The right to education is not only the right to access education but also the right to receive an education of good quality. Education must be available and accessible but also acceptable and adaptable.
'Quality is at the heart of education. It influences what students learn, how they learn and what benefits they draw from their education' (EFA GMR 2005, Education for All – The Quality Imperative).
Quality education is a dynamic concept. It evolves with time and is subject to social, economic and environmental conditions. However, international human rights law provides a general legal framework that guarantees quality education.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) - and the main treaties that guarantee the right to education – have defined the aims of education which impact on the content of education, teaching and learning processes and materials, the learning environment and learning outcomes.
According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): 'Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms'.
This has been reaffirmed and developed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966, Article 13(1)) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989, Article 29(1)), as interpreted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in General Comment 1 (2001) on the aims of education.
Based on this international legal framework, students must receive a quality education that enables their personalities, talents and abilities and to live a full and satisfying life within society. The aims of education go far beyond acquiring numeracy and literacy skills. Basic skills also include 'life skills such as the ability to make well-balanced decisions; to resolve conflicts in a responsibility, critical thinking, creative talents, and other abilities which give children the tools needed to pursue their options in life' (CRC, General Comment 1, 2001: Para. 9).
Curricula, teaching material and teaching methods have to meet the aims of education as defined by international law.
At primary and secondary level, education has to be 'child-centred, child-friendly and empowering'. 'Education must be provided in a way that respects the inherent dignity of the child and enables the child to express his or her view … and to participate in school life' (CRC, General Comment 1, 2001: Paras 2 & 8).
Any stereotyped concept of the role of men and women has to be eliminated from textbooks and school programmes and the teaching methods have to be adapted (Article 10, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979).
Education has to be adapted to children with disabilities (Article 24, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006) and to particular cultural contexts (Article 11, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990; Article 13, African Youth Charter, 2006).
There should be an appropriate number of classrooms, accessible to all, with adequate and separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys. Schools should protect from the elements (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13, 1999).
School discipline has to be administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity (Article 28 (2), CRC, 1989) and education must promote non-violence in school (CRC, General Comment 1, 2001).
For country reports detailing the laws related to corporal punishment of children in schools and summaries of the reforms needed in order to achieve full prohibition, visit: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
Teachers are at the heart of quality education.
'The material condition of teaching staff shall be continuously improved' (Article 13(2)(e), ICESCR, 1966).
Schools should have a sufficient number of trained teachers, receiving good quality pre-service and in-service training with built-in components on gender sensitivity, non-discrimination, and human rights. All teachers should be paid domestically competitive salaries (CESCR, General Comment 13, 1999; CRC, General Comment 1, 2001).
ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers (1966) provides a comprehensive normative framework on teachers’ status, including their responsibilities, career advancement opportunities, security of tenure and conditions of service.
According to international law, everyone has the right to receive an education of good quality.
States have 'to ensure that the standards of education are equivalent in all public educational institutions of the same level, and that the conditions relating to the quality of the education provided are also equivalent' (Article 4(b), UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, 1960).
In addition, states are obliged to adopt minimum educational standards to ensure that all schools, public and private, offer the same quality education (Article 13, ICESCR, 1966; Article 29(2), CRC, 1989; Article 2, UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, 1960).
Quality education has to be the same for boys and girls (Article 10, CEDAW, 1979; Article 2, UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, 1960).
Quality education requires 'human and financial resources which should be available to the maximum extent possible… therefore, resource constraints cannot provide a justification for a State party’s failure to take any, or enough, of the measures that are required' (CRC, General Comment 1, 2001: Para. 28).
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948, Article 26(2))
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966, Article 13)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989, Articles 28 & 29(1))
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has interpreted Article 29(1) in its General Comment 1, 2001.
Other General Comments adopted by the Committee also clarify aspects of the right to quality education:
General Comment 8, 2006: The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, for an interpretation of Article 28(2) on school discipline.
General Comment 12, 2009: The right of the child to be heard, particularly paragraphs 105 to 114 in education and school.
General Comment 17, 2013: The right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts, particularly paragraph 27 which links with the right to education, paragraph 41 on pressure for educational achievement and paragraph 58 (g) on States’ obligations in school environment.
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979, Article 10)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006, Article 24)
- UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960, Articles 1.2, 2, 4 & 5)
- UNESCO Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974)
- Dakar Framework for Action – Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitment (2000)
- African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990, Article 11)
- Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003, Article 12)
- African Youth Charter (2006, Articles 13)
- Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights, Protocol of San Salvador (1988, Article 13)
- Council of Europe Recommendation on ensuring quality education (2012)
- ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (2012, Article 31)
For more details see International Instruments - Quality Education