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The Human Right to Education
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Human Rights Education

PDHRE Materials Prepared for CONFINTEA V, Fifth International Conference for Adult Education, Hamburg, Germany, 14-18 July 1997

Human Rights & Education | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Education

What is the Human Right to Education?

Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to education, training and information, and to other fundamental human rights dependent upon realization of the human right to education. The human right of all persons to education is explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other widely adhered to international human rights treaties and Declarations -- powerful tools that must be put to use in realizing the human right to education for all!

The Human Rights at Issue

The human right to education entitles every woman, man, youth and child to: The human right to free and compulsory elementary education and to readily available forms of secondary and higher education.

The human right to freedom from discrimination in all areas and levels of education, and to equal access to continuing education and vocational training.

The human right to information about health, nutrition, reproduction and family planning.

The human right to education is inextricably linked to other fundamental human rights -- rights that are universal, indivisible, interconnected and interdependent including:

  • The human right to equality between men and women and to equal partnership in the family and society.

  • The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.

  • The human right to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to participate in shaping decisions and policies affecting one=s community, at the local, national and international levels.

Human Rights & Education | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Education

What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Education?

Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Discrimination in Education.

"Everyone has the 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.... 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 ... racial or religious groups...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26

"The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to education.... Education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among ... racial, ethnic or religious groups.... Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all... Secondary education ... including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all.... Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all...."
--International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13

"States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women ... the same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies ... in educational establishments of all categories...; this equality shall be ensured in preschool, general, technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training. Access to the same curricula, ... teaching staff...; The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of man and women at all levels and in all forms of education...; the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships...; The same opportunities for access to programmes of continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programmes.... Access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas ... and ... ensure to such women the right ... to obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 10 and 14

"States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to education and training...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

"States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and ... shall ... make primary education compulsory and available free to all; ... make [secondary education] available and accessible to every child...; make higher education accessible to all...; make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children...; take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.... States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: ... the development of the child=s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; the development of respect for human rights...; the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values...."
--Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 28 and 29

"The States Parties ... undertake ... to ... discontinue any ... practices which involve discrimination in education....; to formulate, develop and apply a national policy which ... will ...... promote equality of opportunity and of treatment in ... education and in particular:...To make primary education free and compulsory; make secondary education in its different forms available and accessible to all; make higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity; assure compliance by all with the obligation to attend school prescribed by law...; To encourage and intensify ... the education of persons who have not received any primary education or who have not completed the entire primary education.... It is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and ... the use or the teaching of their own language...."
--Convention against Discrimination in Education, Articles 3, 4, and 5


Human Rights & Education | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Education:

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Education for all?

Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, and excerpts from the.World Declaration on Education for All, and the Amman Affirmation.

"Education ... should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues.... Governments should take active steps to ... eliminate illiteracy ... and to expand the enrolment of women ... in educational institutions, to promote the goal of universal access to primary and secondary education...."
--Agenda 21, Chapter 36, para. 3; Chapter 3, para. 2; Chapter 24, para. 3

"We commit ourselves to ... the goals of universal and equitable access to quality education ... making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social conditions and without distinction as to race, national origin, gender, age or disability.... We will: Formulate and strengthen ... strategies for the eradication of illiteracy and universalization of ... early childhood education, primary education and education for the illiterate...; Emphasize lifelong learning by seeking to improve the quality of education to ensure that people of all ages are provided with useful knowledge, reasoning ability, skills, and the ethical and social values required to develop their full capacities in health and dignity and to participate fully in the social, economic and political process of development...."
--Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 6

"Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace.... Actions to be taken: ... Advance the goal of equal access to education by taking measures to eliminate discrimination in education at all levels on the basis of gender, race, language, religion, national origin, age or disability, or any other form of discrimination .... By the year 2000, provide universal access to basic education and ensure completion of primary education by at least 80 per cent of primary school-age children; close the gender gap in primary and secondary school education by the year 2005; provide universal primary education in all countries before the year 2015.... Reduce the female illiteracy rate to at least half its 1990 level.... [Ensure] that women have equal access to career development, training.... Improve ... quality of education and ... equal ... access ... to ensure that women of all ages can acquire the knowledge, capacities, ... skills ... needed to develop and to participate fully ... in the process of ... development...."
--Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 69, 80, 81, and 82

"We ... commit ourselves to promoting and attaining the goals of universal and equal access to quality education,... making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social and economic conditions ... without distinction as to race, national origin, gender, age, or disability, respecting and promoting our common and particular cultures. Quality education for all [is] fundamental to ensuring that people of all ages are able to develop their full capacities ... and to participate fully in the social, economic and political processes of human settlements.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Promoting ... appropriate facilities for ... education, combating segregation and discriminatory and other exclusionary policies and practices, and recognizing and respecting the rights of all, especially of women, children, persons with disabilities, people living in poverty and those belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups...."
--Habitat Agenda, paras. 2.36 and 3.43

"... Education is a fundamental right for all people, women and men, of all ages, throughout the world.... Every person -- child, youth and adult -- shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs.... to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity.... to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions...."
-- World Declaration on Education for All, Preamble and Article 1

"Education is empowerment. It is the key to establishing and reinforcing democracy, to development which is both sustainable and humane and to peace founded upon mutual respect and social justice. Indeed, in a world in which creativity and knowledge play an ever greater role, the right to education is nothing less than the right to participate in the life of the modern world."
-- Amman Affirmation, 1996


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org