The Right to Education

Education is a fundamental social, cultural and economic right that works to eliminate inequalities, lift children out of poverty and promote democracy. It also forms an essential building block towards other human rights. The right to education has been codified in international, regional and national legal instruments; therefore it’s essential that governments take all reasonable measures to guarantee this right for everyone.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international, regional and national legal instruments have recognized the right to education as a fundamental human right (see Module 1 for further details). Furthermore, numerous specific human rights provisions relate to this right – including those found in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 2005b, para 75).

Articles 28 and 29 of the CRC address education, calling upon States Parties to promote and protect all children’s right to attend school and reduce drop-out rates. Furthermore, they demand school discipline be administered with dignity and in accordance with other human rights.

Despite widespread acceptance of the right to education, millions of children around the world remain denied this right due to inequalities in sex, ethnicity, health and other factors that prevent them from receiving an adequate education.

Governments must guarantee free and quality education to all children, regardless of their status or ability. This includes providing them with educational materials, classrooms and other facilities. This is an international legal obligation and where applicable funding must be sufficient to meet all children’s needs.

Education is a fundamental human right for those with disabilities. To guarantee access to quality educational facilities, services, and programs for everyone with a disability (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities General Comment No. 13, 2016), appropriate accommodations must be made for individuals in need.

Recent court cases have asserted that the United States Constitution guarantees all students the right to an education at least as good as what the American public receives, or access to literacy. Examples include Plyler v. Doe (1982), which struck down Texas efforts to exclude undocumented immigrant students from its public schools; and Papasan v. Allain (1986), in which a Mississippi student was denied citizenship benefits under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

These legal issues surrounding the right to education have become important topics of debate among activists and scholars alike. It should be noted that this right is fundamentally tied to freedom of expression – which has been codified into human rights under both UDHR and other international, regional or national legal instruments.

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