By Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer of United Kingdom (THE GUARDIAN, 04/01/07):
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Britain voting to end the slave trade. There could be no better commemoration than to abolish all child labour, and ensure that all young children go to school. I want every parent, student and school in Britain and the developed world to become campaigners, calling on every government to give every child access to schooling.Today Hilary Benn and I are publishing a pamphlet telling teachers and pupils about our “Education for every child” initiative. Ten million children will benefit as, for the first time, we bring together all the support British schools need to build links with developing countries – including teacher exchanges. These networks will enable teachers and children to lead the fight in achieving education for all – a fight that draws its inspiration from links built across the generations. Truly a world classroom – in time backed by the world’s biggest petition.
In 1807 men and women who had no vote – Liverpool dockers, Sheffield metal workers, Manchester textile workers, Hull seamen – petitioned the government for an end to slavery. In 2007 the Global Campaign for Education is asking schoolchildren to press those in power to ensure that all children in developing countries go to school.
A few months ago I went with the Comic Relief team to Mozambique to meet Nelson Mandela and launch this education initiative. With pupils Jenade and Lily, Hilary Benn and I visited a school outside Maputo. It had so many pupils – 4,000 – that it operated in four shifts, the last often sent home because there was no lighting. There were only a few dozen qualified teachers, no desks or chairs, and a leaking roof. Yet the teachers struggled on in this least prosperous of places, educating children who looked forward to school every day.
I visited Africa’s largest slum – Kibera, near Nairobi. Primary education in Kenya is now free, and in the week it became free an astonishing one million children turned up to register. The ones I met were chanting the slogan that had changed their lives: “Free education”. Free education has made a huge difference elsewhere, too. In Uganda and Tanzania pupil numbers grew by 2 million, and I know other countries could benefit. So Britain has pledged £8.5bn over 10 years, enough for 15m school places.
But we must do more. In the last few months, 22 African countries have committed to developing plans to ensure all their children have the facilities and teachers to complete primary education by 2015. The cost is not prohibitive – an extra $10bn a year by 2010 is probably the most cost-effective investment the world could make. This is only 2p a day for each person in the richest nations.
Education could be the greatest gift the richest nations make to the poorest. The alternative is what I saw outside Abuja, in Nigeria: madrassas created by religious extremists, offering free education but fundamentalist indoctrination, filling the void created by our failure to act. Today education for all makes not just moral and economic sense, but strategic sense too.
So the best way to commemorate the end of the slave trade in 1807 is to end the slavery of ignorance in 2007. Our goal is to ensure free education for every child, building the foundation of a truly free life for every adult, and we will commit to every child being at school, and achieve it within 10 years.
Let us heed the call of faith groups and NGOs committed to making “free education” not just a slogan in Kenya, but a global reality for every child.