The Right to Education

Seventy-five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly enshrined the global right to education within the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Since then, every nation has ratified at least one human rights treaty recognizing the right to education. Moreover, many countries have integrated this right into their highest legal instruments.

More recently, in 2015, the international community adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to serve as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” The aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for education were captured within Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), which targets “inclusive, high-quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all” by the year 2030. 

Education is a fundamental right and serves as a means to raise individuals from poverty, address disparities, and promote enduring development. In spite of this, infringements and violations of the right to education persist. 262 million children and young individuals of primary and secondary school age remain deprived of education. Predominantly affected are girls, those with disabilities, individuals from marginalized backgrounds, indigenous communities, and migrants. Such disparities are often rooted in financial barriers, emphasizing the critical need for free education. Many countries have taken commendable strides, notably by eliminating primary education fees.

While a greater number of children now attend school, they continue to encounter obstacles when it comes to fully realizing their right to education.  From untrained teachers and restricted curriculums to unsafe environments and biases — the right to education remains jeopardized for many. Additionally, crises such as armed conflicts, natural disasters, and climate change adaptations further impede its realization. When individuals migrate and experience internal or cross-border displacement, unfair hurdles materialize in ensuring the fulfilment of the right to education. In today’s ever-changing world, new difficulties arise continuously.

Education stands as a powerful instrument to elevate marginalized individuals from destitution, while serving as a gateway to other essential human rights. It represents the most sustainable form of investment. 


State Responsibilities 

In international human rights law, it is the responsibility of states to ensure that the right to education is upheld, with certain exceptions in specific circumstances. By ratifying international human rights treaties, governments commit to domestic measures and laws that align with their treaty obligations and responsibilities. Every nation across the globe has ratified at least one treaty that addresses various facets of the right to education, obligating them to enforce this right.

States’ responsibilities concerning the right to education include the duty to respect, protect, and fulfill this right. 

  • Respect: Avoid actions hindering education realization.
  • Protect: Guard against third-party interference in education.
  • Fulfill: Proactively facilitate and promote the right to education.

These obligations pertaining to the core components of the right to education are classified into four domains: availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability.

Moreover, adhering to the principle of non-retrogression, states must not diminish existing educational standards and must optimally allocate resources towards education.


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