Gordon Brown: Syria donors must show the way on global education funding

Children in conflicts, Education funding, Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Gordon Brown


Kevin Watkins, discussion moderator David Loyn, Julia Gillard and Gordon Brown Picture: Frontline Club

“Promises to children should never be broken.”

That phrase was famously uttered in 2006 by Nelson Mandela. The wording was slightly different but the meaning was the same when Gordon Brown made an impassioned plea for funding to ensure that every child in the world goes to school.

“For all the promises we made we haven’t put up the funds,” the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education said at a panel discussion in London this week on funding education for Syrian refugees.

He said the new Commission on Financing Global Education – which he is chairing – has to remind world leaders that when they signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals they promised to deliver universal education by 2030.

And that has to start on February 4 when a crucial Syria donors conference is held in London – with $750 million needed to put one million refugee children into school in neighbouring countries.

Money is also needed urgently to fund education in emergencies, with half of all the world’s out-of-school children living in conflict zones.

Mr Brown was joined on the stage at the Frontline Club by Julia Gillard, Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, and Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute.

Asked about the role of the new body, he said: “The purpose of the education commission is to alert people to the fact that if you make promises – such as the international community did in September – that every child will be guaranteed not just primary but secondary education by 2030.

Syrian refugee children at a school in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon Picture: Claire Wilkinson/A World at School

“For all the promises we made we haven’t put up the funds. So we’re going to look at how we actually finance the delivery of education over these next years so that we can indeed be the first generation when every single child can go to school.”

On the two million Syrian children living as refugees in countries including Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, Mr Brown said he wanted to ask these questions.

“Why after five years of this civil war is the fate of these children not being addressed? Why is education for these children in particular falling completely through the net?

“Why are most of them still out of school, on the streets, and why are they vulnerable to child labour, child marriage and child trafficking without the world doing enough about it?”

He said that if the $750 million is raised, the number of double-shift school places will be doubled in Lebanon, Jordan will double their number of refugee children in school and Turkey will move to educate large numbers of Sryian children in the next few months.

Kevin Watkins said progress had been made in educating Syrian refugees – with enrollment in Lebanese schools rising from 60,000 to more than 200,000 in this academic year.

He said: “It demonstrates what is possible and invites us to hang our heads in shame at what we’ve allowed to happen.

Girls’ education is vital says Julia Gillard – these girls are at a school run by the charity Khwendo Kor in Pakistan

“Four years ago an average Syrian child had the same prospect of getting through primary school as the same kid in a high-performing country like Thailand. They had a 70% chance of getting into secondary school.

“In the space of a single generation, they’ve gone to education indicators close to Sierra Leone and South Sudan.”

He said the current levels of funding for education mean there is “zero prospect of meerting the 2030 goals”.

Julia Gillard spoke about the importance of providing education for girls, admitting that there is now “more energy around trying to do more for girls around the world”.

She added: “There is increasing evidence that girls’ education is a transformative change agent not just for her but for her family and her community.

“At current rates, it won’t be until 2111 that the world first sees a generation of sub-Saharan African girls who universally go to primary and lower secondary education. That means no one in this room will live to see it. It’s too long to wait.”

But she insisted that simply getting children into school was not enough. The quality of teaching and learning also had to be a priority.

Watch the full discussion here

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