Evidence provided by the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre informs the findings of a cross-party report calling for “significant spending” on early-years education

Early childhood education has not been funded well enough in the past. It has been neglected. It brings the highest returns in the future, and the returns are greatest for the most marginalised children.

Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for International Development

The House of Commons’ International Development Committee (IDC) has published the results of its inquiry into the Department for International Development (DFID)’s work on global education.

The report, published today, examines DFID’s efforts to ensure the UK is making a significant contribution towards meeting the fourth Sustainable Development Goal agreed by the UN in 2015 –to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.

While recognising that DFID is a world leader in promoting education in international development settings, the report calls for increased spending on global education to ensure no child is left behind.

It cites evidence provided by the Faculty of Education’s Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre on the importance of investing in early childhood education and the early years of primary school for benefits in later life.

Drawing on research by the REAL Centre, the IDC’s report states that 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. Based on the evidence, the report recommends that DFID increases its spending on pre-primary education.

Responding to the evidence, the Minister of State for International Development, the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP 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.”

It is widely recognised that getting into school is not enough to ensure children are learning. In many poor countries, children are often spending up to four years in school without being able to read or do basic mathematics.

Drawing further on the REAL Centre’s evidence, the report argues that “it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms” to ensure marginalised children –such as children with disabilities—are not excluded from the education process.

The report has tackled the controversial issue of the role of private schooling, a growing phenomenon in low and lower middle income countries. Research by the REAL Centre shows that “low-fee private schools” are not accessible to the poorest families, leading the IDC report to recommend that DFID should continue to prioritise its spending towards government schools.

DFID is currently updating its education priorities through a “policy refresh”. It is hoped that the messages from the IDC report will help to focus resources on the most marginalised –including the poorest girls, and children with disabilities— and on early years of education, which is most likely to benefit children.

Read the full report here.

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