The Foreign Secretary told school children the number of girls who were not being properly educated was the “biggest problem in the
world” and needed to be solved to combat poverty and civil wars.
Boris Johnson also claimed illiteracy and poor schooling was a “root cause” of extremism.
During a visit to St Leonard’s Church of England Primary Academy in East Sussex on Thursday, he said the answer was giving every girl in the world at least 12 years of quality education.
Marking International Women’s Day, Mr Johnson announced a campaign in which he plans to call on 53 foreign ministers at the Commonwealth Summit
to urge governments to prioritise education for girls by 2030.
During the visit he spent around an hour meeting about 100 pupils and teachers and discussed their work with their sister school in Sierra Leone.
He told Press Association: “I’ve been trying to explain to the kids that (quality education for every girl in the world) is the key to unlocking so many global problems, whether it is poverty or civil war.”
Some 90% of the world’s poorest children leave school unable to read and write, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.
Mr Johnson said countries with literate girls who have skills to survive and thrive are healthier and more prosperous, adding: “Globally 130 million girls are not in school, and in conflict zones girls are two and a half times more likely to be out of school than boys.
“Archaic groups like Boko Haram act with impunity kidnapping girls just because they want to learn.”
He spoke to Year 6 pupils about the importance of equality for women and men at work, before saying: “I think under-education of girls is the biggest problem in the world. Teaching girls is a key thing.”
He also discussed influential female figures with Year 5s – mentioning Prime Minister Theresa May, athlete Dame Kelly Holmes and the Queen.
Mr Johnson asked the students what they would like to be when they grew up and discussed the plot of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra before asking if any of them had seen it, adding: “It’s a very good play”.
Pupil Isla Flack, 10, of Hastings, said: “I think it’s important girls should be equal to boys because we are still people. Just because we are a different gender doesn’t mean we should be treated differently.”
While Beau Riva, nine, of Ashford, said: “I agree with Mr Johnson’s idea because I think men and women should be treated the same.”
Headteacher Marie Burgess added: “It was really important for the children to see how education is valued. The children talked quite passionately about equal opportunities.”