A Rights Based Approach to the right to Education

A school should not be a ranking mechanism which favours or handicaps a child in the race for jobs in the future. Indeed, if the child is respected, it is a fundamental mistake to reduce childhood to a period of preparation for adult life. Also, the principle of non-discrimination is at the heart of the Convention; each and every child should have an equal right to education, and an education of quality. Every child has the right to an education as recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC).

Hammarberg T. (1997) A School for Children with Rights (UNICEF)


Some children spend a lot of time in classrooms, while others are denied an education. Whether children are in school or forced out of it, education systems are a breeding ground for violations of child rights. Girls and disabled children in particular are discriminated against and not given an education.  The classroom can be a place where children are subjected to corporal punishment and other violations of their human rights. A rights based approach can ensure that children not only get to go to school, but receive a quality education that respects their rights as humans and vulnerabilities as children.

What is the right to education?

The child has a right to education, and the State's duty is to ensure that primary education is free and compulsory, to encourage different forms of secondary education accessible to every child and to make higher education available to all on the basis of capacity. Education should aim at:

-       developing the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent;

-       preparing the child for an active adult life in a free society and foster respect for his or her own cultural identity, language and values, and for the cultural background and values of others.

Human rights standards

The right to education is ensured in numerous CRC articles, including the following:

-       Article 23.3-4 recognises the need for special education for children with disabilities.

-       In relation to health, the CRC acknowledges the importance of health education for both children and their parents in article 24.

-       Article 28 puts an obligation on States to provide free primary education for children.

-       Article 29 continues with setting out the aims of education, describing that it should be geared towards developing a child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent.


What can be done?

A rights-based approach to education should focus on children's access to education, the quality of the education received and the promotion of the respect of children's rights within the curriculum and the schools' policies.

Access to education has been the focus of many campaigns on education. It mostly implies equal access for girls and ending bias on grounds of race, colour, social origin, sexuality, HIV-status, pregnancy and so on.

There is still widespread denial of the right of children with disabilities to inclusion in their local mainstream schools, and many face compulsory segregation in "special" schools or complete exclusion.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with its strong focus on education and other confirmations of the rights of children with disabilities, is a strong advocacy tool.

A rights-based approach should not stop at children's access to education; it should also aim at realising children's rights once they are inside school. It should focus on the right to a good quality basic education that gives children necessary knowledge and skills. To achieve this, international human rights principles must be used as a framework for educational policy and practice. This means addressing all the factors that determine children’s ability to learn: health, nutritional status, well-being, safety and protection from abuse and violence.

This also means including respect for the human rights of everyone involved in the school system (children and teachers and other staff members) and the practice of rights within the education system. The curriculum inside schools should be shaped to incorporate all aspects of children's rights such as the right to non-discrimination (article 2), the best interest of the child (article 3(1)), respect for children's views (article 12), freedom of expression (article 13), freedom of religion (article 14), freedom of association (article 15), right to privacy (article 16) and freedom from violence (article 19).


Example: Rights-based approaches to classroom behaviour

A good library at the centre of the school could encourage children to “find out” through their own initiative. The library itself should be a place of life, not a dead book museum. Reading is important. The Tamer Institute, an active non-governmental organization based in Palestinian Ramallah, has developed a fascinating reading campaign that has encouraged many children in West Bank and Gaza to become friends with books and newspapers.  The Tamer Institute has carried out this campaign since 1989. The Institute was founded to give children access to books and alternative learning as children’s and young people’s schooling, leisure time and lives suffered from the conflict in the area.