This publication includes an overview of key right to education decisions made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the UN Human Rights Committee. They are judgments that have taken place in these courts from 1988 to 2014 and deal with the fulfilment of the right to education for various groups, such as people with disabilities, migrants, persons deprived of liberty and Indigenous Peoples.
The Summaries of Jurisprudence series has been published since 2010. This recent publication is available for download via the following websites (in both Spanish and English):
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.