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
- Agha Khan Education, the foundation’s education programs covering a wide spectrum of activities ranging from early childhood care and education through to degrees in medicine.
- Right to Education Project, education rights promoting social mobilization and legal accountability.
- Indicators for the right to education, using availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability and governance, to ensure direct State compliance with international and national legislation
- Child-to-Child resources, range of resources for practitioners working on health education from the Child-to-Child network promoting international health and development
- Compass, a manual on human rights education with young people
- Equitas Play It Fair! Toolkit, activities for children aged 6-12, aimed at increasing children’s understanding of human rights, respect for diversity and peaceful conflict resolution.
- Speaking Rights project, addressing issues of education from a rights-based perspective and offering practical training for youth to equip them with tools to discuss these issues
- Gender Equality Online, UNWomen Australia National Committee online forum dedicated to creating a constructive dialogue about gender issues in Australia and abroad
- Girls’ Education in Africa: What Do We Know About Strategies That Work?, Eileen Kane (2004), The World Bank Africa Region Human Development Working Paper Series
- Girls’ Education in the 21st Century: Gender Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth, 2008 publication by The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and The World Bank. Edited by Mercy Tembon and Lucia Fort
- Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, coalition of organizations from education in emergencies and conflict-affected fragile states, higher education, protection, international human rights, and international humanitarian law who were concerned about on-going attacks on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict and insecurity.
- Global Dimension, supporting school teachers in bringing a global dimension to their teaching by providing access to teaching resources, case studies and background information.
- Global Learning Portal, multi-stakeholder alliance launched by USAID and FHI 360 to improve education outcomes in developing countries through collaboration technologies.
- Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education of National Minorities, published by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1996
- Human Rights Education in the School Systems of Europe, Central Asia and North America:A Compendium of Good Practice, published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in 2009.
- Improving the conditions of teachers and teaching in rural schools across African countries, results of the efforts by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) to monitor the evolution in government policies in Africa and their effect on higher teacher education development requirements. (2011)
- Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) toolkit, tools and resources to guide educationalists, humanitarian workers and government officials working in the field of education in emergencies through to recovery
- Promoting Rights in Schools: providing quality public education, publication by ActionAid, defines 10 rights that an ‘ideal’ school offering quality education would provide.
- Reading the books: Governments’ budgets and the right to education, International Budget Partnerships (2010) booklet developed primarily for human rights groups that focus on the right to education, intended to help add budget work to their research and advocacy “toolset”
- Refugee Education Trust, an independent organisation with strategic alliances with UNHCR and other UN agencies.
- Rewrite the Future: Save the Children campaign to get 3 million children in countries in crisis into schools
- The Road to Peace: A Teaching Guide on Local and Global Transitional Justice, published by Emily Farell and Kathy Seipp (The Advocates for Human Rights Minneapolis) 2008
- Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, a research and development initiative creating open educational resources and course design guidance for teachers and teacher educators working in Sub-Saharan African countries.
- Teachers Without Borders, organization connecting teachers to information and each other to create local change on a global scale
- Think Global, membership charity that works with schools, businesses and NGOs to educate and engage people about global issues.
- UNICEF podcast Ensuring human rights key to educating children in conflict zones
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF website on its role in promoting, protecting and realizing children’s rights as part of the framework of human rights law
- TeachUNICEF, portfolio of free global education resources, covering grades PK-12, that are interdisciplinary and align with standards. The lesson plans, stories, and multimedia cover topics ranging from the Millennium Development Goals to Water and Sanitation.
- UNESCO Teacher Education,
- Education for All Global Monitoring Report: 2011 report examining the damaging consequences of conflict for the Education for All goals. Sets out an agenda for protecting the right to education during conflict, strengthening provision for those affected by conflict, and rebuilding education systems in countries emerging from conflict.
- Education in Emergencies: A Resource Tool Kit published by UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia in Conjunction with New York Headquarters (2006)
- Education Under Attack 2010 Report, part of series of publications to research and analyse the issues of gaps in knowledge, attacks on education and how education can be protected from attack
- UNHCR Human Rights Education, ABC - Teaching Human Rights: Practical activities for primary and secondary schools (# 4 on the list), part of a series of publications aimed at supporting general human rights education efforts.
Related New Tactics resources shared in this dialogue:
- Building Villages: Using village strengths to combat child labour and other exploitative practices - A New Tactics notebook (case study)
- Educating the Next Generation: Incorporating Human Rights Education in the Public School System - A New Tactics notebook (case study)
- The Human Rights Education Program for Women in Turkey - A New Tactics notebook (case study)
- Using Government Budgets as a Monitoring Tool - A New Tactics notebook (case study)
- Using Budgets for Monitoring - A New Tactics dialogue
- Human Rights in Higher Education: Incorporating practical experience - A New Tactics dialogue