Dóchas called today on the Irish Government to champion the need for quality education in the world’s poorest countries, and show political leadership within the European Union to ensure that education becomes a priority area for international development co-operation.
Representatives from Dóchas’ Education Working Group, the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations, appeared in front of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence presenting the case for Ireland’s international development practice across government departments and through international partners to prioritize improvements in education.
With recent figures from UNESCO estimating that globally 1 in 5 children are out of school, Irish NGOs highlighted the need for specific interventions to support delivery on Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals on inclusive and equitable quality education. The NGOs also emphasised the importance of ensuring that children have access to education during violent conflict, given that 75 million children aged 3 to 18 currently live in countries facing such a situation. Removing barriers to education for girls was also raised as an urgent imperative.
By working with and supporting national governments in countries facing conflict, as well as prioritising lower-income and middle-income settings, Ireland can champion the rights of children globally to receive quality education, improve their opportunities in life and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, the group argued.
Speaking before the session, Plan International Ireland CEO and Dóchas Board member Paul O’Brien stressed the positive effects that gender-transformative education policies can have in tackling high rates of child marriage and early pregnancy, enabling girls to participate in the labour force and have their voices heard.
“Pulled out of schools before their brothers, millions of the world’s poorest girls continue to have their life chances hindered by an education that is all too brief”, he said. “Good quality education has the power to challenge traditional social attitudes and ensure that girls and boys know that they are equal”.
Mr. O’Brien was joined on the panel by Anne O’Mahony, Head of Programmes at Concern, Triona Pender, Head of Programmes at Action Aid Ireland, and Sister Brigid Tunney of the Loreto Sisters, a member organisation of Misean Cara – Mission Support from Ireland.
Sister Tunney spoke of her experiences educating girls in war-torn South Sudan, where they are commonly taken from the classroom from as early as 11 years old to be married. The Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek strives to provide a safe environment for girls to pursue their education. “When the girls are within the compound, it reduces the risk of violence, rape and forced marriage”, she said, adding that 90% of graduates have gone on to further training and employment.
Welcoming the acknowledgement of education as a priority in A Better World, Ireland’s new International Development Policy launched earlier this year, representatives called for a focus on reaching the furthest behind first, as well as ensuring that overseas development funding from the Irish Government goes to public education services rather than provision through the for-profit private sector.
Triona Pender from ActionAid Ireland described how recent economic policies championed by the IMF and World Bank undermined the need for investment in public services such as education. “One consequence is often increasingly unequal provision, exacerbating the exclusion of women and girls, and other marginalised groups… especially where user fees are charged”, she said.
Anne O’Mahony of Concern highlighted the need for specific interventions which tackle school-related gender based violence (SRGBV). With the support of Irish Aid, Concern currently runs a programme in Sierra Leone, where SRGBV and inequality are major barriers to the education of marginalised children. “We would like to see the Irish government continue to invest in a holistic approach to education that focuses on access, quality and well-being, with particular attention being paid to girls’ education”, said Ms. O’Mahony.
For further information, please contact Suzanne Keatinge, Dóchas CEO, on 0871221752
Members of the Working Group are available for comment.
Notes for the editor:
- Dóchas is the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations. It provides a forum for consultation and cooperation between its members, and a platform for them to speak with a single voice on development issues. For more information, visit: www.dochas.ie.
- Dóchas currently has 55 member organisations, who are working in Ireland on issues related to international development. A list of Dóchas members can be found here.
- The Dóchas Education in International Development and Emergencies Working Group is made up of representatives from ActionAid Ireland, Aidlink, Camara, Children in Crossfire, Childfund, Concern, Development Perspectives, Misean Cara, National Youth Council of Ireland, Plan International Ireland, Suas, Tearfund, and VSO.