Education as a Human Right

Valentine Ejeh

Valentine Ejeh

Introduction: When I saw the topic “Education as a Human Right” what readily came to my mind, is that, it is the right of every child born upon this planet Earth to have access to quality education. Why? One may ask. Education is the most viable and enduring vehicle for accelerated social progress and development. The role of education in human society has been legendary, it has affected human civilizations, and the present age of information and communication technology also referred to as “space age positively.” Education enhanced and develops human abilities, mental energy, identity, integrity, potential and power.

Is education always a human right? I am inclined to assert that education has always been a human right but the privileged and opportunity to acquired education has been limited due to social stratification and sentiments which promotes the classifications of human beings based on factors like wealth, income, race, power among others. However, the reality is that, it is the right of every child irrespective of how disadvantaged at birth to acquire quality education and that is what education as human right is about.

I agree with Singh (Thursday 23 April 2012 08.30 BST) in his assertion that Education is not a privilege of those who are rich and well-to-do only. It is the inalienable right of every child born into this planet Earth. Therefore, “states must discharge its responsibility as guarantor and regulator of education as a fundamental human entitlement and as a public cause. The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states, but also a moral imperative.”

When did education become a human right? To answer this question, we must go back to the history of education as a human right.

The idea of human right education was naturally going to take precedence due to the evolution of human kinds and civilizations based on the dignity of human persons and inalienable freedoms and rights anchored on democratic tenets and principles that transformed the human society beyond parochial sentiments that feed on social status and the so-called “divinity and superiority of the nobles.”

According to Jootaek Lee, an Assistant Professor and Law Librarian at Rutger Law School, in his article titled Human Right to Education: Definition, Research and Annotated Bibliography,” he observed that, until the early twentieth century, education was a privilege only allowed to certain classes of society.” When human rights education became of concern to many, it set the stage for the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. The conference deliberated on the issues of education as human rights thus many countries across the globe made it a priority goal. However, it was the UN Decade for Human Rights Education addressed in 1953 with schools associated with UNESCO, is the first known initial attempt to domesticate human rights in formal school settings. In furtherance, UNESCO article of 1974 set the tone for educating students about human rights. It recommended education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace Relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In 1978 the International Congress on the Teachings of Human Rights took place and participants fashioned out the blue-print and curricula for human rights education. The aim as agreed by the Congress included “encouragement of tolerant attitudes with focus on respect, providing knowledge of human rights in the context of national and international dimensions as well as their implementations and finally developing awareness of human rights translating into reality whether social or political on national and international levels” (K12 academics, retrieved from, Overtime, education as human rights garner momentum and became the springboard for the propagation of the enduring ideals of inclusiveness in education thus the “right to education” of every child was enunciated for the global community.

What then is the Right to Education?

National Human Rights Commission stated that the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (CADE 1960) is the first instrument on the right to education. Education is defined in article 1(2) as “all types and levels of education, including access to education, the standard and quality of education and the condition under which it is given.” Article 28 and 29 focuses on child’s right to education and on the quality and content of education. Article 28 stated that State Parties recognize the right of children to education” and should take appropriate measures to ensure that discipline is consistent to human dignity.” Article 29 focuses on the aims of education and government roles Sources: (UNICEF, the Right to Education Introducing Article 28& 29 Thus a compulsory free primary school for every child, secondary school (including technical and vocational training) must be available for everyone. Governments in various countries should work towards providing it for free; higher education must also be accessible, with some countries working towards making it free and basic for those who never had primary school education. Also, it means parents reserve the right to choose schools for their children for individuals and organizations to establish schools that meet the standards.

What is the State of the Right to Education around the world?

According to figures available from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics of July 2016 about 263 million children and youth are out of school. The breakdown is that 61 million children who should be in school are out of school, 60 million of lower secondary school age (ages 12 to 14) and 142 million who are aged between 15 and 17. In Sub-Saharan Africa, many girls and children are missing out on education. Armed and violent conflict makes children struggle to get education, about 22 million children of primary school age are affected and 75 million children and adolescents have had their education pursuits affected by conflict and emergency situations.

