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Education: a voice for human rights

UN Human Rights Day

Monday 10 December marked Human Rights Day, an opportunity for the world to acknowledge the achievements of the worldwide struggle for human rights and to recommit ourselves to their fulfilment.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of countries have signed and ratified the UN’s various international human rights conventions, millions of people around the world don’t enjoy the rights that these conventions set out.

The right to education

This is clearly demonstrated in the case of the right to education. While recognised since the very creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the ways in which the right to education are protected, promoted and ultimately exercised at the national level vary widely.

For example, according to the Right to Education Project, 63 million children don’t have access to basic education, 150 million children currently enrolled in school will drop out before completing primary education and at least two-thirds of these students are girls.

As well as being a right in itself, the right to education is also an enabling right. Education ‘creates the ‘voice’ through which rights can be claimed and protected’.


The Four A’s

But the right to education isn’t just about ensuring that children have the opportunity to go to school.

The Four A’s (as outlined by the Right to Education Project) provide us with a useful framework for understanding the right to education. They state that education must be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable.

Availability – that education is free and government-funded, and that there is adequate infrastructure and trained teachers able to support education delivery.

Accessibility – that the system is non-discriminatory and accessible to all, and that positive steps are taken to include the most marginalised.

Acceptability – that the content of education is relevant, non-discriminatory, culturally appropriate and of quality, and that the school itself is safe and teachers are professional.

Adaptability – that education can evolve with the changing needs of society and contribute to challenging inequalities, such as gender discrimination, and that it can be adapted locally to suit specific contexts.

The Four A’s must be respected, protected and fulfilled by the government and prime duty-bearer in any given context. This responsibility should also be upheld by other actors in the education process, including parents and teachers.

They provide a useful framework for us and our partners by which we can assess our efforts, thereby helping to ensure that the educational services we support and provide really do advance the right to education.

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