda to other African countries. Will the apparent success of the approach that the Department is taking in Rwanda be extended to other countries?

Mr. Thomas : The hon. Gentleman has asked that question just as I am moving on to consider the DRC and some of the lessons from Rwanda for the DRC. Hon. Members will understand that it is not yet appropriate to invest in education in the DRC in the same ways as we do in Uganda and Rwanda, because it has only recently come out of a conflict situation. The priority in the DRC must be to continue to build a peaceful political process and to invest in the support necessary for elections, but we are beginning to consider how we can put more investment into basic services, such as education. As hon. Members said, the education sector in the DRC is chronically underfunded, but partnerships between Government, Churches, non-governmental organisations and local community organisations have managed to keep some schools going. The task is to build on what exists already, and we are working with UNICEF, the World Bank, the Belgians and other donors to explore ways in which we can move the education sector on.

The hon. Member for Rochdale asked about Kenya and rightly alluded to the difficulties that we face there because of corruption. We welcomed and continue to welcome the election of the new Government that took place in December 2002 and the peaceful transfer of power that followed. The removal of tuition fees in Kenya has heralded a significant increase in the number of pupils coming into schools, which we also welcome. However, there are clearly continuing challenges for President Kibaki's Government in tackling corruption, and we hope that they urgently accelerate efforts in that regard.

Hon. Members asked about the need to expand access to secondary education in the great lakes area. I accept that we need to continue to do that, albeit with the caveat that universal access to primary education must continue to be the top priority. Under our sector support and budget support programmes in the great lakes area, we have been supporting the Ugandan and Rwandan Governments in improving the management of equality at all levels of the education system, including the secondary system and tertiary and higher education. In Rwanda, we are providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Education to help it to develop a national council of higher education and a student financing agency—the prelude to developing the capacity that it needs to expand higher and secondary education.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 185WH

I want to pick up on the role of regional institutions—the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the African Union—in helping to tackle problems of capacity and to improve access to teacher training, which my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud and for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) picked up on in interventions and which the Commission for Africa highlighted in the report that it published in March. We are responding to the work initiated by the AU and NEPAD. They have set up a high-level working group that will take into account existing capacity and seek to identify the many gaps on the ground in terms of access to higher education. It will then produce a fully costed sequenced work plan to begin the process of expanding access to higher education, perhaps through investment in human and physical capital through regional centres of excellence.

NEPAD is particularly keen to develop a regional teacher training programme, which I know will warm the   heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. In    particular, it could draw on information and communications technology for distance teacher training. NEPAD's target countries for that programme are Rwanda, the DRC and Burundi. We are working to ensure that such work is closely integrated with the Governments' own plans to expand access to higher education in those countries. A series of initiatives is already under way, not least through the commonwealth of learning and the Open university-led consortium on teacher education in sub-Saharan Africa. The key is to harness the efforts of all those programmes together. We are working closely with developing countries to that end. [Interruption.]

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Order. Hon. Gentlemen who are entering the Chamber for the next debate must pay some attention to the one that is going on.

Mr. Thomas : I want again to praise the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk in initiating the debate. It has been a very useful discussion of the key issues that affect education in the great lakes area, and the lessons for the wider African education system.

Next Section IndexHome Page