What to monitor

This Guide will help you monitor the right to education, as guaranteed in international and national law. 

International law

One of the main goals of monitoring the right to education is to identifyviolations. In order to do this you must 1. have a clear idea of thecontent of the right to education and 2. apply the content of the right to education toStates' legal obligations. Put simply: you must show that a State has failed to comply with its legal obligations and that this has affected someone’s enjoyment of the right to education.

1. The right to education is most comprehensively laid out inArticles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In addition, there are numerousright to education provisions in international law, laying out the content and scope of the right to education as applied to different groups and in different circumstances.

The normative content of the right to education is derived from international law and is usually determined by the bodies responsible for interpreting treaties, such as courts orUN treaty bodies. These bodies use various frameworks to interpret right to education provisions; the most widely used being the4As framework. This states that all education must be:

  • Available in sufficient quantity.
  • Accessible to everybody without discrimination.
  • Acceptable, that is, the form and substance must be appropriate and of good quality.
  • Adaptable, so that it is able to meet the unique needs of individual students.

2. A violation of the terms of a treaty occurs when a State fails to comply with its human rights obligations. This failure to comply may be a result of direct action (act of commission) or a failure to take steps (act of omission), as illustratedhere

As with other economic, social and cultural rights, the full realisation of the right to education may be hampered by a lack of resources. This means that in some cases, certain aspects of the right to education can only realistically be achieved over a period of time, particularly for countries with fewer resources. For this reason some State obligations areprogressive, for instance, the introduction of free secondary (including technical and vocational), higher andfundamental education. Although progressive realisation means that obligations are subject to time and available resources, States are obliged to “move as expeditiously and effectively as possible” towards the full realisation of the right to education. This implies that States should not take backwards steps or adopt measures that will repeal existing guarantees of the right to education. For instance, arbitrarily ending adult education programmes that provide those who have never received or completed primary education with a good quality substitute, would constitute aretrogressive measure.

In addition to the obligation to progressively realise certain aspects of the right to education, States have an immediate obligation to “take appropriate steps” towards the full realisation of the right to education to themaximum of its available resources. A lack of resources cannot justify inaction or indefinite postponement of measures to implement the right to education. States must demonstrate they are making every effort to improve the enjoyment of the right to education, even when resources are scarce.

One important aspect of the right to education which must be immediately realised, and is therefore not subject to progressive realisation or resource constraints, is to guaranteenon-discrimination and equal treatment in all aspects of education. Non-discrimination is considered aminimum core obligation.

Minimum core obligations prioritise certain aspects of the right to education, without whichrights-holders are considered to be deprived of the right to education.

According to theCommittee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), there are five minimum core obligations:

  • To ensure the right of access to public educational institutions and programmes on a non-discriminatory basis.
  • To ensure that education conforms to theaims of education.
  • To provide free and compulsory primary education for all.
  • To adopt and implement a national educational strategy which includes provision for secondary, higher and fundamental education.
  • To ensure free choice of education without interference from the State or third parties, subject to conformity with "minimum educational standards".

One commonly used method for clarifying human rights obligations is to apply the ‘tripartite typology’ consisting of the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil.

For a useful table that links outcome, structural and process indicators, States’ obligations and violations, seehere.

National law

In most cases it is necessary to monitor the right to education as guaranteed in national law. National law is typically more detailed than international law; it also takes into account the national context and is usually directly applicable.

Violations at the national level occur if an actor (usually the State) acts in contravention of its constitution or education law, if education laws do not align with the constitution or if education policies are not in line with education law.

It is also important to remember that national law should be aligned with international law. States are legally obliged to implement the right to education through the adoption oflaws and policies and to repeal laws that run counter to the right to education.

A monitoring framework

This Guide is organised around a monitoring framework, based on relevantinternational human rights standards and the literature on education. There are four substantive steps:

  1. Identify deprivations and inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education using outcome indicators.
  2. Analyse education laws and policies and the implementation of these policies using structural and process indicators.
  3. Analyse the use and misuse of financial resources allocated to implementing education policies, using finance process indicators.
  4. Examine key policy processes, using process indicators that measure compliance with key human rights principles in the formulation of education policies.

The underlying premise of the monitoring framework is the recognition that prevalent problems in the enjoyment of the right to education (such as insufficient access to education and poor quality education) are often a result of:

  • Avoidable deprivations, that is, people are deprived of their right to education as a result of policy failures that are frequently generated or exacerbated by the lack of political will of governments.
  • Unequal enjoyment of the right to education, which could reflect a pattern ofdiscrimination.

The analytical framework at the heart of this Guide can strengthen your efforts to hold governments to account for widespread avoidable deprivations and inequalities in education, helping you to assess the extent to which those deprivations and inequalities can be traced back to specific public policy failures, thus building the case for arguing that violations of the right to education have taken place.

The distinction betweenoutcome indicators, on the one hand, andstructural andprocess indicators, on the other, is crucial for monitoring the right to education.In most cases, the first step in the monitoring process is to identify (using outcome indicators) deprivations and inequalities in the enjoyment of the right to education. The next step (using structural and process indicators) consists of identifying the various causes of those deprivations and inequalities in the enjoyment of the right and assessing the adequacy of policy interventions undertaken by the State to address these obstacles.

By linking evidence of the lack of enjoyment of the right to education using outcome indicators (eg high primary school drop-out rates or poor learning achievements in secondary schools) and specific shortcomings in education policies or their implementation using structural and process indicators (eg a highpercentage of children for whom school-house distance is more than 5km or a lowpercentage of trained teachers), the Guide can also help users make policy recommendations to address those shortcomings.

It should be stressed that using indicators to monitor the right to education is not a linear process in which the issues and marginalised groups are first identified, then the indicators selected and finally the data collected and analysed. Rather, the monitoring process is an iterative process, in which these steps feed each other. Therefore, once you have moved onto Steps 3, 4 or 5 of the Guide, you may sometimes need to return to Step 2 to refine the selection of outcome indicators. 

A focus on access to education and quality of education

Although monitoring the right to education can focus on a whole range of topics most problems related to the right to education are related to two issues: access and quality.

Moreover, many of the obstacles that specific groups face – whether girls, minorities, persons with disabilities or children in detention – are related to inequalities or discrimination with regards to access to and / or quality of education. Even when the focus of a monitoring exercise is another issue – teachers without proper training or working conditions, decaying school infrastructure, lack of sufficient resources for the educational system, etc – these are policy failures which ultimately have a negative impact on access to and / or quality of education. Accordingly, the majority of reports monitoring the right to education focus on these issues. For that reason this Guide is primarily focused on helping users to monitor various aspects of access and quality.

However, there are some violations of the right to education that are unrelated to these two areas of focus, such as the freedom of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions and the freedom to establish private institutions (and the obligation that the education given in such institutions conform to minimum standards as set or approved by the State).

At this stage, this Guide does not provide detailed guidance on how to monitor these issues. However, the accompanyingIndicators Selection Tool  lists a selection of indicators for issues related to the right to education not currently covered by this Guide. In the future, additional modules will be added on some of these specific issues. 


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