Boris Johnson warns of ‘legacy of wasted talent’ unless world leaders back education

British prime minister wants world leaders to stop Covid-19 sinking life chances of millions of children

Boris Johnson answers questions from pupils from Colham Manor school in Uxbridge. Getty Images
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic could leave a “lasting legacy of wasted talent” as he prepares for a London summit to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education.

Mr Johnson wants world leaders to dig deep to prevent Covid-19 ruining the life chances of millions of children.

The UK last month pledged £430 million to the project, which aims to raise at least $5 billion (£3.6bn) in five years.

The campaign is designed to help 175 million girls and boys in up to 90 countries to learn.

“We have a fight on our hands to ensure Covid-19 does not scupper the life chances of millions of children, leaving a lasting legacy of wasted talent," Mr Johnson said.

“Too many children around the world, girls in particular, were already out of school before the pandemic.

“Enabling them to learn and reach their full potential is the single greatest thing we can do to recover from this crisis and build better, greener and fairer societies.

“Today I am urging governments, businesses and philanthropists to invest in the future by fully funding the transformative work of the Global Partnership for Education.”

Speaking to The National on the eve of the summit, a former president of Tanzania said wealthy countries had a moral duty to invest in education.

Jakaya Kikwete said Africa's large youth population could become a disaffected cohort if they do not receive the education they need.

"If you have young people who are not employable … civil strife, civil instability. It becomes a social and political problem," he said.

Mr Johnson’s commitment to the partnership in June came as his government pushed ahead with a £4bn aid cut, despite warnings that it would affect education projects.

The UK government is allocating 0.5 per cent of gross national income on official development assistance rather than the 0.7 per cent pledged in the Conservative Party campaign for the 2019 general election.

It says the reduction is temporary and has been introduced because of the economic damage from Covid-19, although charities fear the cut could be indefinite.

Mr Johnson will be joined by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and Julia Gillard, the former prime minister of Australia who chairs the GPE, at the event on Thursday.

Meeting Mr Kenyatta on the eve of the summit, Mr Johnson announced that Britain would share nearly a million vaccine doses with Kenya as part of its first shipments to developing nations.

In a recorded message, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown said 300 million children would not be going to school even after the pandemic subsides.

"Tragically for millions of children, total education aid globally is down $2bn already from its pre-pandemic peak," said Mr Brown, a UN special envoy for education.

"Total aid translates to only $8 per year per African pupil – hardly enough to pay for one second-hand textbook. That’s why we must prioritise investment in education now."

Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai — who has criticised the UK’s aid cuts — will also be among the speakers at the summit.

Updated: July 29, 2021, 8:14 AM

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