According to UNESCO, 264 million children and youth are still out of school around the world, and this is only accounting for the primary (61 million) and secondary school (203 million) age population. In particular, the poorest and most marginalised, including ethnic and religious minorities, persons with disabilities, girls, and populations experiencing conflict, are often systematically unable to access and complete a full cycle of quality education. The first volume of NORRAG Special Issue (NSI) is dedicated to examining international frameworks and national policy as well as the challenges of fulfilling the right to education in practice.
The inaugural issue of NSI on the Right to Education Movements and Policies: Promises and Realities aims to highlight the global and national level experience and perspective on guaranteeing the right to education, as outlined in international frameworks, national constitutions, legislation, and policy, when creating the required administrative structures to ensure that the right is respected, protected, and fulfilled for all.
The Issue is divided into six parts, each focusing on a specific theme of right to education policy and practice. The first part includes an article written by RTE staff on The Role of Court Decisions in the Realisation of the Right to Education, which draws on RTE's background paper on accountability for the GEM Report 2017-8.
In South Africa, SECTION27 has used rights-based strategies, including litigation, to hold the state accountable for not ensuring the procurement and delivery of textbooks to schools across Limpopo, a poor rural area of the country.
In this decision, the Constitutional Court of South Africa held that an eviction order obtained by an owner of private land on which a public school was located could not be enforced where it would impact students’ right to basic education and the best interests of the child under the South African Constitution (sections 28 and 29). The Court held that a private landowner and non-sate actor has a constitutional obligation not to impair the right to basic education under section 29 of the Constitution. The Court also held that, unlike other socio-economic rights protected by the Constitution, the right to basic education is immediately realisable and any limitation of this right must be 'reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom'.
In this case, petitioners supported by the Colombian Coalition for the Right to Education filed a claim with the Constitutional Court of Colombia challenging a provision in the General Education Law (Law No. 115 of 1994), which allowed the government to impose fees for primary education. The Constitutional Court found that the provision of law that allowed the charging of fees for primary education was unenforceable and in violation of the Colombian Constitution and international human rights treaties. This decision reaffirmed that Colombian laws must be interpreted in light of the provisions of international human rights treaties, which have a superior standing. The decision also confirmed the fundamental nature of the right to free primary education.
In this case, a resident of Uttar Pradesh state challenged a notification issued by the Karnataka government that permitted private medical colleges to charge higher fees to students who were not allocated 'government seats'. The Supreme Court of India held that the charging of a ‘capitation fee’ by the private educational institutions violated the right to education, as implied from the right to life and human dignity, and the right to equal protection of the law. In the absence of an express constitutional right, the Court interpreted a right to education as a necessary condition for fulfilment of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In addition, the Court held that private institutions, acting as agents of the State, have a duty to ensure equal access to, and non-discrimination the delivery of, higher education.
In response to a petition filed by an Indian charity, the Supreme Court of India directed the governments of all States and Union Territories to ensure that all schools, whether private or state-run, provide proper toilet facilities, drinking water, sufficient classrooms and capable teaching staff. The court held that, under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009) and the Indian Constitution, central, state and local governments have an obligation to ensure that all schools, both public and private, have adequate infrastructure. Adequate infrastructure includes safe drinking water, toilet facilities for boys and girls, sufficient class rooms and the appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff.
In this decision, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutionality of section 12 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act), which requires all schools, both state-funded and private, to accept 25% intake of children from disadvantaged groups. However, the Court held that the RTE Act could not require private, minority schools to satisfy a 25% quota, as this would constitute a violation of the right of minority groups to establish private schools under the Indian Constitution. This case affirms that the authority of the State to fulfil its obligations under the right to education can be extended to private, non-State actors. Because the State has the authority to determine the manner in which it discharge this obligation, it can elect to impose statutory obligations on private schools so long as the requirements are in the public interest.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana held that Louisiana’s ‘Minimum Foundation Program’, which allocates educational funding to schools, could not be used to provide funding to privates schools by way of a voucher programme. It ruled that to do so violated article VIII, section 13 of the Louisiana Constitution, which establishes how monies are to be allocated to public schools based on a formula adopted by the state board of education. The Court recognised that public resources constitutionally reserved for public schools cannot be allocated to private school, either directly or indirectly through a voucher programme. The Court avoided addressing the issue of whether the school voucher programme itself violated the right to education provisions of the Louisiana Constitution.
