Advancing Children's Right to Education

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 to Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Education is a basic human right, enshrined in law all over the world. Yet, according to the Right to Education Project, 69 million children are still out of school, more than 700 million can't read.  Despite these overwhelming numbers, practitioners have developed innovative and successful ways of ensuring that children in their communities have access to education. Access to education is critical in ensuring other rights.

In an effort to prevent child exploitation in India, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) developed Child Friendly Villages in which all children receive compulsory, good quality education, and the voice and opinion of the children are heard and taken into account.  In South Africa, Children’s Budget Unit (CBU) of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) has been using national and provincial government budgets as monitoring mechanisms to advance child-specific socio-economic rights such as the right to education.  Recognizing that many families in Brazil cannot afford to send their children to school, the Bolsa Escola program of the Department of Education provides families with a monthly stipend so that children can attend school instead of work in the streets.  These are just a few of many tactics that have been used to advance children’s right to education. This dialogue is an opportunity for practitioners working to advance children’s right to education and those interested in it to discuss questions and challenges, and share experiences and ideas.

What is the right to education? Why is it important to protect and advance children’s right to education?

Recognized since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the right to education has been enshrined in a number of regional treaties. It is an “enabling” right which creates the “voice” through which rights can be claimed and protected. Without an education, people lack the capacity to ‘to achieve valuable functioning as part of the living’. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) highlights the need to prioritize free, compulsory primary education and to make secondary education available and accessible. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) states that education must be made available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. Protecting and advancing children’s right to education is important because of its relationship with other rights, especially health. Educating components in other rights declarations are essential to the realisation of those rights. Other rights that are directly linked to the right to education include the freedom of expression, conscience and association, the rights to work, to an adequate standard of living, and to actively participate in one’s community.

Education provides structure and stability in children’s lives, which is especially important during periods of conflict, when it can give resilience and hope. Postponing education can result in children never returning to school, or learning essential life skills such as reading and writing, leaving them vulnerable to lives of poverty and violence. Education during conflict can promote the knowledge and skills to bring about behavior changes that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, to resolve conflict peacefully and to create the conditions conducive to peace. While addressing children rights to education, a number of themes must be addressed, including cultural issues, children’s experiences of their rights, integrating students with special needs and defining expectations and demands for teachers and parents.

Right to education brings equality, justice and parity in society. No rights can sustain without awareness and awareness can only come from education. Without education, there cannot be dignity and therefore the Right to Education is implicit in the responsibilities and notion of the "welfare state" itself.  Access to education empowers and develops confidence in a child. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education, which shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

What are the barriers to children’s access to quality education?

Teacher motivation is an important barrier to children’s access to quality education. Once affording high social status and attractive remuneration, teaching seems to have reached an all time low, says one participant. In many African countries, teachers work in challenging conditions that are aggravated by poor remuneration, scarce resources, and a lack of respect.  
Conflict is another barrier to education and, as one participant described, a militancy regime can spread fear in a community, leaving schools deserted, and spreading propaganda against the education of girls. An assessment by Save the Children revealed that the main reasons preventing children from accessing schools were cultural, ongoing security restrictions and fear factors. The 2011 Global Education for All Monitoring Report estimates that armed conflict is robbing 28 million of an education, yet the right to education in emergencies or humanitarian contexts is one that remains relatively unexplored. Even in non-conflict but “rights hostile” areas, talk of human rights hinders participation of academics and activists in the field as it may alienate those trying to work with the government and in extreme cases can be dangerous.

For girls specifically, one significant barrier to education in developing countries is a lack of decent sanitation. In Ghana and India for example, the provision of sanitary pads and installation of toilets reduced absenteeism and improved concentration, confidence and participation. However, in Nigeria, despite efforts by the government for Universal Basic Education, more than 7 million children are still missing education, due to social, economic and political factors.

Money is not everything, but it does play a large part, and so in 2002 the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (now the Global Partnership for Education) recommended that governments allocate 20% of their budgets to education.  For states without adequate resources, the international community may step in to fill the gap. However, this funding is difficult to regulate and issues arise with corruption and money not reaching where it is most needed.

Without an education, children grow up to be illiterate adults who will have endless barriers in succeeding in life and will most likely continue to live in poverty. If this perpetuates throughout entire communities, there is little hope for advancement and economic development. If parents do not see the value of an education the government may need to intervene, either reeducating parents on the need and huge benefits for an education, or by enforcing the law that all children should at least receive an elementary education.

