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Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.
Various international and regional human rights instruments refer to the right to Education. Key among these are Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and General comment No. 13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see the section below).
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education and in particular to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:
(a) The same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories in rural as well as in urban areas; this equality shall be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training;
(b) Access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality;
(c) The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education by encouraging coeducation and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programmes and the adaptation of teaching methods;
(d ) The same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other study grants;
(e) The same opportunities for access to programmes of continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programmes, particulary those aimed at reducing, at the earliest possible time, any gap in education existing between men and women;
(f) The reduction of female student drop-out rates and the organization of programmes for girls and women who have left school prematurely;
(g) The same Opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education;
(h) Access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.
UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education
The UNESCO convention acknowledges the crucial role of education in ensuring equality of opportunity for members of all racial, national or ethnic groups. It is also the very first to define ‘discrimination’.
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is the body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Committee’s General Comment No. 13 on the Right to Education, provides additional details on the meaning and scope of the right to education, and outlines State Parties’ obligations as well as those of other actors.
According to General Comment No. 13 on the Right to Education,“education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth.’
Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make. But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence”.
According to the Committee, “education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit the following interrelated and essential features: a) availability; b) accessibility; c) acceptability; and d) adaptability”.
A full copy of CESCR General Comment No. 13 is available here .
The Committee’s General Comment No. 11 on Plans of action for Primary Education addresses substantive issues arising in the implementation of the ICESCR.
The Special Rapporteur is mandated to report on “the status, throughout the world, of the progressive realization of the right to education, including access to primary education, and the difficulties encountered in the implementation of this right, taking into account information and comments received from Governments, organizations and bodies of the United Nations system, other relevant international organizations and non-governmental organizations”. The Special Rapporteur reports to the Council on a yearly basis and reports yearly to the General Assembly on an interim basis.
View the annual reports of the Special Rapporteur.
The Special Rapporteur also carries out country visits in view of her/his mandate which request her/him to report on the status of the progressive realization of the right to education and promote, as appropriate, assistance to Governments in working out and adopting urgent plans of action to secure the progressive implementation, within a reasonable number of years, of the principle of compulsory primary education free of charge for all, bearing in mind, levels of development, the magnitude of challenge and efforts by Governments.
View country reports of the Special Rapporteur.