Education is a human right

We mark Human Rights Day on December 10th and this year it is 69 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in Paris at a United Nations (UN) General Assembly in a post-conflict spirit of international solidarity and optimism. In the UK, it was the year of the founding of the National Health Service. 6 years earlier, ignorance was one of the Beveridge report’s 5 ‘giants’ afflicting British society and which needed to be tackled, together with disease, want, squalor and idleness. Scanning the current state of our planet and global trends it’s easy to be sceptical about any notion of global universal rights being realised anytime soon. Inequality, injustice, powerlessness, conflict and division seem to be in the ascendant.

Education has to be at the heart of any project to ensure human rights and promote human flourishing. If we recognise this, we cannot accept the gross disparities and injustices which still exist across the world and also within many states.

Of the 30 UDHR articles, the one which relates to education is:

Article 26. The right to education

  1. Everyone has a 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.

It’s clear that we are furthest from achieving even these modest aims in parts the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the UN is right to focus its attention where the gap between aspiration and reality is widest.

However, even in a rich country like the UK, we are entitled to test the limits of Article 26 by asking:

  • Why would education not be free at all ages and stages?
  • Who decides who has enough ‘merit’ to progress to Higher Education?
  • Does our curriculum and assessment system promote the full development of the human personality?
  • Do we really value citizenship, human rights, and peace education in our system?

At the moment, the answers to these questions do not suggest that we are moving in the right direction.

Although progress has been made, we are still a long way from achieving the United Nations global aim of ‘Education for All’. Over 250 million children are not in school worldwide and around half of primary aged children who are not in education live in areas affected by conflict. 103 million young people lack basic literacy skills and over 60% of these are women.

The UN has 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Of these, goal 4 is

Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

Among the specific targets are:

  • Access to all levels of education
  • Early childhood development and pre-primary education,
  • Publicly funded primary and secondary education for all,
  • Literacy and numeracy skills for all,
  • Learning to live together and protect the environment,
  • Safe and inclusive learning environments,
  • Skills for work,
  • Gender equality and inclusion of marginalised groups
  • Well-trained teachers who are valued.

Until we increase our global effort to achieve these aims, and make the systemic changes which can allow them to succeed, we will not truly be honouring the promise made to future generations in 1948. This has to be one of our top priorities: globally, nationally and locally.

See also:

Education: the universal human right (May 2015)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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