On June 21 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education Dr Koumbou Boly Barry released a report entitled ‘Right to Education: the cultural dimensions of the right to education, or the right to education as a cultural right’.
Presented at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, the report considers the cultural dimensions of the right to education and reflects a call from the UN Special Rapporteur for the right to education to be viewed as a cultural right. The cultural dimensions of the right to education are understood throughout the report to reflect ‘the right of each person to the cultural resources necessary to freely follow a process of identification, to experience mutually rewarding relations his or her life long, to deal with the crucial challenges facing our world and to engage in the practices that make it possible to take ownership of and contribute to these resources’.
In summary, the report deconstructs the right to education as commonly understood to reconstruct it as a cultural right through seven shifts in perspective. These shifts range from a broader understanding of cultural issues in education, to a recognition of diversity in education as intrinsically linked to universality, to a broader understanding of the multiple stakeholders involved in education to the sites in which educational transmission takes place.
These shifts in perspective are determined as fundamental, as the Special Rapporteur considers that current educational systems fail to acknowledge and protect cultural diversities, seeing them as an obstacle rather than an asset. Taking a general approach rather than focusing on specific groups, she asserts that the failure to cater to diversity serves to reinforce pre-existing power imbalances, thus reducing the relevance of education. She clarifies that the right to education is more than the right to ‘receive knowledge’, instead reflecting the right and capacity to take part in an educational life which itself considers different realities and capitalises on local resources.
The Special Rapporteur demonstrates both the importance of participation from all stakeholders and the successful use of resources and the culture of place. Crucially, she makes clear that taking culture into account is not fulfilled by a mere add on to the curricula, and instead must be at the core of curriculum development.
The report conducts a detailed analysis of the right to education as a cultural right, and the implications of this association. Similarly, it analyses legal frameworks and instruments as well as national contexts. It asserts that the realization of the right to inclusive and quality education depends on three fundamental capacities:
Education system actors must adapt to the cultural resources available locally and the learners cultural resources
There must be capacity for everyone to be enriched by the particular cultural resources
There must be capacity to include greater numbers of people and resources in education
The Special Rapporteur recommends that a truly universal approach be a fundamental part of the construction of educational systems, with universality conditioned by acknowledging and including national and local resources in the process of elaboration of educational systems. This can only be achieved through a degree of decentralization, where local authorities have weight in the decision making process and where there is a participatory system allowing everyone to engage in the process of knowledge transmission.
Following the presentation of the report at the 47th Session of the Human Rights Council, discussion among state representatives considered legal requirements at primary and secondary level, with some thematic and country specific interventions regarding sexual and reproductive education, and minority rights issues.