World leaders urged to back $5bn education transformation

UK PM Boris Johnson holds classroom video call with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

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World leaders were urged to prioritise education in post-Covid recovery efforts and support a UN-backed fund that seeks $5 billion over the next five years to strengthen learning systems for children in the developing world.

The message of support for the Global Partnership For Education came during a virtual call between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, GPE chairwoman and former Australian premier Julia Gillard, and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Mr Kenyatta appeared via video link from a classroom in Kenya, while Mr Johnson and Ms Gillard spoke from a school in the UK. Each had a number of socially distanced students inside.

“It is quite a remarkable event. It would not have been possible when I was at school,” Mr Johnson, 56, said about the virtual discussion. “It’s just a wonderful thing.”

The Kenyan leader’s office said he and Mr Johnson “have rallied the world's richest nations to support” the GPE project, before a summit in London in late July that hopes to attract additional support.

Mr Johnson said during the video discussion that his favourite teacher at school was called Mr Fox.

“He decided I needed extra reading. Whether he thought I had potential, whether he thought I was behind, I’m not sure,” he said.

“He took me to the library and gave me loads of books.”

The conversation was part of the Connecting Classrooms programme, a joint UK government-British Council scheme to help young people “understand the big issues that shape our world and equip them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to make a positive contribution”.

Ms Gillard said the July summit provided “a critical opportunity to fully fund” GPE “and help transform education systems to make them more equitable and effective”.

Speaking before the video call, Mr Johnson said: “Supporting girls to get 12 years of quality education is one of the smartest investments we can make as the world recovers from Covid-19. Otherwise, we risk creating a lost pandemic generation.

“Across the world there is a vast untapped resource – girls whose education has been cut short or denied altogether, who could be leading efforts to pull their communities out of poverty.”

The meeting came a day after the UK government announced a new £55 million ($77.3m) aid programme to support educational reform around the world.