DFID's work on education: Leaving no one behind Contents


Our Report

1.Our predecessor Committee commenced an inquiry into DFID’s work on global education, and undertook the bulk of the evidence-gathering, in the last Parliament. Following the announcement of the 2017 General Election, that Committee sent a letter to the then Secretary of State for International Development, the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, outlining its major findings.9

2.As a result of this election, the Committee’s membership changed significantly. Given recent developments in the sector, and based on the evidence that our predecessor Committee received, we agreed to take evidence from the new Minister responsible for DFID’s work on global education and publish a formal report.10

3.We heard evidence from the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, joint Minister of State in DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in October 2017 and considered the evidence presented to the predecessor Committee. Half the current Committee were not involved with the framing, evidence-taking nor informal activity of this inquiry from its inception.


4.Education underpins effective efforts to improve lives and eradicate poverty. It is also a fundamental human right. Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.11

5.Education is not just an end in itself. Education can reduce poverty, with the potential for 420 million people to be lifted out of poverty by achieving a secondary education and improving their employment prospects.12 It also has a major impact upon public health. Children of educated mothers are more likely to be vaccinated and less likely to suffer from malnourishment, and a child whose mother can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five. If mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds, saving 189,000 lives.13 Education can boost economic growth of a country as well as future income of an individual. Each additional year of schooling is estimated to raise average annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by 0.37%.14 Educating girls is likely to reduce child marriage and help combat HIV/AIDS.15 Where the enrolment rate for secondary schooling is 10 percentage points higher than the average, the risk of war has been estimated to be reduced by around three percent.16 Taking such factors together, it seems clear that education has the potential to not only impact each and every child, but also the wider world, building a healthy, prosperous workforce of the future. Public health is positively affected, reducing the burden of healthcare costs and future epidemics. Education is a human right, which ultimately unlocks the capacity for other human rights to be held, defended and enjoyed.

6.Considerable progress has been made since the Millennium Development Goals were agreed in 2000,17 but a phenomenal 263 million children and young people remain out of school and another 330 million are in school but are judged not to be “learning the basics”.18 This presents an enormous challenge. Not only should access to education be increased but, for the benefits of schooling to be realised, learning outcomes for children and young people around the world should be dramatically improved.

7.Poor education systems and low levels of attainment cannot be remedied overnight. It is a long-term challenge. The priority given to immediate impacts from money spent on development—whether evacuating people from disaster stricken areas, containing the spread of a disease or digging a well—is understandable. Education, however, is vulnerable to disruption. Humanitarian crises are also becoming more and more protracted, and a major challenge is coming up with the foundations for a long term solution to the children that otherwise will miss out on their right to an education in such circumstances.

8.In 2015 the Sustainable Development Goals included an ambitious new agenda for global education, which addressed this substantial challenge. SDG4 has a broad remit, committing signatory countries to improve access, quality, equity and lifelong learning (see Box 1). The Goals overall also commit countries to ‘leave no one behind’ and to ensure even the poorest and most marginalised communities are able to learn. Success will require a huge leap in progress, only achievable with political will, strong and inclusive education systems and long-term, sustainable funding from governments. For many low and lower middle-income countries, achieving Goal 4 will require significant support from donors such as the UK. However, as discussed above, there is no easy fix. As Alice Albright (CEO of the Global Partnership for Education) told us, this “is going to be a generational approach … We have to be in this for the long game”.19 This presents a challenge for governments and donors alike, as they often have to justify expenditure and demonstrate results to their electorates in a short space of time. This puts education at risk of being deprioritised in favour of areas where there are more visible early results, such as combatting epidemics or infrastructure projects.

Box 1: Global Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries

By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states

Source: UN, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (September 2015)

9.The current context for progress on education is particularly challenging. In June 2017, UNHCR reported that “over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016, and it remains at a record high”20, including 22.5 million refugees—of which half are under 18.21 Famine still looms over Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and north-east Nigeria with 1.4 million children facing an imminent risk of death, and more than five million threatened with malnourishment.22 Disasters, such as the recent flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh, continue to put lives at risk, displacing families from their homes and children from schools.23 However, despite all of the problems suffered by the victims of such crises, the evidence shows overwhelmingly that education remains a high priority for children and families in crisis. Recent studies reflecting the voices of 8,749 children showed that 99% of children in emergency situations see education as a priority.24 Ensuring access to a safe, quality education for all children is vital, and so these challenging circumstances demand attention and action.

10.DFID has traditionally been a leader on global education, described in evidence as “perhaps the most respected bi-lateral voice in the global education space”.25 The available figures show that the Department has dedicated less of its budget to education than to other areas such as disaster relief, health and government and civil society (see Chart 1 below). In order to support the achievement of the Global Goals—as the UK has committed to do—the Department needs to demonstrate a long-term, sustainable commitment to support access to inclusive, quality education in all its partner countries. The role of education in underpinning all other aspects of development should make it a top priority for the UK. Within that, DFID’s clear commitment to the poorest makes a focus on the most marginalised children the most appropriate policy response.

Chart 1: Broad Sector breakdown of UK Bilateral ODA, 2015 (£millions)26

The Inquiry

11.Our predecessor Committee launched its inquiry entitled “DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?” on 20 July 2016, with a particular interest in:

12.During the inquiry, our predecessor Committee received 73 pieces of written evidence from a diverse range of stakeholders and heard from 23 witnesses across six oral evidence sessions. The Committee also visited the Middle East and East Africa to observe how education programmes supported by DFID were being implemented in a number of different contexts.

13.This Report is timely. The former Secretary of State confirmed in August 2017 that DFID would “review and refresh” its education policy paper. She stated that:

We intend to build on our experience and draw on the most up to date evidence… This is an opportunity to look again at how best to meet the needs of the most marginalised children, how we will drive a focus on standards and quality and the role of results based finance in delivering on these.27

10 Oral Evidence: DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind? HC367. Note: Where questions from this evidence session are referenced, they will be in the format Q (number). Where oral evidence gathered during the predecessor inquiry is referenced, it will include the original reference number, HC639. All written evidence referenced in this Report was collected during the predecessor Committee inquiry, with the exception of a written memorandum provided by DFID following our evidence session with Minister Burt.

11 United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26

12 Global Partnership for Education, The Benefits of Education

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Global Partnership for Education, The Benefits of Education

17 Since the year 2000, the number of children in preschool, primary, and secondary school has increased globally, by 20 percent or 243 million students, from 1.224 billion in 2000 to 1.467 billion in 2013. (Education Commission)

19 Q1 HC639

21 UNHCR, Figures at a Glance, accessed 21 August 2017

22 UNICEF, “Children paying a disproportionate price as famine looms across Somalia, South Sudan, north-east Nigeria and Yemen”, Statement by UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Justin Forsyth (18 July 2017)

23 Plan International, “South Asia floods put thousands of children at risk” (18 August 2017)

25 The Brookings Institution (EDU0052)

26 Statistics taken from UK Statistics on International Development 2016: Figure 16, (2016), p. 36

17 November 2017