Youth campaigners take education message to government
Sophia Ireland Oxfam's Youth and Schools Campaigner and Regional Team Leader for the Midlands (UK)
16th Jul 2012
Shalin Abraham from the Oxfam Midlands youth board attended a meeting with DfID minister Stephen O'Brien. The event organised by another Oxfam Board member and Global Campaign for Education ambassador Emma Woods was part of this years Send My Friend to school project in which thousands of schools and young people come together to call on governments around the world to meet their pledge to achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015.
Shalin writes about the experience here.
Having just finished my final year of schooling this year, looking back I have realised how important my education has been. It has not only taught me to read and write, but has given me the confidence and skills to move into the world of work. I was therefore shocked to hear that around 60 million children worldwide are out of school, and are unable to reap the benefits of a good education! This is the reason why, to me, campaigning for global education is of utmost importance, and should be seen as an investment in the future generation, NOT a cost. Therefore, when
members of the Oxfam Youth Boards were invited to meet with Stephen O' Brien the under-secretary at the Department of International Development )DfID), I leaped at the opportunity to be able to directly a government minister and potentially be able to influence policy making.
In 2000, all UN member states, including the UK signed the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. The second goal aimed to ensure that all children should complete a course of primary schooling. The Global Campaign for Education began, and a lot of progress was initially made, with the number of children out of school falling by 50 million in the last 10 years. However, progress has been stalling for the last two years, probably because marginalised children living in rural areas, or with a disability, cannot be reached.
It is now approaching 2015, and David Cameron has been asked to chair the next committee to decide what will come after the goal expires. We were supporting the Global Campaign for Education, and wanted to convey to Stephen O'Brien that it should be a top priority as education gives people the skills to break out of poverty and lead a better life.
This student driven event was a fantastic experience, and a testament to the great work of young campaigners. There were 14 young campaigners from Oxfam Youth Boards and schools across the UK who were involved in the 'Send my Friend to School' campaign run by the Global Campaign for Education. With just a 45 minute meeting with the busy minister, we managed to ask 7 questions in the meeting. The questions included: 'have we given up on the MDGs?'; 'how do we know our campaigning is having an impact on government policy making?'; 'can the
government ensure both quantity and quality when providing education?; and 'what will be done to further improve education for girls?'. Though some questions were particularly hard, we were all satisfied with Stephen O'Brien's answers. Young people, including myself, often have preconceptions about politicians, thinking they may be slightly out-of-touch. However, we all recognised that Stephen O'Brien was passionate about this issue and spoke reflecting on his own experiences living and working in Africa, a continent with an education crisis. He was adamant that
the world had not given up on the MDGs, and that though there has been much progress, there is still a long way to go and more than a few goals were needed. He also clarified that the governement were still committed to contributing 0.7% of its GDP to overseas aid. Regarding female education, Stephen O'Brien explained the massive strides DfID and international governments had made in reducing gender disparities in primary schooling, which was hugely encouraging. DfID has also committed to putting 1 milliion more girls into school. However, he explained that in some areas, such as
Northern Nigeria, putting girls into school was more difficult due to cultural issues, and so the government was working hard to try and make change sensitively with cultural awareness. This is the only way that the initiative implemented could be successful. I also realised the complexity of the matter, and how hard it was to achieve the balance between putting a large number of children into school, and making sure this education was of good quality. He was also encouraging, saying that the government do listen to young campaigners and that we should keep up the work, not only to
pressurise the government, but to show the community that this is an issue we are passionate about, which will in turn affect government policies.
Overall, it was a brilliant experience for all campaigners and we are thankful to DfID for letting us on champion global education on behalf of other young people across the country. Even if Stephen O'Brien hasn't taken anything away from the meeting, it has hopefully showed that young people do have a voice, and will inspire others to continue campaigning about this issue, and put pressure on the government to prioritise the need for good quality global education. They say knowledge is power: this meeting has shown that we are getting closer to giving children
across the world the power to improve their lives, but we still have a long road ahead of us.
To get involved in Oxfam's go to www.oxfam.org.uk/education, and catch up with how young people are campaigning for change at www.oxfam.org.uk/youth.