The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, is the first international legal instrument that recognises education as a right. Article 26 states: "Everyone has the right to education". It is a non-legally binding instrument but with a great political and moral force. Since its adoption, the right to education has been reaffirmed in numerous human rights treaties and declarations adopted by the United Nations. For each treaty listed below, key information is provided: article(s) that guarantee the right to education, entry into force, number of ratifications, interpretation of the right to education as guaranteed by the treaty and the existence of monitoring and complaint mechanisms. A list of declarations related to the right to education is also provided.

For a more complete overview of international and regional legal instruments that guarantee the right to education, see International Instruments - The Right to Education.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is of special importance within the UN legal framework. Article 13 is the most comprehensive Article on the right to education. It recognises the universal right to education without discrimination of any kind and sets forward a framework to achieve the full realisation of this right, determining: free compulsory primary education, generally available and accessible secondary education by the progressive introduction of free education, equal access to higher education on the basis if capacity, measures to literacy and quality improvement. This Article establishes also the liberty of parents to choose the kind of education they want to give to their children and the liberty to establish and direct educational institutions, in conformity with minimum standards laid down by the State. Article 14 relates to the obligation of the State to adopt a plan of action to secure free compulsory primary education if it has not yet been realised.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) applies to children under 18. It recognises education as a legal right for every child on the basis of equal opportunity. Article 28 guarantees free compulsory primary education for all; progressive free secondary education that should in any case be available and accessible to all; and accessibility to higher education on the basis of capacity. It states the obligation of the State to take measures regarding school attendance and discipline. It encourage international cooperation in matters related to education, in particular, the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy and access to scientific and technical knowledge. Article 29 defines the aims of education and recognises the liberty of parents to choose the kind of education they want to give to their children and the liberty to establish and direct educational institutions, in conformity with minimum standards laid down by the State.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) establishes an international bill of rights for women. Article 10 guarantees their right to education. It promotes gender equality endowing every woman with equal rights as those of man in the field of education, from pre-school to higher technical education. It refers to access to education, opportunities in career and vocational guidance, scholarships or other study grants, programmes of continuing education (adult learning) and the elimination of illiteracy. It also provides for the elimination of any gender stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education.

 

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) prohibits racial discrimination in the enjoyment of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. Article 5 guarantees the right to education of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Article 7 encourages States to take measures to combat prejudices, which lead to racial discrimination in the field of teaching and education and to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial or ethnical groups.

  • Adoption: 21 December 1965
  • Entry into force: 4 January 1969
  • Ratifications: 177
  • Interpretation: The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination publishes General Recommendations that give interpretation on the right to education: General Recommendation 27 on Discrimination against Roma with a specific section on measures in the field of education (paragraphs 17 to 26) and General Recommendation 34 on racial discrimination against people of African descent with a section on specific measures in the field of education. General Recommendation 30 on Discrimination against non-citizens is also relevant, particularly paragraph 30 and 31 related to the right to education (paragraph 61 to 66)
  • Monitoring mechanism: yes (Article 9 of CERD)
  • Complaint mechanism: yes (if the State has made the necessary declaration under Article 14 of the Convention, see the list)

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) applies to persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made in order that persons with disabilities can effectively exercise their rights, as well as areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced. Article 24 recognises the right of persons with disabilities to education, without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, the State having the obligation to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning.

  • Adoption: 13 December 2006
  • Entry into force: 3 May 2008
  • Ratifications: 167
  • Interpretation: General Comment 4 on the right to inclusive education provides interpretation of Article 24 of the Convention
  • Monitoring mechanism: yes (Article 35 of CRPD)
  • Complaint mechanism: yes (if the State has ratified the Optional protocol to CRPD, see the list)

The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CPMW) seeks to prevent and eliminate the exploitation of migrant workers throughout the entire migration process by providing a set of binding international standards to address the treatment, welfare and human rights of both documented and undocumented migrants, as well as the obligations and responsibilities on the part of sending and receiving States. This Convention guarantees for each child of a migrant worker, the basic right of access to education on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals of the State even in cases of irregular migrant situation. It provides other rules for migrants and their families, in the field of education, and assures parental freedom in the moral and religious education of their children. Articles 12.4, 30, 43 and 45 guarantee the right to education. This Convention has a very low number of ratifications.

  • Adoption: 18 December 1990
  • Entry into force: 1 July 2003
  • Ratifications: 48
  • Interpretation: The Committee on Migrant Workers adopted a General Comment 1 on Migrant Domestic Workers that refers to the right to education in paragraphs 14, 57 and 59
  • Monitoring mechanism: yes (Article 73 of CPMW)
  • Complaint mechanism: yes but not into force yet (the procedure will entry into force when ten States have made the necessary declaration under article 77 of the Convention. Only two States have accepted the procedure so far; see  list)

 

The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees guarantees the right to education of refugees in Article 22.

  • Adoption: 28 July 1951
  • Entry into force:  22 April 1954
  • Ratifications: 145
  • Interpretation: no
  • Monitoring mechanism: no
  • Complaint mechanism: no

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees in its Article 18 the freedom of thought, conscience and religion in teaching and recognises the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

It is the first international legal instrument that recognises education as a right. It is a non-legally binding instrument but with an great political and moral force. It represents the universal recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, inalienable and equally applicable to everyone. It is at the heart of the United Nations system and has inspired every human rights treaties adopted thereafter. Article 26 recognises the right to education for everyone.