In this decision, the Florida Supreme Court held that a voucher program providing public funds to students to obtain private education failed to comply with article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution, which requires the state government to make adequate provision for education through a uniform system of free public schools. This decision confirms Florida’s constitutional obligation to provide high quality, free public education – a duty that cannot be discharged by funding unregulated private schools through a voucher or scholarship program. The decision is consistent with the principle that the State has the primary responsibility for ensuring that the right to education is upheld regardless of whether the provider is public or private, and that the State must ensure that private providers meet minimum educational standards.
RTE's background paper for the Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/8: Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments.
The purpose of the paper is to show how a human rights-based approach offers insights and practical solutions to address the accountability deficits found in both education policy decision-making and implementation, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Specifically, the paper argues that a human rights-based approach to accountability can bolster public policy accountability by defining the responsibilities of authorities, ensuring they are answerable for actions regarding those responsibilities, and how they can be subject to forms of enforceable sanctions or remedial action for failures to carry out those responsibilities.
As the national government is the primary duty bearer for the right to education it is important for any report on accountability to start with the responsibilities of government. The paper provides an overview of the right to education legal framework to which States have legally committed, as well existing international and regional accountability mechanisms.
The paper then explores the connections between the 2030 Agenda, the Incheon Declaration, and human rights law. The Incheon Declaration affirms, ‘the vision and political will reflected in numerous international and regional human rights treaties that stipulate the right to education and its interrelation with other human rights” (para. 2). In the Declaration education is framed as both a “public good” and a “fundamental human right” (para. 5). However, whether a rights-based approached is consistent or present in the operationalisation of SDG4 has not been clearly debated. Part of this challenge is the diluted and often, overly simplistic notion of what the right to education entails. The paper seeks to better understand the similarities and differences of these two large global frames for education and includes a matrix that links the normative content of each framework. This matrix shows that the content of each is largely aligned, even if the processes are not. The paper argues that by recasting the content of SDG4 as part of the right to education, the legal obligations owed to that content can be invoked. This renders various elements of SDG4, if the state in question has legally committed to the right to education and incorporated the right to education in their domestic legal orders, amenable to adjudication by competent mechanisms, offering the possibility of legal accountability through legal enforcement.
The second half of the paper explores the prevalence of the right to education in national laws and the conditions necessary for the right to education to be successfully adjudicated at the national level. It provides an overview of how countries have incorporated the right to education in their domestic legal orders, as well as a list of countries where the right to education is justiciable. This is complemented by a series of case studies that draw out the requirements for successful adjudication at the national level.
At the national level the incorporation and implementation of the right to education, as required by international treaties, requires at least three stages. Firstly, countries must translate their international legal commitment into concrete action to ensure the full enjoyment of the right to education. This includes the incorporation of the right to education into the domestic legal order, through the adoption of education laws and policies. Secondly, countries must secure the right to education as a justiciable right. Lastly, the justiciable right to education must be able to be adjudicated fairly through the judicial system. Whilst the first stage is completed at a near universal level by countries, the final two stages, essential for the fulfilment of the right to education, are achieved by significantly fewer countries. Even when justiciability is present, various barriers may be present that hinder the adjudication of the right to education. Understanding how countries move from incorporation to application and implementation is essential to understanding whether the right to education is truly realised in a country. Our analysis shows that legal enforcement, through mechanisms competent to hold duty-bearers legally accountable, has a positive impact on the realisation of the right to education. Furthermore, little is known about how the political, social, and cultural context of a country limits or enables the adjudication of the right to education. This paper examines court cases from countries around the world to identify the conditions that enable the right to education to be realised through adjudication.