What is the Right to Education?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 01 February 2020
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The right to education means that all people are entitled to a free primary, or basic, education regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, or other factors. It has been universally recognized as a basic human right since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and has been included in several other treaties and conventions since that time. National governments are supposed to support the implementation of this right by including it in its constitution and laws as well as providing needed funding. Advocates of the right to education see it as an equalizer to open up opportunities for many of the world's citizens.

Although many consider it to be targeted to children, the right to education applies to all age groups. It suggests that everyone is entitled to a basic level of schooling, often referred to as primary or fundamental education, and that further levels of education should be available and accessible to all. It also stipulates that primary education should be free to the recipient, and that it should be compulsory, i.e., required. Secondary education, such as high school, should also be open to all students. Higher education, i.e., college or university, should be available and accessible to those with the ability and prior learning to benefit from it. Introduction of free education at the secondary and higher levels is encouraged as a primary goal.


The right to education has been universally recognized as something all individuals are entitled to. It has been acknowledged as a basic human right since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations (UN). It is also included in other important treaties and agreements such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Progress is being made in ensuring access to basic levels of education in many areas, but in numerous countries there are still significant barriers, particularly for girls. There are continuing efforts to make education truly universal, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas of the globe.

The obligation and responsibility for fulfilling the right to education falls primarily on national governments. These governments are supposed to enact laws requiring universal education and provide the necessary financial support. Compliance is evaluated by using criteria known as the "4 As framework" which stipulates that for the right to education to be beneficial and useful, it needs to be available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable. Availability is defined as being free to all and supported by government funding, and accessibility means that anyone can participate without discrimination. Acceptability refers to the educational content being relevant, appropriate, and nondiscriminatory, and adaptability means that when society's needs change, learning should also evolve.

Proponents of the right to education see it as one of the primary methods of improving the lives of individuals all over the world. Once educated, people are better able to understand their own rights and advocate for themselves and others. They can be equipped to participate actively in their communities as positive influences and to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens of a free society. Their ability to understand and accept the differences of others is enhanced, and the capacity to improve their financial circumstances increases.


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