||Background Information on the Global Themes
to education as a human right
In a case from the European Court of Human Rights, the right
to education was defined as "a right of access to educational
institutions `existing at a given time' and the right to draw
benefit from the education received, which means the right to
obtain official recognition of the studies completed"16.
"...is both a human right
in itself and an indispensable means of realising other
human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the
primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalised
adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and
obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.
Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding
children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual
exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting
the environment and controlling population growth. Increasingly,
education is recognised as one of the best financial investments
States can make. But the importance of education is not
just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active
mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys
and rewards of human existence17."
is not merely a means for earning a living or an instrument for
the acquisition of wealth. It is an initiation into a life of
spirit, a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and
the practice of virtue."
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
The right to education is referred to in the following human rights instruments:
- The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (art. 26)
- The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
(art. 2 of Protocol No.1)
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (art. 10)
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child (arts. 28 and 29)
- The African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples' Rights (art.
- The Protocol of San Salvador to the American Convention on
Human Rights (art. 13).
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights (arts. 13 and 14). It is interesting to note that Article
13 is the longest provision in the Covenant and the most wide-ranging
and comprehensive article on the right to education in international
human rights law.
What are the present educational challenges?
In 1996, a Unesco commission
provided an outline of the seven main tensions facing the world
and affecting education:
- The tension between the global and the local;
- The tension between the universal and the individual;
- The tension between tradition and modernity;
- The tension between the spiritual and the material;
- The tension between long-term and short-term considerations;
- The tension between competition and equality of opportunity;
- The tension between the extraordinary expansion of knowledge
and the capacity of human beings to assimilate it.
Unesco has highlighted what they have called the four `pillars'
of learning, as a strategy that could help face and deal with
- Learning to live together: Specifically, this means
that education should strengthen in students the skills and
abilities necessary for them to accept their interdependence
with other people; to manage conflict; to work and plan with
others common objectives and a common future; to respect pluralism
and diversity (for example in gender, ethnicity, religion and
culture); and to participate actively in the life of the community.
- Learning to know: This means that education should
help students to acquire the instruments of knowledge: the essential
learning tools of communication and oral expression, literacy,
numeracy and problem-solving; to gain both a broad general knowledge
and an in-depth knowledge of a few areas; to understand rights
and responsibilities; and most importantly, to learn how to
- Learning to do: Education should help students to
acquire occupational skills and social and psychological competencies
that will enable them to make informed decisions about diverse
life situations, to function in social and work relationships,
to participate in local and global markets, to use technological
tools, to meet basic needs and to improve the quality of their
own and others' lives;
- Learning to be: Education should contribute to developing
the personality and enable people to act with greater autonomy,
judgement, critical thinking and personal responsibility. It
should aim to develop all aspects of potential, for example,
memory, reasoning, an aesthetic sense, spiritual values, physical
capacities and communication skills; a healthy lifestyle, and
enjoyment of sports and recreation; an appreciation of one's
own culture; possession of an ethical and moral code; an ability
to speak for and defend oneself; resilience.
The complementary roles of formal and non-formal
"If you think education is expensive,
There are two key concepts that
are being integrated in European educational policies: the vision
of lifelong learning in a learning society. The idea is of a community
where people are offered different opportunities to develop their
competencies throughout their lives. It is important to note that
there is increased recognition not only of the role of formal
education but also of the opportunities offered by non-formal
education, that is, the programmes outside the formal education
system. Such programmes are often managed by non-governmental
organisations, including youth organisations. They are able to
address a wide range of topics and different methodologies, using
flexible approaches, and may include ways of providing literacy
and other skills to the millions of children and adults who are
denied access to the formal education system or who are functional
one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more
harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty,
exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war18"
Can you think of examples of non-formal education programmes in
your own community?
In the twentieth century, in Europe, public or state schools
have also become the major institution for mass education, and
formal education is widely accepted.
In recent decades, this tendency has resulted in increased budgetary
allocations for basic education, in legislation making schooling
compulsory, and in widespread media coverage of education and
Experts in education speak of the importance of "crossing
boundaries" between formal and non-formal education, promoting
communication and co-operation that will help with synchronising
educational activities and learning environments in order to provide
learners with a coherent set of opportunities.
|The role of European
At the European level, youth
organisations have found ways of making their voice heard
on educational issues. So too have student organisations
such as the National Union of Students in Europe (ESIB)
and the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions
(OBESSU), which is the largest European platform of national
school student organisations and unions, and is active in
general secondary and secondary vocational education. These
organisations work to facilitate the exchange of information,
experience and knowledge between national school student
organisations, and they play a seminal role in promoting
discussion on new trends within the formal education systems
To what extent are education systems generally keeping up with
As the world has become more complex, school systems have expanded
both in size and complexity. The sheer number of children in these
systems has grown probably at a rate even faster than the growth
of population: total primary enrolment in developing countries
grew from 50% in 1970 to 76% in 1990 and to 82% in 1995. Most
systems have stretched themselves to cover children of pre-school
age, adolescents and adults more systematically than before.
Literacy rates in developing countries have also grown - from
43% in 1970 to 65% in 1990 and to more than 70% in 1995. Such
expansion is largely the result of improvements in the quality
of education, in more attention to schooling by governments and
the international community and in the continued value attached
to schooling by families. Education is valued for its own sake
and it is also seen as a panacea to the everyday challenges faced
However, in contrast to this picture, some evidence to the contrary
can be seen in the stagnation of enrolments in a number of countries.
