On 11 April, 2016 the Right to Education Project launched the Right to Education Monitoring Guide (‘Guide’) and Right to Education Indicators Selection Tool (‘Tool’) at the UCL Institute of Education, London.
After a welcome by Delphine Dorsi, Executive Coordinator of the Right to Education Project, and a few words from Hugh McLean, Director of the Education Support Programme at the Open Society Foundations, I presented the Guide and Tool, giving a brief overview of why we need to monitor the right to education, the added value of using human rights indicators, the aims of the Guide and Tool, followed by a run through of the seven steps of the Guide and how they each relate to the Tool:
- Step 1: Plan & Focus
- Step 2: Identify Deprivations & Inequalities in Education
- Step 3: Analyse Education Laws & Policies & Their Implementation
- Step 4: Analyse the Use of Resources for Education
- Step 5: Examine Policy Processes
- Step 6: Report Writing & Advocacy
The launch was followed an open panel discussion on the importance of monitoring the right to education in the context of the 2030 Education Agenda.
The expert panel, moderated by Kirrily Pells, Lecturer in Childhood and Children’s Rights at the UCL Institute of Education, comprised:
- Kishore Singh, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
- Rolla Moumné, Assistant Programme Specialist, Right to Education Programme, UNESCO
- Delphine Dorsi, Executive Coordinator, Right to Education Project
- Savio Carvalho, Senior Adviser, Campaigning on International Development and Human Rights, Amnesty International
- David Archer, Head of Programme Development, ActionAid
Below is a summary of the main issues discussed. For more detailed notes of what each panelist said, see here (forthcoming).
Using the Guide and Tool to Monitor the 2030 Education Agenda
All panelists welcomed the launch of the Guide and Tool as timely given the recent adoption by the international community of the Sustainable Development Agenda. The political commitment of States to achieve all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals provides a unique opportunity for civil society to engage in the process, ensure that States are held to account for the promises they have made, and monitor how these Goals are implemented in practice.
Kishore, Rolla, and David all made the point that the 2030 Education Agenda is rights-based, particularly the Education 2030 Framework for Action, and in some aspects even goes beyond the right to education as guaranteed by international law, including: committing to lifelong learning; free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education; and access to quality early childhood care and pre-primary education.
Given the alignment of 2030 Education Agenda and the right to education, the Guide and Tool were welcomed as useful and practical tools for civil society to monitor education as part of their advocacy work around the Agenda. But the Guide and Tool allow stakeholders to go further: they provide a rights-based method to monitor education.
The 2030 Education Agenda: Challenges
The adoption of the Sustainable Development Agenda is momentous. However, the commitment States have made to achieve the Agenda is ‘soft’. There are no legal obligations attached to achieving the SDGs. This is not necessarily a bad thing – the non-legally binding nature of the Goals have allowed the international community to set a really ambitious Sustainable Development Agenda – however it makes no sense that States should therefore be free from any obligations towards their citizens, civil society, and the international community. Achieving the Agenda is everyone’s business.
There will be review processes at the national, regional, and global level, as well as thematic reviews, however, as Savio pointed out there is no planned formal procedure for civil society to submit parallel reports.
The Added Value of Monitoring the Right to Education
On the issue of lack of accountability: human rights law provides avenues for redress particularly at the domestic level. Rolla pointed out that one of the most salient features of human rights law is that States can be held to account for violations and victims can access justice. At the international level, Kishore urged stakeholders to engage with the UN treaty body system, particularly by submitting complaints and parallel reports, in order to strengthen these mechanisms.
The Guide and Tool allow users to identify violations of the right to education, in order to support human rights reporting work, but they also allow stakeholders to undertake informal alternative reporting of the 2030 Education Agenda, to be used to apply pressure States at the national level.
This allows stakeholders to report on areas the 2030 Education Agenda neglects. For example, David and Savio remarked that the process of setting indicators has been highly politicised. The indicators are extremely important because they will be how progress towards the Goals is measured.
A shortcoming raised by the audience is that despite the Global Goal Four on Education target: ‘Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes,’ primary and secondary completion rates are not included in the list of proposed indicators, whilst percentage achievement of minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics is.
Using right to education indicators provided by the Tool, stakeholders can more comprehensively and meaningfully detail the progress States have made that do not reduce the ambitious and laudable target to an indicator that neglects important substantive features of the target (completion) and insufficiently captures the concept of ‘quality education’.
By engaging in human rights monitoring using indicators and reporting, users can leverage both States’ commitment to human rights and the SDGs in their advocacy efforts.
Non-State Actor Involvement in Education
A challenge Kishore, David, and Savio, as well members of the audience were keen to highlight is the opportunity the Agenda affords private actors. There is a danger that States may turn to the private sector in order to achieve Goal Four, or worse still, the private sector may see the Agenda as an opportunity to siphon-off public money and turn a profit.
However, as Kishore observed: human rights law clearly elucidates the obligations of the State to protect the enjoyment of human rights from third party interference. This entails, with regard to the right to education, an obligation to ensure that relevant, rigorous, and robust regulation is put in place. He urged the audience to use the Guide and Tool, and other tools to collect evidence, monitor, and report on how the private sector impacts the right to education, in order that we can better understand the phenomenon (for example, audience members brought-up the rise of philanthrocapitalism and the role of aid agencies in supporting non-State actors through development aid) and press States to better regulate non-State actors.
Financing of Education
Related to the increasing involvement of non-state actors in education is the issue of education financing (also the theme of this year’s Global Action Week for Education). According to UNESCO there is a funding gap of $39bn to achieve universal free primary and secondary education.
Civil society, and even donors, are increasingly looking beyond aid as the means by which the SDGs will be achieved, instead putting the onus on States to mobilise sufficient resources domestically through progressive tax policies, closing tax loopholes, removing tax incentives such as tax holidays, and ending exploitative tax treaties.
The mobilisation of resources is also a human rights issue. The right to education cannot be realised without resources. According to international human rights law, States must immediately implement free and compulsory primary education and progressively realise free secondary education, according to maximum available resources.
The Guide provides detailed guidance on monitoring resource allocation in line with the obligations States are subject to due to their ratification of human rights treaties.
The Importance of Monitoring
A number of other pertinent issues were also raised by the audience, including: monitoring education inspectorates in Eastern Europe, cultural barriers in undertaking human rights monitoring work, and the shrinking political space curtailing civil society efforts to hold States to account - it really was an interesting discussion!
The diversity and number of issues raised during the discussion demonstrate that there is real work to be done to ensure that States take seriously their commitments to the 2030 Education Agenda and the right to education.
We must help States do this and hold them to account when they err.
Human rights monitoring is one tool we can use to do that.
Through collecting evidence of violations, examining laws and policies to ensure they properly address the issues they aim to solve, looking at how laws and policies are implemented, factoring in the wider issues affecting effective implementation, we help States get a little closer to ‘ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’
We are thankful to all participants for their thoughtful and relevant questions and comments, and making the event so lively, stimulating, and informative.
Please get in contact if you have any comments, want to undertake monitoring work, or would like to be involved in the further development of the Guide and Tool at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Erica Murphy is Project Officer at the Right to Education Project