Education is a global priority; Podium

Oxfam's senior policy adviser, addressing an Oxfam/Co-operative Society meeting

IN 1820 William Lovett, one of the founding fathers of Chartism and the co-operative movement, recalled how literacy and access to education had transformed his life.

"My mind," he wrote, "seemed to be awakened to a new mental existence; new feelings, hopes and aspirations sprang up within me."

Lovett spent much of his time campaigning for the principle that the state should provide citizens with an education. Two centuries on, that principle has been enshrined in the UN Charter, but the right to education is being violated on a massive scale.

Ten years ago, at the World Conference on Education for All, the world's governments pledged that all children would be provided with a primary education by the year 2000. As the deadline approaches, they have fallen shamefully short of their target.

Today, 125 million children of primary school age, "two-thirds of them girls" are out of school - a colossal waste of talent, and a cast-iron guarantee that poverty will be transmitted to the next generation.

We cannot afford to tolerate the social, economic and democratic deficits fuelled by the exclusion from education. Moreover, the history of the struggle for popular education in Britain, fought by people like William Lovett, powerfully demonstrate that the right to education can be achieved.

After the 1860s, a powerful political coalition developed behind the demand for public education. It brought together an increasingly powerful trade union movement with the Nonconformist Church and enlightened industrialists. It was Will Thorn, the leader of the gas workers' union, who, having left school at the age of seven, led the trade union demand for free education.

Gripped by an unshakable laissez-faire ideology, successive governments resisted the idea that the state had a responsibility to provide education to its citizens. Publicly financed schooling was deemed to be unaffordable; and an education that provided working class children with more than a modicum of literacy, and acceptance of their place in society, was seen as potentially subversive.

Social protest then gradually eroded political inertia. In 1870 the foundations for a national primary school system were laid. Twenty years later free elementary education was achieved, albeit in a manner that was designed to restrict the working classes to primary schooling. Britain entered the 20th century with the least-educated population of any industrialised country.

So, what is the relevance of all this for the global education challenges that are facing us? I want to suggest that there are three lessons that emerge.

Governments must recognise that education is the most important weapon in the fight against poverty. Industrialised countries have signed on to targets that aim by 2015 to halve the incidence of extreme poverty and cut by three-quarters the child death rate. These targets will not be met in the absence of progress towards universal primary education.

Looking to the future, the social and economic effects of educational inequalities are being strengthened by globalisation. Cut off from opportunities in an increasingly knowledge-based global trading system, there is a danger that whole swaths of the developing world will transformed into enclaves of despair in an increasingly unequal world.

The second lesson concerns finance. In 19th-century Britain, governments insisted that education was unaffordable. Much the same claim is heard today from governments in the world's poorest countries, and it is as specious now as it was then.

To achieve universal education within a decade would cost about $7bn- $8bn annually. This represents a small investment for a high return in terms of reduced poverty and saved lives.

Western governments could make a start by putting their money where their mouths are; they spend less than 3 per cent of their fast-shrinking aid budgets on this area. Raising the figure to 8 per cent would generate about $4bn.

Debt relief also has a vital role to play. Oxfam estimates the cost of financing universal primary education, for Africa as a whole, as less than one-third of the costs of debt servicing. The region's creditors are allowing debt to destroy education opportunities for millions, consigning children to a future of poverty.

The third lesson is the most powerful and the most simple. We need to develop globally the coalitions that transformed the social landscape of 19th-century Britain. As governments prepare to review commitments made 10 years ago political campaigns are needed to ensure that they renew their pledge, and that this time they keep to it.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor