Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 July 2021:
President Dr Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone today addressed the Global Education Summit in London, the biggest of such events to encourage donors to raise $5 billion in the next 5 years, along with commitments from partner countries on domestic financing for education.
The President is one of only four African leaders participating in the 2021 Global Education Summit: Financing GPE 2021-2025 being co-hosted today by the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta and the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
Speaking at the summit, president Bio said: “I want to start off by saying that access to quality education is a fundamental human right. Besides, my government, has already stated the human capital development piece of it. But also, we want to make sure that human capital development is inclusive. For women or girls in particular, there is, of course, gender disparity, especially in the schools.
“And certain norms and discrimination have not allowed the girls to be able to continue to do their education. So, we have to take care of that. And, again, when you think about the number of girls who dropped out of school, I thought that it would be a big failure, on my part as a leader who is very passionate about education, to leave any girl behind,” he said.
The President also addressed the question of why Sierra Leone recently overturned a law so that pregnant girls would never again be banned from classrooms.
Julia Gillard, who is chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), asked the president to explain how changing the law improved the lives of girls across the country and increase access for all girls to quality education.
President Bio said his government’s policy is to make sure that all girls, irrespective of the fact that they are pregnant or not, are able to continue schooling, or go back to school after childbirth.
“It was for this reason that we brought in this new policy. What has it done? Well, of course, it’s been difficult, we are trying to narrow the gender disparity gap, especially for pregnant girls. So, we had to bespoke this particular policy to make sure that those gender norms that militate against pregnant schoolgirls are taken care of. That is why we did this.
“What has it done? It has given confidence to girls, not to be pregnant, but to know that when they are pregnant, they still have another chance. That’s a huge number in Sierra Leone. Last year alone, from school census, we had over 2000 girls who were registered pregnant schoolgirls. Normally, all of them will drop out of school, but because of this policy they have the chance to continue school. And our policy is about making sure that they stay in school as long as possible, and that they can return to school after childbirth.
“You know, on a lot of occasions, we have put the burden on the girls, little girls in their formative years. We look at them to be sexual gatekeepers, who would have to say no. That is victimisation. We are being unreasonable. And of course, after they get pregnant, we accused them again. And that means secondary victimisation. What our policy has done is, it has got rid of the secondary victimisation.
“We are doing everything to prevent early pregnancy. My wife is a big campaigner. She goes all over Sierra Leone. ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ is a campaign on her part, which means we don’t want anybody to tamper with these girls. But should they fall victims, we should not secondarily victimise them. And that is what this policy is about,” he said.
But questions are being asked by charity organisations about the success of the summit in raising the much needed $5 billon to support education in poor countries, after the Uk government announced recently that it is cutting its foreign aid budget.
Speaking at a summit to boost the number of children in schools across the globe, Boris Johnson described education as a “silver bullet” to tackle some of the world’s most difficult challenges.
“[Education] is the silver bullet, this is the magic potion, this is the panacea, this is the universal cure, this is the Swiss army knife – complete with allen key and screwdriver and everything else – that can solve virtually every problem that inflicts humanity,” the Prime Minister told the conference, co-hosted in London by the British and Kenyan governments.
Alongside lifting GDP and life expectancy, Mr Johnson said education can “help end all kinds of ignorance and prejudice”, helping to tackle challenges from terrorism and war to climate change.
“After all the rhetoric from leaders about the importance of investing in education, this is a decidedly underwhelming result,” said Lis Wallace, the UK head of advocacy at the ONE campaign.
“Although these commitments will help secure the futures of many more children, the reality is that we’re around $1 billion short of the original target. Unfortunately, the report card for leaders after the summit tells an all-too-familiar story – they must do better.”
She added that the “UK has to shoulder responsibility for this outcome”, with aid cuts undermining efforts to encourage other countries to make large donations.
Emma Wagner, the head of education at Save the Children, added: “The failure of the UK as co-host to mobilise sufficient funds is a clear example of its diminishing leadership on the world stage following its devastating aid cuts and a lacklustre G7 summit. The UK’s own pledge in June fell well short of expectations and clearly failed to galvanise the global action required at the summit.”
Rose Caldwell, the chief executive of Plan International UK, made similar comments, noting that “this is the first time in history that the host of a major education finance summit has simultaneously cut their overall funding for global education”.
“Girls around the world called for the UK to listen and fund education; they asked for leadership, but they got broken promises,” she said.
But, after the conference, the GPE struck a more optimistic tone, suggesting that $4 billion (£2.86 billion) is one of the biggest sums ever raised at an education fundraising event.
The initiative said it is also optimistic that it is on the right track, and in the coming years, the remaining funds will be raised.
“The summit is an important success for millions of children and young people around the world whose education has been upended by the pandemic, and a critical step to ensuring that education is at the heart of our response and recovery,” said Julia Gillard, the chairman of GPE and former Prime Minister of Australia.
In total, the UK pledged £430 million to the GPE – its biggest ever contribution. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has set out goals of getting 40 million more girls in school and 20 million more girls reading by age 10 in low- and lower- middle-income countries by 2026.