Education Cannot Wait Interviews The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell, United Kingdom Minister of State (Development and Africa)
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell was appointed as a Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) on 25 October 2022. He was previously Secretary of State for International Development from May 2010 to September 2012. He was elected Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield on 7 June 2001.
Andrew was educated at Rugby School and Jesus College, Cambridge where he studied history and was President of the Union. He served in the Royal Tank Regiment before joining Lazard, where he worked with British companies seeking large-scale overseas contracts.
After serving as a government whip between 1993 and 1995, Andrew served as Minister for Social Security from 1995 to 1997. While in opposition, he was Shadow Minister for Economic Affairs from 2003 to 2004 and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs from 2004 to 2005. He then served as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development until the 2010 election.
ECW: The UK is ECW’s second largest donor with more than US$250 million in contributions to date. Why is investing in Education Cannot Wait a priority for the UK (especially for the more than 224 million crisis-affected girls and boys who urgently need our support)? Why should it be a priority for other public and private sector donors?
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell: The UK is proud to be a co-founding member and leading donor to ECW. As the global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises, ECW shines a spotlight on the education needs of children caught up in emergencies and protracted crises around the world. We continue to support ECW because we refuse to give up on the 224 million children and adolescents affected by the horrors of war, natural disaster, and displacement. Today, approximately 2 billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected states. Education has a critical role to play in protecting children, especially girls, from the threats that crises pose. Education is too often neglected in humanitarian crises in favour of life-saving food and shelter. Education can, however, provide structure and stability for children and their families; and is a lifeline through to a better future. It is essential that we continue to support education for all those caught up in crises, wherever these may be.
ECW: In recent FCDO reports, the impact of the climate crisis on the education of 40 million children was underscored. Looking ahead to COP28 and beyond, how can ECW and the UK work together to join up on education and climate action to help address the impact of climate change and environmental degradation?
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell: In December last year, I launched FCDO’s new Position Paper “Addressing the climate, environment, and biodiversity crises, in and through girls’ education.” This Position Paper set out FCDO’s vision for bringing the relationship between education and climate change into sharper focus. Without providing an urgent emergency response to children living in contexts of extreme weather events and adapting education systems to climate shocks, education goals will continue to fall further out of reach. School infrastructure will be destroyed, agricultural land will be under water, and children will go hungry. Conversely, without harnessing the power of education, we are unlikely to solve the climate crisis. If we want to effectively tackle these priority issues, we must better understand and find integrated and holistic solutions.
I am pleased to see that ECW have increased their funding to support the First Emergency Response programmes at the onset of a crisis, particularly for recent climate shocks like the floods in Pakistan in 2022 and the ongoing droughts in Ethiopia and Somalia. The UK has advocated for increased attention to the educational needs of affected children, and we continue to work together to improve the emergency response in contexts of emergencies caused by climate and environmental change.
Through ECW’s Acceleration Facility, and their expertise as an emergency response provider, the UK and ECW are working together to advance learning on proven integrated solutions to deliver access to safe schools, quality of learning, and improved adaptation to climate and environmental change. We still however need more evidence of solutions that deliver these co-benefits that can be shared more widely to those in similar contexts and then delivered at scale.
ECW: On several occasions, you have highlighted the importance of mobilizing resources from the private sector towards the UK’s development goals. As ECW pursues its $1.5 billion target, what role could the private sector play in helping ECW reach 20 million crisis-affected girls and boys by the end of 2026?
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell: In a context of rising need, which is not matched by rising humanitarian funding, education is one of many sectors underfunded in the emergency response. This is why the UK was instrumental in establishing Education Cannot Wait: to shine a spotlight on education in emergencies. Since then, ECW has reached almost 7 million children affected by conflict and crises, including over 3 million girls. But we must do more to keep children in crises safe and learning. An average humanitarian crisis now lasts around nine years, but often much longer. The impact on children being out of school in a crisis context is staggering. It increases their vulnerability to child labour, abuse and exploitation and decreases their resilience to the significant challenges they face. Schools are valuable platforms for accessing information and services related to child protection, heath, food, and avoiding mines and unexploded ordnance, as well as other hazards in crisis contexts. Girls who are unable to access school are more likely to experience gender-based violence, early marriage and other gender-based harms. We also know that educational inequality is a strong predictor of civil war and violent conflict.
That is why I was proud to announce £90 million for education in emergencies and protracted crises, including £80 million for ECW at the Fund’s High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva in February this year. On the day, donors raised an impressive US$826 million, however this still falls short of the $1.5 billion target that is needed for ECW to reach 20 million crisis-affected girls and boys through its 2023 – 2026 Strategic Plan. It is critical therefore that we find innovative ways to close the funding gap to ensure these children have access to a quality education. That is where we see a role for private sector donors.
I have been impressed by the work of private and philanthropic organisations such as The LEGO Foundation, the Jacobs Foundation and Porticus, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the margins of the High-Level Financing Conference. These strategic partnerships have a vital role to play in supporting education for children in crises and we need to see more of these organisations joining the sector.
ECW: Girls’ education is a key priority for the United Kingdom’s efforts to “project the UK as a force for good in the world.” How can we ensure that every girl – no matter who or where she is – has access to 12 years of quality education?
