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Gordon Brown: $6 billion needed to get the "forgotten" 57 million children into school

On the domestic stage, Gordon Brown’s profile has diminished significantly since he moved out of 10, Downing Street to make way for the Cameron family in 2010.

Indeed, during his appearance today at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar, the former prime minister suggested he has all but written off the UK political scene, by erroneously referring to himself as an “ex politician” – despite still being the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

But even if Mr Brown may have already mentally moved on from Westminster, the enthusiastic reception he received at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha demonstrated that Mr Brown has carved out a significant reputation for himself on the global stage since becoming the United Nations’ special envoy for education.

Upon entering the hall for a debate on “educating at the extreme”, Mr Brown was greeted by a explosion of flashes from a crowd of local photographers keen to capture the arrival of the biggest name at this year’s event (metaphorically, that is; in literal terms, Her Highness Sheikha Moza, chair of WISE founders the Qatar Foundation, probably had the edge).

Mr Brown was quick to ingratiate himself with his hostess, describing her Educate A Child initiative, which aims to help 10 million children into education by 2015, as “extraordinary”. “She has shown leadership, she has shown compassion and she has shown vision,” he said. “I don’t think there is any example in the world of a person doing as much as she is doing for education.”

He then returned to the matter in hand: his target of getting 57 million young people not in primary education into school by 2015. Mr Brown was less polite about the international aid agencies which have cut their financial support over the last 12 months. “That is unacceptable in my view,” he told delegates.

“Others,” he continued, “have helped more, so it is possible to imagine 20 million people who are out of school now being in school by the end of 2015. But that leaves 40 million children who will not be in school unless we change what we’re doing.”

And tackling this educational deficit will not come cheap, Mr Brown admitted, estimating the cost of attaining universal free primary education at a hefty $6 billion. He gave a rallying call for businesses, governments, aid agencies, philanthropists and charities to help stump up the cash.

After all, it is “the forgotten, the neglected, the most in need, the hardest to reach children, children in conflict zones… that need our help most of all,” he explained.

“Unless we take action,” he concluded, "we will not be the generation that gets every child to school and we will have failed.”

The sympathetic audience clearly appreciated his contribution, giving him a warm round of applause as he left the stage.

Mr Brown may have blotted his copybook slightly by disappearing before the debate had finished, but he had a good excuse: he had a meeting with the Emir of Qatar to dash to. Even if you’re a global figurehead for education, there are some engagements you just can’t be late for.

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