What you need to know about the right to education?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone. What exactly does that mean?

Social distancing in a class to contain the spread of coronavirus. Source: Internet

Human Rights Day is observed on December 10. This year, kicks off a year-long campaign leading up to the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which set outs fundamental human rights, including education, to be universally protected.

Did you know that the Declaration is one of the most translated documents in the world, available in more than 500 languages?

Article 26 of the Declaration is about the right to education:

Article 26

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Why is education a fundamental human right?

The right to education is a human right and indispensable for the exercise of other human rights.

  • Quality education aims to ensure the development of a fully-rounded human being.
  • It is one of the most powerful tools in lifting socially excluded children and adults out of poverty and into society. UNESCO data shows that if all adults completed secondary education, globally the number of poor people could be reduced by more than half.
  • It narrows the gender gap for girls and women. A UN study showed that each year of schooling reduces the probability of infant mortality by 5 to 10 per cent.
  • For this human right to work there must be equality of opportunity, universal access, and enforceable and monitored quality standards.

What does the right to education entail?

  • Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal
  • Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free
  • Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free
  • Fundamental education for individuals who have not completed education
  • Professional training opportunities
  • Equal quality of education through minimum standards
  • Quality teaching and supplies for teachers
  • Adequate fellowship system and material condition for teaching staff
  • Freedom of choice

What is the current situation?

  • About 258 million children and youth are out of school, according to UIS data for the school year ending in 2018. The total includes 59 million children of primary school age, 62 million of lower secondary school age and 138 million of upper secondary age.
  • 155 countries legally guarantee 9 years or more of compulsory education

  • Only 99 countries legally guarantee at least 12 years of free education
  • 8.2% of primary school age children does not go to primary school  Only six in ten young people will be finishing secondary school in 2030 The youth literacy rate (15-24) is of 91.73%, meaning 102 million youth lack basic literacy skills.

Teachers and students at Cu Dong school in Quang Tri province, Vietnam. Photo: NDO/Lam Quang Huy

What are the major challenges to ensure the right to education?

  • Providing free and compulsory education to all
  • 155 countries legally guarantee 9 years or more of compulsory education.
  • Only 99 countries legally guarantee at least 12 years of free education.
  • Eliminating inequalities and disparities in education

While only 4% of the poorest youth complete upper secondary school in low-income countries, 36% of the richest do. In lower-middle-income countries, the gap is even wider: while only 14% of the poorest youth complete upper secondary school, 72% of the richest do.

  • Migration and displacement

According to UNHCR, about 4 million 5- to 17-year-old refugees were out of school in 2017. 

  • Privatization and its impact on the right to education

States need to strike a balance between educational freedom and ensuring everyone receives a quality education.

  • Financing of education

The Education 2030 Agenda requires States to allocate at least 4-6 per cent of GDP and/or at least 15-20 per cent of public expenditure to education.

  • Quality imperatives and valuing the teaching profession

Two-thirds of the estimated 617 million children and adolescents who cannot read a simple sentence or manage a basic mathematics calculation are in the classroom.

Mai Nguyen