Kenya and the UK will be co-hosting one of the world’s largest education conferences, the GPE Global Education Summit, at the end of July.

The UK is a leading donor to the GPE, the largest global fund solely dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries, and the summit is an opportunity for the UK to take a global lead on access to education, particularly for girls. 

Through my work at the British Council I regularly get the chance to meet schoolgirls in Kenya. They are an inspiration. Every visitor to a Kenyan school comes away with the same sense of boundless possibility for the future and especially the future of female leadership. 

Kenya has a mixed picture when it comes to the performance of girls in schools, much like the continent in which it sits. In the country’s urban environments, girls make up the majority of school leavers with the highest marks. But in rural, arid and semi-arid regions and informal settlements, girls face much greater barriers to education. 

Detail and context are critical to delivering change with real impact and is part of the three main elements we will be bringing to the Global Education Summit. These are our research on the ground in Africa, our ability across the world to convene organisations across different sectors, and our direct contact with young people on the continent.

In Sub-Saharan Africa we work across a range of projects, with contacts in ministries, NGOs, networks of school leaders and alumni. We are unique on the continent, as indeed we are across the world, able to curate and deliver the variety of groups needed to tackle issues in education.

Kenyan partnerships

We have partnered with the Education Development Trust and Kenyan government to create a programme to demonstrate the importance and relevance of investing in education.

We will be leading a panel event at the summit that will be based on the priorities of young people and we hope to be joined by Professor George Magoha, Kenya’s Cabinet Minister for Education.

This is a testament to the close relationship developed between the British Council and the government here through our work on the country’s national curriculum. 

Since Kenya began reviewing its national curriculum, UK experts have been working closely with the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development’s technical team as the country produced its Basic Education Curriculum Framework.

This work also involves the Teachers Service Commission, the Kenya National Examinations Council, the Kenya Institute of Special Education and a number of higher education institutions. 

We followed up using the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning network, a programme led by the British Council in partnership with the FCDO. Our work has helped to prepare teachers and train them for the new framework.

A President, a Prime Minister and a monk

Joining our summit event is Peter Tabichi, a Franciscan friar and science teacher who won the Global Teacher Prize in 2019. His school, Keriko Mixed Day Secondary has recently joined our Connecting Classrooms programme, now twinned with Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School in Coventry.

We hope the partnership will support a relationship through discussions of faith and experience between young people in the two countries. Such partnerships can be based on themes such as climate change, global health or girls’ education – generating more international awareness and deepening relationships.

An international school partnership may not seem significant on the international stage, but they sow seeds in the minds of young people. Occasionally such social connections, whether in school, or the workplace, can be amplified.

Our Connecting Classrooms link was used to great effect in May when it became a platform for a conversation between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Uhuru Kenyatta. The two leaders talked about their own school experiences on a video call between the Westlands Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya, and Cleves Cross Primary School in Ferryhill, England. They also raised awareness of the importance of the upcoming Global Education Summit. 

Information for impact

Ahead of the summit we have produced three separate research projects looking at girls’ education from different angles. One project is a groundwork of interviews with teachers and school leaders. It was carried out in Nigeria by our partners, the Education Development Trust, and through our own Global Learning networks.

The second is an overview of literature on girls education in Africa, commissioned from the GSDRC, part of the International Development Department of the University of Birmingham.

In Nigeria, 10.5 million children are not in school – the majority of whom are girls. Our Teachers as Agents of Change research considers how school policies, practices, culture and environment can support, or frustrate, teachers’ efforts to promote gender equity. It also explored the impact on girls’ participation, wellbeing and learning. 

The work was carried out in 477 schools in Lagos state and Kano state, two states where the British Council already operates education projects. The research finds key factors in the low attendance of girls at school.

It also examines teachers’ beliefs around whether pregnant or married girls should attend classes. It will be discussed in more depth during the Global Education Summit programme. 

On average, a girl in northern Nigeria has a 36 per cent chance of getting married by age 15 and a 45 per cent chance of pregnancy by age 18. The closure of schools and various forms of lockdowns has led to a rise in early pregnancies, making it even less likely that these girls will return to education. 

The University of Birmingham’s GSDRC was tasked with looking at evidence on effective interventions in relation to British Council programming areas and UK government priorities. It particularly looked at teachers’ and school leaders’ knowledge and skills gaps.

This latest insight will provide information on the best points of entry for future British Council work. This will strengthen our impact on girls’ education in SSA, alongside the regular research we carry out through our Connecting Classrooms networks. 

Teachers: agents for change

Each month, via Connecting Classrooms we train hundreds of teachers in countries across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Our training covers core skills such as child-centred learning, lesson delivery, communication and collaboration and critical thinking.

The training highlights the role of teachers and school leaders in supporting a more transformative approach towards gender equality in the classroom, in schools and through the curriculum. It introduces gender responsive and inclusive practices to teaching and classroom management.

The programme is amplified by our English for Education Systems work, an example being the UK Aid-funded Building Learning Foundations programme in Rwanda. The programme has been improving the quality of teaching and leadership in all Rwanda’s primary schools. The British Council has been helping with Rwanda’s transition from a French-based to English-based curriculum since 2009. 

In Nigeria, KaLMA, the Kano Literacy and Mathematics Accelerator, is an FCDO-funded project delivered by the British Council in partnerships with Teaching at the Right Level. It builds foundational maths, Hausa and English literacy skills for more than 45,000 primary school children in the country’s Kano State.

It also investigates the scalability of models for teaching English. It is piloting a dual language approach to foundational skills in English using Hausa as a bridge to learning English.

A voice for young people

Finally, we will be making sure that the voices of children and young people are heard by leaders and policy makers in the build up to the meeting and the event itself. They should be foremost in our minds even at a high-level summit such as the Global Education Summit.

We are working with Kenyan filmmakers to produce vox pops and performances from a group of young Kenyan girls, which we hope to integrate into the summit.

Through this, we hope to ensure that their voices and opinions are heard in a highly level policy discussion which puts girls at the heart of education.