On one hand, in Sub-Saharan Africa, primary education is only really free in 3 countries; in 7 countries over 30% of children never start school. In post communists states (such as Eastern Europe or Central Asia) free education is now virtually non-existent, teachers are not adequately compensated in commiseration with the work of teaching, teachers salary is often below the poverty line and is often not paid promptly.  In developing and transition states 35% of the cost of education is funded by the private sector and in industrialized countries the figure is 8% (ESCR-NET or On the other hand, global education has expanded in the 20th century and it has resulted in a historical reduction in education inequality across the globe. From 1960-2010 education inequality went down every year, for all age groups, Roser & Ortiz-Ospina (2016).

The Imperative of Human Right Education

“Education is human rights imperative – it is a development imperative – it is a security imperative” Irina Bakova, UNESCO Director-General

Education is deemed a basic right of every human being born into this world. Every child born into the world is expected to make the most of life. The right to education makes it possible to access other human rights. It improves the chances of everyone in the world to live a better and happy life and helps to eradicate poverty.

Education reduces the scourge of poverty in human society, reduces social inequalities, empowers women and helps any individual who acquires it to reach their full potential. It brings good and significant returns for the country and helps human societies for lasting peace and sustainable development. In fact, education is crucial to achieving other human rights.

The world will not meet the SDG 4 by 2030 unless there is serious progress over the coming decade, 6 to 17-year-old will be excluded from school in 2030 and that 40% of children worldwide will fail to complete secondary education. (Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Hence it is a necessity to pursue the goal of the right to education for all children. It is the responsibility of the present generation to the future generation. We need an educated human society that offers a better society; it does not matter if it’s formal or informal.  It is imperative because an educated mind can easily grasp the essence of sustainability and the SDG goals that needed to be pursued with all sense of duty and urgency.

Whose responsibility it is to enforce the right to education?

States or governments are the duty-bearers under international human rights law and hold the principal responsibility for the direct provision of the right to education. Through the ratification of international human rights treaties, governments agreed to put in place domestic measures and legislation in line with the treaty obligations. It is the obligation of the government to respect which requires states to avoid measures that can hinder the enjoyment of the right to education of every child. It is the obligation of the government to prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right to education. It is the obligation of the government to take measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to education (UNESCO 2019).

From the foregoing, it is the responsibility of governments to guarantee education in their country or state by making schools available for the people; it is the duty of the government to ensure that, there are enough materials, classroom, and trained teachers to enhance quality education for every child born.  Schools must be accessible and should be located within the reach of children and suitable for disabled children. It must be affordable for all children, there should be no discrimination based on gender, race, religion and any other mundane reason. For the government to ensure all children get education which is an entitlement, it must do the following: Remove anything that prevents access to quality education, like repealing laws that encourage discrimination, prevent individuals or groups from stopping children from having access to educational facilities. And take steps to ensure children can get quality education-like building schools, providing facilities and training and re-training of teachers.

What should countries do to meet up their obligations?

It is common knowledge among experts and the international community that achieving the right to education will take time and resources. Therefore government should put in place the instruments that will make it possible to meet the minimum standard of free, compulsory primary education and take the necessary steps to ensure the right to education is enjoyed by every child. The right to education without discrimination is part of the minimum standard to be put in place immediately. It is necessary for every government to continue to work assiduously towards the full right to education for every child and not to delay or waver about it. It is important to say that other organizations and individuals also have roles to play in making sure that all children can access quality education (Their world retrieved from

Conclusively, education as a human right is one of the greatest social inventions that can potentially provide the leverage to drive the pursuit of sustainability in the use of natural and manmade resources.  It enhances the social mobility and advancement of an individual, community and the state and the international community. Therefore, the right to education will help to curtail and solve humanity problems and to meet up priority goals as encapsulated in the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. Thus education is a harbinger that should be pursued assiduously to change the present trend and the negative narratives associated with education as a human right.


ESCR-NET, The State of the Right to Education Worldwide, retrieved from

Lee, J. The Human Right to Education: Definition, Research and Annotated Bibliography retrieved from:

Max, Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2016) “Financing Education” published online at Retrieved from:

National Human Right Commission, Nigeria retrieved from

SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee retrieved from

Singh, K. (Thursday 23 April 2015 08.30 BST) Education is a basic Human right-which is why private schools must be resisted, Global development supported by Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, published by the Guardian News and Media 2020, retrieved from

UNESCO (2019) Right to Education-State obligations and responsibilities retrieved from

UNICEF, The Right to an Education is one of the most important principles in becoming a Right Respecting School, retrieved from

Valentine is a Researcher/Writer/SDGs Advocate based in Abuja, Nigeria




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