Aid can help African children realise their potential

Developing education should be a priority.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that could afford to send me to secondary school. Because of this, I went to university, travelled, pursued a fulfilling career and became the Managing Director of PEAS, one of the UK’s fastest growing charities, which is creating a network of sustainable, high- quality secondary schools across Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa.

 
It may seem quite strange for people living in the UK, where secondary school education is universal, to fully appreciate the transformative power it has. But just think how many of your life’s achievements could have happened without your secondary school education.
 
As someone from Northern Uganda, a region well-known for its twenty-year troubles at the hands of Joseph Kony, I am all too aware that a secondary education, and all the opportunities that come with it, is an unimaginable privilege for many children born into today’s world. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa female enrolment at secondary school can be low as 7 per cent, so to be a Ugandan woman with an education, a profession and a position of leadership is all too rare a thing.
 
In Uganda, if a child can go to secondary school, even if they complete no further education, those four to six years will have changed their life forever. And yet this opportunity is denied to the yet 3 in 4 children in Africa that do not go to secondary school, meaning that over 20 million children are missing out on secondary education. Without a secondary school education, an individual’s opportunity to lift him or herself out of poverty is severely limited and the cost to society is huge.
 
For women in particular the severe lack of affordable secondary school places is crippling. For most girls in Uganda, after the age of 11, education is replaced with working in the fields and childhood is quickly replaced with early motherhood. An un-educated girl is seven times more likely to catch HIV and her children are twice as likely to die before the age of five. But, for every year she is in school, an educated girl in Uganda can add 25 per cent more to her future earnings. A huge focus for the PEAS team is to ensure more girls enrol in, and complete, secondary school. Currently, over 48 per cent of PEAS students are female and we hope to see this figure rising as we continue to make more secondary school places available.
 
Most people in the UK would probably agree that education should be the responsibility of national governments. And at PEAS we also think this. Education is one of the most powerful ways to reduce aid dependence and empower populations to take charge of their own futures. If international aid organisations are to accelerate this process then we believe they must work with governments to develop sustainable education models that do not rely on continued foreign investment.
 
This is why PEAS developed our "SmartAid" approach. PEAS uses UK-fundraised money to cover the initial set-up costs so each school can open debt free. After that a combination of local government subsidies, boarding school fees and income generating projects (such as school farms), mean that PEAS schools can cover their own running costs indefinitely and in the long term build up a reserve to cover future investments in building repairs and new equipment. This means that our schools are truly sustainable and not dependent on UK fundraising to continue providing education year on year.
 
A really significant part of the PEAS model is that, in each country it operates in, a central team of locally employed education and development experts are responsible for quality control, financial auditing and providing support to the schools as they develop. Too often organisations rely on international experts rather than developing the talent from within each country but education cannot simply be outsourced if it is to lead to real and lasting change. But PEAS’s approach means that, by 2021, when we plan to have a network of 100 schools in Uganda running completely self-sufficient from aid, we will also have the expertise and infrastructure to run independently from PEAS UK.
 
Every child in Africa should have the opportunity to reach their potential and make something of themselves, and that is what PEAS is all about. It is inspiring to know that the work my team and I do every day will have a permanent impact on the lives of children in our schools and, through these children’s ambitions to be doctors, businesspeople, sustainable farmers, teachers, lawyers, and even political leaders, will also have a permanent impact on the future of our country.
 
Susan Opok is Managing Director of PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools). PEAS is a charity / social enterprise hybrid that is working with African governments to develop a network of secondary schools to provide affordable, high quality and sustainable education in Sub-Saharan Africa.
 
Founded in 2008, PEAS has already launched 13 public/private schools in Uganda and one in Zambia, with eight more due to open in February 2012. It aims to have launched 100 schools in Uganda by 2017 and is working with other African governments to develop similar funding models to extend secondary school access further.
 
The UK Government is match funding all donations made to PEAS until 13 December. To donate to PEAS Back to School Appeal and have your donation doubled by the UK government, visit http://www.peas.org.uk/donate or text PEAS01£10 to 70070.
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Why Britain’s Bangladeshis are so successful

In an age of fear about immigration, the success of the Bangladeshi population in Britain has a deeper resonance.

