What is the right to education?
The right to education ensures that every person has access to education. Thus, education is recognised as an important part of human personality and development. This right allows parents to choose the type of education for their children in accordance with their cultural, religious, moral and other preferences. It also grants people or legal entities the right to create their own educational institutions.
Who ensures this right?
The State is the main guarantor of human rights. There are three levels of obligations:
- The obligation to respect means that a State should not restrict this right, avoiding measures that could hinder it
- The obligation to protect means that a State should take steps to prevent third parties from violating this right
- The obligation to fulfil means that a State should assist individuals in enjoying this right
It is also the duty of the State to ensure that the four key requirements are observed:
Educational institutions must be available to all in sufficient quantity. This also includes practical things like buildings where educational institutions will be located, teaching staff and materials, libraries, etc.
The state should eliminate possible barriers in access to education. Education must be physically accessible (be within safe reach) and economically accessible (affordable to all), and must be accessible to all without discrimination. The State must ensure access to education for all children in the age range of compulsory education and ensure that it is free (this does not include secondary and higher education).
Parents must be able to choose education for their children without the State’s interference in this process. The form and substance of education must be acceptable: relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality.
Education must be flexible and adaptive in the broad sense of the word. Society changes, and so do the norms, beliefs and traditions – education should be in line with these changes.
International recognition of this right
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first comprehensive list of human rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Already, at that time, the international community recognised that education is a human right – Article 26(2) of the Declaration provides:
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.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also emphasised the dual nature of this right:
Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. … Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make.