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News: International Development Committee calls for DFID to focus on leaving no one behind in education

Photo: Moving Mountains Trust/Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0


Rooted in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the aspiration that the poorest and most marginalised children are able to access school and learn. SDG4 called for inclusive and quality education for all, signing up countries to improve global education in the pursuit of ‘leaving no one behind.’

A report by the cross-party International Development Committee, released yesterday, identifies priorities for the Department for International Development (DFID) to ensure the promise of the education SDG4 is realized. The report, ‘DFID's work on education: Leaving no one behind’ states that unless donors spend significantly more on education, there will continue to be a funding shortfall across middle and low income countries requited to meet SDG4. The report also urges the UK Government to use its power to influence partner countries to encourage more of their domestic spending on education.

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “With a policy refresh on global education underway at DFID, the Committee is calling on the Department to put the most marginalised children and young people at the heart of their work. The very poorest, disabled children, girls and those affected by conflict and emergencies, should not be left behind.”

The report drew upon on evidence presented to the International Development Committee inquiry into how DFID is supporting efforts to get the 263 million young people currently out of school around the world into education and training, including the very poorest children, girls, children with disabilities, and those caught up in emergencies.

The report notes that, if learning outcomes are to be improved, it is essential that more investment is made in data and research, to find out where the gaps lie and how they can best be addressed.  Minister Burt told the Committee that “we think we [DFID] have established a leadership role in the international community’s efforts to raise the rigour, availability and use of education research”. This is a welcome position, and should be followed as an example by global partners in order to achieve SDG4”.

Support by DFID to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), including through the ESRC-DFID’s Raising Learning Outcomes Programme, is one example of its leadership in generating globally-relevant and contextually-grounded evidence. Projects funded under ESRC-DFID programmes are relevant to core themes of the report, including:

  • Girls and young women
  • Children with disabilities
  • Education in emergencies
  • Early years education

Girls and young women

Despite great progress in getting more children into school over the past decade, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to experience poor quality of education limiting chances of fulfilling their learning potential. Girls who face multiple disadvantages related also to poverty, disability, ethnicity, religion or where they live, are amongst those least likely to be learning.

The report emphasises focusing resources on the most marginalized, including on the poorest girls.

A number of research projects supported by the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership (the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Programme) can offer evidence on what Governments need to consider in order to ensure girls benefit from quality education without discrimination or exclusion including “Gender, education and global poverty reduction initiatives” led by the UCL Institute of Education which looks at how gender equality in and through schooling in contexts of poverty is understood and in what ways these are overcome.

Recognising that girls face particularly problems in continuing their schooling once they reach puberty, another project led by the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, has looked at whether the provision of sanitary pads improves the attendance and educational outcomes of girls in school in Uganda.

Children with disabilities

As promised by Sustainable Development Goal 4, no one should be left behind in education. Yet despite efforts by Governments, policy makers and practitioners to ensure inclusive quality education for all learners, disability continues to be one of the primary causes of educational exclusion.

Evidence from the Raising Learning Outcomes ‘TEACh’ project  led by the University of Cambridge's The Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre was drawn upon in the inquiry to argue that, in order to ensure marginalised children such as children with disabilities are not excluded from the classroom, “it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms”.

Other ESRC-DFID funded projects provide insight into how disadvantaged children are increasingly accessing schools and education, but not learning effectively due to social exclusion within the classroom, such as the “Constructing a Global Framework for Analysis of Social Exclusion From and Within Learning Systems” which is collecting data from six countries (Afghanistan, India, Sudan (Darfur State), Sierra Leone, Morocco and Tunisia). Evidence generated from this project shows that among countries (particularly those affected by conflict and crisis) children are less likely to attend school if they have disabilities.

The ‘Peer to Peer Deaf Literacy’ project, led by the University of Central Lancashire in collaboration with Lancaster University and Indian partners is looking at new ways of teaching literacy to deaf learners in India. By proposing that reform is best driven from within deaf communities themselves, the project has included deaf researchers who have developed a systemic innovation that has the potential to transform learning and improve literacy for sign language users.

Bridging the Gap: Examining Disability and Development in Four African Countries led by the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre, the University College London, identified common systemic barriers that disabled people encounter when accessing services, including education.

Education in emergencies

Evidence cited in the report shows that education is a high priority for families in crisis. Alongside clean water, food, sanitation and shelter, the report states that DFID should establish a long-term, integrated strategy for supporting education in emergencies to get children back into structured learning environments.

Led by The University of Sussex, the “Engaging teachers in peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts’ project” examines how teachers and teaching are supporting education for peacebuilding and how national and global policy dialogue can be enhanced to understand about teachers as agents of peacebuilding.

New York University’s: “Promoting Children's Learning Outcomes in Conflict-Affected Countries: Generating, Communicating, and Incorporating Evidence for Impact” identifies that children in conflict-affected areas who are in school, are not learning. Working with partner organisations, evidence is being gathered which looks at school-based interventions around the world and whether these interventions work to promote effective teaching and children's learning outcomes:

Early years education

The report highlights in particular the importance of investing in early childhood education and the early years of primary school for benefits in later life. Although early years education programmes benefit children’s development, life experiences and life chances – just 15% of children in low income countries have access to pre-primary education compared to 82% in high income countries.

Global spending on pre-primary education is low (DFID’s expenditure on pre-primary education accounts for under 0.6% of its bilateral education budget) and the report recommends that DFID increases its spending on pre-primary education to lay a solid foundation for the development of young children and have greater gains later in their lives.

Tikule Limodze (Let’s Grow Together) led by the University of Birmingham, is an ESRC-DFID enabled  project gathering evidence related to the importance of early years education, and specifically the role of preschool caregivers in providing support to children with disabilities in  rural Malawi. The project draws attention to the barriers to education faced by children with disabilities and highlights that quality training should be provided to ECD volunteer caregivers in the area of disability and inclusion. The project mirrors the select committee’s acknowledgement that a lack of training for teachers in responding to the needs of vulnerable children indicates that more work needs to be done to include more children with disabilities, and in early years education.

Monash University’s “Investing in our Future: The Early Childhood Intervention and Parental Involvement in Bangladesh” also focuses on early education, investigating the impact of several programmes targeting both pre-school children and their parents, with the goal of improving both short- and long-term outcomes of rural children in Bangladesh.

Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State, Department for International Development, told the inquiry: “It [early childhood education] has not been funded well enough in the past. It has been an area that has been neglected. It does bring the highest returns in the future, and the returns are greatest for the most marginalised children.”

Leaving no one behind in education

The messages from the inquiry should provide an important steer to DFID’s policy refresh with respect to its emphasis towards focusing resources on the most marginalized, including on the poorest girls and children with disabilities; and allocating resources to the early years of education where these children are likely to be benefit most.