No day is complete without fears about immigrants failing to integrate in Britain. Romanians, Bulgarians and Syrians are among the ethnic groups now seen to be a burden on society, poorly educated and with few in good jobs, if in work at all.

A generation ago, much the same was said of the Bangladeshi community. Tower Hamlets, where the concentration of Bangladeshis is greatest, was the worst performing local authority in England until 1998. Until 2009, British Bangladeshis in England performed worse than the national average.

Today the Bangladeshi population is thriving: 62 per cent got five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, in 2015, five per cent above the average. The improvement among the poorest Bangladeshis has been particular spectacular: the results of Bangladeshis on Free School Meals (FSM) improved more than any other ethnic group on FSMs in the last decade, according to analysis of Department for Education figures.

Partly this is a story about London. If London’s schools have benefited from motivated Bangladeshi students, Bangladeshi pupils have also benefited from the attention given to the capital, and especially Tower Hamlets; 70 per cent of Bangladeshis in Britain live in the capital. But even outside the capital, Bangladeshi students “are doing very well”, and outperform Pakistani students, something that was not true in the recent past, says Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol.

The success of Bangladeshi girls, who outperformed boys by eight per cent in 2015, is particularly striking. Increased gender equality in Bangladesh – the gender pay gap fell 31 per cent from 1999-2009 – has led to Bangladeshi parents in England taking female education more seriously, says Abdul Hannan, the Bangladesh High Commissioner in the UK. He traces the development back to 1991, when Khaleda Zia became the first female prime minister in Bangladesh’s history; the country has had a female prime minister for 22 of the last 25 years.

The roots of the Bangladeshi population in Britain might be another factor in their success. The majority of Bangladeshis in the country hail from the city of Sylhet, which is central to Bangladesh’s economy and politics, and renowned for its food. “Our forefathers were the pioneers of the curry industry and we have followed in their footsteps,” says Pasha Khandaker, owner of a small chain of curry houses in Kent, who was born in Sylhet. Brick Lane alone has 57 Bangladeshi-owned curry houses; throughout England, around 90 per cent of all curry houses are owned by British Bangladeshis, according to the Bangladesh High Commission.

Other ethnic groups are less lucky. The skills and social and cultural capital of the British Pakistanis who originate from Mirpur, less integral to Pakistan than Sylhet is to Bangladesh, leave them less able to succeed in Britain, says Dr Parveen Akhtar, from the University of Bradford. The Bangladeshi population is also less constrained by kinship ties, Akhtar believes. In some British Pakistani communities, “individuals can live their lives with little or no contact with other communities”.

Younger British Bangladeshis have benefited from how their parents have become integrated into British life. “The second generation of Bangladeshi children had better financial support, better moral support and better access to education,” Hannan says.

As Bangladeshis have become more successful, so younger generations have become more aspirational. “Before you were an outlier going to university. As more people did it started to open the doors,” says Rushanara Ali, who became the first MP born in Bangladesh in 2010. She has detected an “attitude change about university for boys and girls.” Nasim Ali, a Bangladeshi councillor in Camden believes that, “the focus was on young people getting jobs when they turned 16” a generation ago, but now parents are more willing to spend extra money on tuition. 

Huge challenges remain. While the employment rate of Bangladeshis has improved – the proportion of women in work has risen by one-third in the last five years, according to research by Yaojun Li, from the University of Manchester – it still lags behind educational performance. Nine per cent of working age Bangladeshis are unemployed, almost twice the national average, Li has found. It does not help that the 12,000 Bangladeshi curry houses in Britain are closing at a rate of at least five a week. This does not reflect a lack of demand, says Khandaker, who is also President of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, but the government’s immigration restrictions, making it harder to find high-skilled chefs, and the increased ambition of young Bangladeshis today, who aspire to do more than work in the family business.

But, for all these concerns, as the soaring Bangladeshi children of today progress to adulthood, they will be well poised to gain leading jobs. David Cameron has said that he wants to see a British Asian prime minister in his lifetime. Hannan tells me that he is “positive that one day we will see someone from Bangladesh in the leadership”.

Nothing would better embody the sterling rise of the 600,000 British Bangladeshis. In an age of fear about immigration, the success of the Bangladeshi population in Britain has a deeper resonance. It shows that, with the right support, migrant communities can overcome early struggles to thrive. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.