Education as a human right means:
Human rights reflect a global moral conscience in human dignity. They are inherent to all human beings, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. They cannot be given or taken away.
Human rights are the foundation for freedom, justice and peace in the world.
They have been formally and universally recognised by all countries in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Since then, many treaties have been adopted by States to reaffirm and guarantee these rights legally.
International human rights law sets out the obligations of States to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights for all. These obligations impose specific duties upon States,regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
All human rights are universal, indivisible an interdependent and interrelated (Paragraph 5 of the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action).
Equality and non-discrimination are cross-cutting principles in international human rights law that guarantee the full enjoyment of human rights to everyone.
International human rights law guarantees the right to education. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in 1948, proclaims in its article 26: "everyone has the right to education".
Since then, the right to education has been widely recognised and developed by a number of international normative instruments elaborated by the United Nations, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education.
It has been reaffirmed in other treaties covering specific groups (women and girls, persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees, indigenous people, etc) or contexts (education during armed conflicts).It has also been incorporated into various regional treaties and enshrined as a right in the vast majority of national constitutions.
Both individuals and society benefit from the right to education. It is fundamental for human, social and economic development and a key element to achieving lasting peace and sustainable development. It is a powerful tool in developing the full potential of everyone and in promoting individual and collective wellbeing.
For more details, see General Comment 13 on the right to education (paragraph 1).
The right to education encompasses both entitlements and freedoms, including: Right to free and compulsory primary education Right to available and accessible secondary education (including technical and vocational education and training), made progressively free Right to equal access to higher education on the basis of capacity made progressively free Right to fundamental education for those who have not received or completed primary education Right to quality education both in public and private schools Freedom of parents to choose schools for their children which are in conformity with their religious and moral convictions Freedom of individuals and bodies to establish and direct education institutions in conformity with minimum standards established by the State Academic freedom of teachers and students.
The 4 A s were developed by the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Katarina Tomaševski, and adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its General Comment 13 on the right to education (paragraph 6). To be a meaningful right, education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit these interrelated and essential features:
Available – Education is free and there is adequate infrastructure and trained teachers able to support the delivery of education.
Accessible– The education system is non-discriminatory and accessible to all, and positive steps are taken to include the most marginalised.
Acceptable– The content of education is relevant, non-discriminatory and culturally appropriate, and of quality; schools are safe and teachers are professional.
Adaptable– Education evolves with the changing needs of society and challenges inequalities, such as gender discrimination; education adapts to suit locally specific needs and contexts.
When a State has ratified a treaty that guarantees the right to education, it has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil this right. Some obligations are immediate. Others are progressive.
Obligation to respect, protect and fulfil
As with other economic, social and cultural rights, the full realisation of the right to education can be hampered by a lack of resources and can be achieved only over a period of time, particularly for countries with fewer resources. This is the reason why some State obligations are progressive, for instance, the introduction of free secondary and higher education.
However, no matter how limited resources are, all States have immediate obligations to implement the following aspects of right to education:
States have the primary duty to ensure the right to education. However, other actors play a key role in promoting and protecting this fundamental right.
According to international law, other actors have responsibilities in upholding the right to education:
Violations of the right to education may occur through direct action of States parties (act of commission) or through their failure to take steps required by law (act of omission). Concrete examples are given in paragraph 59 of the General Comment 13.
While the vast majority of countries have ratified international treaties that recognise the right to education, it is still denied to millions around the world due to lack of resources, capacity, and political will. There are still countries that have not integrated the right to education into their national constitution or provided the legislative and administrative frameworks to ensure that the right to education is realised in practice. Most of the children and adults who do not fully enjoy the right to education belong to the most deprived and marginalised groups of society which are often left behind in national policies.
See the Right to Education Project's page on Using Rights in Practice for more details on what you can do.
The content on this page was developed in collaboration with the Right to Education Project.