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell: In our new International Women and Girls Strategy, we are standing up for the right of every girl everywhere to secure the knowledge and skills she needs to reach her full potential. This includes standing up for the right of every girl to receive 12 years of quality education, including in emergency contexts, and ensuring that they have access to sexual and reproductive health education and are protected from gender-based violence. Our focus, as with all of our education support, is on foundational learning skills. Basic literacy, basic numeracy, and the socio-emotional skills that all children need to open up the doors to the 12 years of quality education. This is as relevant for children living in crisis as for those in more stable contexts. If not more so.
Girls living in countries affected by conflict are almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of primary school and 90% more likely to miss secondary schooling, compared to peers in stable contexts. Girls also face a set of interlinked barriers to accessing and remaining in education and learning, felt more acutely by marginalised groups, such as those with disabilities. As seen recently, and tragically, in Afghanistan, the rollback on women and girls’ rights can strike education and learning too.
In response, the UK is working in lockstep with international partners to challenge the rollback. We are also working closely with ECW and other partners to accelerate progress on reaching the most vulnerable in crises, including girls. We are a proud supporter of the Safe Schools Declaration, which aims to prevent gender-based and other violence in the school context. We are also prioritising better global data on education in emergencies, so that more financing is directed to education, there are better data to track results, and we can understand where and when crises become neglected.
At the country level, we are working, for example, in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and Ethiopia to scale up our support to education in crisis situations. By improving coordination of this response with other partners we can maximise the number of children, and particularly girls, that UK funding can reach.
ECW: Recent analysis shows that the number of crisis-affected children in need of education support is increasing. At the same time, the public advance unedited version of the UN Secretary-General’s ‘Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ report indicates we are falling behind on our promise of Education For All. How can we change course to deliver on the SDGs?
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell: Even if ECW’s $1.5 billion fundraising target is met, it will reach less than 10% of the estimated 224 million conflict and crisis affected children and youth worldwide. Furthermore, a recent report by UNESCO states that without $97 billion in extra funding per year, low and lower-middle-income countries will be unable to meet their 2030 national SDG 4 benchmark targets. It is clear that more progress is needed if we are to deliver the SDGs. That is why we want to work closely with our partners to reform the international humanitarian system to deliver on three priorities:
Firstly, to strengthen the resilience of education systems so that children can continue to learn, safely, during an emergency. Collectively, the humanitarian system needs to prioritise building preparedness and anticipatory action in education systems. The UK has invested in piloting work to support better anticipatory action in advance of climatic shocks, which is relevant to education. It focuses on adaptation, risk management, humanitarian action, and social protection.
Secondly, to improve the coordination between our development and humanitarian response. Providing education in emergencies is not only a humanitarian response but also a critical investment in the future of affected communities. It provides hope, structure, and a pathway to the future for the next generation. A joined-up approach between the humanitarian and development sectors is essential to enable long-term resilience in the face of crises. Greater coordination between the two global education funds, Education Cannot Wait and the Global Partnership for Education, is also a priority. Closer coordination between the funds will allow partners to focus on providing the most efficient and effective responses, in the context of scarce Official Development Assistance funding. It will also ensure they have maximum reach and impact without leaving children behind or duplicating efforts. In contexts including Myanmar and Afghanistan we are seeing closer alignment, with GPE and ECW working together to agree where they would add most value, while making the best use of donor funding.
Finally, we need better-designed emergency education programmes to mitigate gender-based violence risks and to keep girls safer. Currently, much of what is implemented in crisis situations is not evidence based and does not reach sufficient scale to benefit those who need it most. That is why we are advocating for the equivalent of what the UK calls ‘best buys’, in other words, research-based interventions proven to provide best impact and value for money. Such evidence relevant to humanitarian contexts, would help guide our investments in education in emergencies and protracted crises.
As I mentioned earlier, there is also a role for the private sector to help us deliver on our promise of Education for All. The UK is already working with the private sector to support girls’ education in developing countries. Launched by the Prime Minister last year, the Girls’ Education Skills Partnership (GESP) is an innovative partnership between FCDO, Generation Unlimited (a UNICEF partnership) and several major global businesses. By combining the resources of the private sector with the implementation experience of FCDO and UNICEF, GESP will provide high-quality training and market-relevant skills in manufacturing and STEM-related fields for 1 million adolescent girls and young women in Bangladesh and Nigeria. Private sector partners have a seat on the GESP Board and are making an important contribution towards addressing the skills deficit preventing adolescent girls from fulfilling their potential.
ECW: We all know that ‘leaders are readers’ and that reading skills are key to every child's education. What are the two books that have most influenced you personally and/or professionally, and why would you recommend them to others?
The Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell: Professionally, the two books that have influenced me most are “The Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier and “An Imperfect Offering” by James Orbinski. Both offer a unique and fascinating perspective on international aid and development. And both shaped my understanding of the biggest development and humanitarian challenges we face today. Collier’s analysis takes place at the global level, identifying the global trends that affect a country’s development and the poverty traps UN agencies must overcome. Orbinski documents his personal experiences as a doctor working for Médecins Sans Frontières in the late ’90s, including postings in Peru, Afghanistan and Rwanda. His book offers extraordinary insight into the challenges faced by humanitarian workers on the ground as well the failures of the international community in those countries. I would recommend both these books to anyone working on education in crises. They shine a light on the realities faced by the people and communities we aim to support and remind us to keep them at the heart of all we do and how we do it.