It is important to remember, however, that barriers to education exist in non-conflict developed countries. One participant highlights the situation in Canada where aboriginal students face poverty, language barriers, geographic isolation and racism, and immigrants and refugees have difficulty engaging in the school system. Bullying and discrimination are widespread and often cause depression and lack of self-esteem in students making their educational experience difficult. Even more tragic is the existence of human trafficking, even in the US, as a modern day form of slavery that keeps children from realizing their right to education.

Research in North America has shown that children of involved fathers are more likely to enjoy school, have better grades and peer relationships, have fewer behavior problems, and become more responsible adults. They are also less likely to be bullied or to be bullies. When fathers are involved with their child’s education, they send an essential message - school is important.

What is being done to advance children’s right to education?

Government budgets provide a concrete tool for evaluating how programs and policies actually fulfill obligations. In South Africa, a Children’s Budget Unit used budget analysis to monitor the government’s legal obligations, commitments, and progress in advancing child-specific socioeconomic rights and programs. INESC in Brazil has engaged children by organizing workshops in which participants were introduced to deeper concepts and discussions on human rights affecting them, budget formation and monitoring and democratic participation.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan in India used Child Friendly Villages to empower communities to be the change that they seek by withdrawing children from work, enhancing the quality of education, and holistically developing villages towards the creation of a child friendly society.

Build Africa works to advance education at the local level by building up the capacity of school management committees to run their schools and monitor the quality of teaching and learning. They also work closely with local education offices to ensure that the schools are connected with the local government, that gaps in their own education are identified and appropriate solutions found.

While in some situation parents may not always realize the value of an education, often families would like to send their children to school but cannot afford to because of the much needed income children bring in. The Bolsa Escola program in Brasilia addressed this problem by providing families with a monthly stipend so that children can attend school instead of working the streets. Funded by the Department of Education, the stipend is only given if the mandatory attendance rate is maintained.

The Right to Education Project has been working towards developing indicators to monitor their implementation and to identify gaps in their protection. Teaming up with ActionAid International, they developed the Promoting Rights in Schools framework, which offers a set of practical tools that can be used as a basis for mobilisation, advocacy and campaigning. As many states appear to be falling short of UNESCO Education for All goals, the initiative has gained interest from a variety of education stakeholders.

What are the next steps? What are the gaps that still need to be addressed?

Refugee education is a major gap in advancing the right to education because even though refugee circumstances are considered “temporary”, according to UNHCR statistics the average situation lasts for 17 years. Post-primary education for these groups is neglected and barriers persist of unaffordable fees, inability to move and difficulties in finding legitimate work. It is crucial to break refugee connotations and actually achieve results to match rights rhetoric - international human rights treaties apply to all individuals, citizens or not, and access to education for refugee children should not be less favorable for refugees than it is to citizens. Unfortunately this problem also extends beyond refugees and in many developing countries post-primary education has not received adequate attention. Even when there is free secondary education, not many children progress to it from primary school because of issues related to quality and relevance, as well as the distribution of opportunities and the composition of the household contributing to the issue of access. Furthermore, there still exists a huge gap in the education of girls compared to that of boys. Progress has been made but much still has to be done to account for the needs of both boys and girls, men and women.

In State reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, on legislation concerning factors that affect a child's right to education and to develop fully there is a major lack of consistency. Less than a third of States have a minimum age for entering employment and for completing compulsory education set at the same level. While it may seem straightforward t raise minimum age to match up with the finishing age for school there are many complications, including reliance on children for household income and cultural beliefs that girls do not need to go to school.  Governments should be more committed in delivering their responsibilities and making education available to every child. There is a great need for increased allocation of resources to states and participation of children in making of policies and programs as children themselves can share their problems and suggest ways to make the system more effective.

Resources for advancing children’s right to education

Related New Tactics resources shared in this dialogue:

Conversation Leaders

Paul McAdams's picture
Paul McAdams
Conception pédagogique Pointbleu
CASIE's picture
Bobbi Kay
Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education
libbyjames's picture
Libby James
Build Africa
Duncan Wilson's picture
Duncan Wilson
Youth Can's picture
Amjad Ali
Youth Organization United through Hope (Youth Can)
Vincenza Nazzari's picture
Vincenza Nazzari
baileygrey's picture
Bailey Grey
Right to Education Project
Bhuwan.Ribhu's picture
Bhuwan Ribhu
Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA)