On April 22, the European Committee of Social Rights issued a statement on COVID-19 and social rights which highlights the rights of the European Social Charter that are particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The statement makes particular reference to the right to education in the context of Covid-19, in addition to a focus on a range of rights including employment and labour rights, the right to social security, social and medical assistance, the right to be protected against poverty and social exclusion, the right to housing and education, the rights of children and families, women, older persons and persons with disabilities.
The paragraphs detailing the right to education state the following:
The right to education is a right both in and of itself and an enabling right that contributes significantly to the realisation of other human rights, including other social rights. The ECSR recalls that the Charter protects the right to education from multiple perspectives, for example through Article 17§2 (primary and secondary education for children), Article 7§3 (protection of children in compulsory education), Article 10 (vocational education and training, including for adults) and Article 15§1 (right to education and training for persons with disabilities, see below in more detail).
The closures of schools and other educational institutions during the pandemic have unmasked and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in education, raising issues in terms of Articles 10, 15, 17,and Article E of the Charter. The necessary recourse to remote learning during lockdown periods has highlighted and exacerbated the issue of digital exclusion. There is a generalised risk of learning loss and a development gap that for many children, and also for a number of adolescents and adults, will be difficult if not impossible to make up. In many instances, a move from face-to-face teaching has severely impacted on access to, and the quality of education enjoyed by, child with disabilities and special educational needs, with implications for Article 15 and Article 17 of the Charter.
The ECSR considers that access to education is crucial for every child’s life and development. Under Article 17§2 of the Charter equal access to education must be ensured for all children during the COVID-19 crisis. In this respect, particular attention should be paid to vulnerable groups such as children from minorities, children seeking asylum, refugee children, children with disabilities, children in hospital, children in care, pregnant teenagers, children deprived of their liberty, etc. 19
The ECSR finally points out that technical and vocational education and training as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Charter are key factors in determining access to the labour market and in realising stable employment. Vocational education and training have been impacted by closures of institutions during prolonged periods and by disruptions in the labour market making it difficult, for example, to implement work-based learning schemes and apprenticeships (Article 10§§1 and 2 of the Charter). The situation has been detrimental for the effectiveness of study programmes and qualifying exams. It has also frequently plunged students into precariousness and isolation.
See the full statement here.
The ECSR makes clear that in their response to Covid-19, States Parties must take due account of all social rights-holders, and must ensure that measures taken in response to the crisis, including economic and social policy measures, do not result in discrimination in terms of social rights enjoyment.
Karin Lukas, President of the European Committee of Social Rights, said “the statement aims to provide guidance to States Parties, organisations of workers and employers, civil society and other key stakeholders by clarifying certain aspects of the Charter rights in question as they apply in the current crisis.”
She further stressed that “crises, whatever their cause, should not have as a consequence the reduction of protection or enjoyment of the rights recognized by the Charter. On the contrary, governments are bound to take all necessary steps to ensure that social rights are effectively guaranteed at a period of time when their citizens need the protection most.”
19 See MDAC v. Bulgaria, Complaint No. 41/2007, decision on the merits of 3 June 2008, §34.