Some experts have pointed out that in the past twenty years
"the rate of growth of primary, secondary, and tertiary
(post-secondary) school enrolment was slower for most groups of
countries. The rate of growth of public spending on education,
as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), also slowed across
all groups of countries"19
These patterns have had particularly negative consequences for
educational achievements, including literacy rates, in countries
that have seen less rapid improvement in the past twenty years
compared to that in the previous two decades.
Key elements of globalisation,
such as selective trade liberalisation, companies' ability
to shift operations around the globe and tax evasion are
threatening long-term funding for education. Tax problems
have affected government funding for education. In the case
of Ghana, the government is able to collect 12% of Gross
National Product (GNP) in taxation. If it were to lose just
10% of tax revenue - i.e. 1.2% of GNP - then this would
be equivalent to about half the primary-education budget.
Protecting revenue-collection capacity is therefore of vital
importance to achieving progress towards the goal of universal
In many central and east European countries, economic recovery is still not a
reality. What are the consequences for education?
"The decentralisation of social expenditures has had
a substantial effect on available resources for education (Poland,
1999; Russian Federation, 1999; Romania, 1999). Several central
European countries had introduced greater decentralisation of
educational finance and governance prior to 1990, but in the rest
of the region there have been new efforts to devolve responsibilities
from central governments to local levels.
Thus, local governments have been given increasing responsibility
for education provision from pre-primary to secondary schooling.
In many cases, schools themselves have been assigned considerable
authority. Measured in terms of expenditure responsibilities,
regions are often responsible for a majority of spending on education
and in some countries there are growing disparities in the ability
of different regions of a country to finance educational programmes
In some cases, local authorities, particularly in rural areas,
are not allocated the financial resources to meet these new responsibilities
and have few means to raise additional funds. Often, teachers'
wages (representing the largest share of the educational budget)
are still fixed by central authorities, which leaves schools with
little autonomy over budgetary decisions.
However, the share of resources going to education is coming
from a public budget that has been greatly diminished. Faced by
large falls in national income and by reduced tax revenues, state
support for education has been sharply reduced in real terms.
In spite of the difficulties associated with the transition
process, countries have taken many concrete steps towards education
reform. These reforms have focused on the areas of education legislation,
democratisation of curricula and decentralisation of governance
and finance. However, in some countries, the actual implementation
of these reforms has been slow and often difficult"21.
"The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet."
Unfortunately, the available
indicators on the condition of education worldwide make it evident
that far too limited resources are being invested in this sector.
In a world that is characterised by accelerating change, parents
and young people are questioning the relevance of what schools
teach. In addition, too many schools throughout the world are
characterised by high teacher absenteeism, poor use of available
instructional time and negligible attention to the interests and
abilities of individual learners. It comes as no surprise that
in such schools, where children may be getting little useful knowledge
and much of their time is spent in rote learning, many children
reject what education systems offer. Among those students who
continue in school, many do not acquire elementary skills in analysing
and applying their school learning to life-relevant tasks.
Experts from the Council of Europe have highlighted three main
groups of young people who are particularly vulnerable within
- those who come from economically disadvantaged families;
- those whose parents have limited educational experience;
- ethnic minorities, immigrants and travellers.
are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish,
we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when
we come to man's estate, is the gift of education."
Can you identify any other groups, not mentioned in this list,
that are particularly vulnerable in your community?
In many parts of the world there is increasing scepticism concerning
formal, uniform systems of education. People see growing disparities
and gaps - in cost, quality, achievements, and certification -
and this has led to a "crisis of confidence" in public
schooling throughout much of the world.
If all children of primary school age were to receive a good
quality basic education lasting for a minimum of four years, the
problem of illiteracy would be resolved in the space of a single
generation. Yet today:
- 125 million children of primary school age are not in school;
most of these are girls.
- Another 150 million children start primary school but drop
out before they have completed four years of education. The
vast majority leave before they have acquired basic literacy
- In much of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, children can
expect to receive about 4 to 7 years of education. In the industrialised
countries they can expect 15 to17 years.
- Today 870 million people are illiterate; 70% of these are
is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army."
Can you think of reasons why such a large percentage of illiterate
people are women?
Fifty years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed
free and compulsory education to be a basic human right. In 1990,
the Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by all but two
of the world's governments, reaffirmed this right as a legally
Since then, there have been many high-level international commitments
to this fundamental human right.
Developed countries have repeatedly committed themselves to
greater development co-operation, in order to achieve the goals
that were set at international summits during the 1990s. The world's
governments met in 1990 at the World Conference on Education for
All, held in Jomtien, Thailand. Here they set goals so that, within
a decade, all of the world's children would be provided with the
opportunity to develop their full capacities. That commitment
covered universal access to good-quality primary education, and
an end to gender inequalities.
The most recent commitment by states and heads of governments
for universal primary education aims to achieve this by 2015.
On current trends, even this less ambitious target will be unattainable.
If the world's governments fail to act now, 75 million children
will be deprived of basic education in 2015.
Yet the most recent world summit on education (Dakar, 2000)
"Education is a fundamental human right. It is the key
to sustainable development and peace and stability within and
among countries and thus an indispensable means for effective
participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first