The right to education recognised under human rights law has to be implemented at national level. States have the obligation to protect, respect and fulfil the right to education. They are legally bound to the treaties they have ratified and morally and politically bound to implement recommendations and declarations. In any case, it is essential that both political and legal commitments undertaken at international level are reflected in constitutions and legislation, and further translated into policies and programmes, so that individuals can meaningfully enjoy the right to education and be able to hold the State accountable for violations or failure to comply with their obligations.

An essential step in using a human rights based approach is to monitor the implementation of the right to education to ensure the state is on track and conforms to the standards they have agreed to. By identifying state’s obligations and violations of the right to education, specific and targeted policy recommendations can be made – which are more likely to produce a positive result.

There are a number of methods for monitoring the right to education.  These methods may depend on the stakeholder that is conducted the monitoring and the purpose of the monitoring exercise.

In brief, monitoring can help to provide an assessment of:

  • the legal framework that guarantees the right to education
  • gaps in achieving the progressive realisation of the right to education, including potential retrogression and adherence to minimum core standards
  • challenges and obstacles that hinder progressive realisation
  • violations of the right to education as well as corrective and remedial measures to address these violations

When monitoring the right to education, it is important to examine laws and policies, but it is equally important to look at actual practices. It may be that on paper the policies and laws are good but in reality the execution of them is poor or perhaps little or no funds have been allocated to facilitate the implementation of these laws and policies. So, it is essential to look at the whole picture and all possible sources of information (practices, data, laws, policies, and recommendations made to the government) in order to pinpoint the reasons why the right to education might not be fully enjoyed.

The legal framework of the right to education

To start, it is important to review the legal framework that guarantees the right to education in a specific country to ascertain whether the national laws and policies comply with international human rights law:

  • which human rights treaties that guarantee the right to education has the state ratified?
  • does the constitution guarantee the right to education? To what extent?
  • has the state adopted laws on education that provide a detailed legal framework to guarantee the right to education?
  • has the state adopted policies to implement the right to education? Do these policies comply with national law?

If laws and policies comply with human rights standards, then violations are likely to occur due to failures to uphold these laws and policies. If laws and policies do not adhere to human rights standards, then violations are likely to re-occur unless those laws and policies are changed.

The implementation of the right to education on the ground

In addition, it is very important to monitor the implementation of the right to education: at school level, regional and national levels, using qualitative and quantitative data. For example:

  • are specific groups discriminated against? Girls? Minorities?
  • are some regions particularly disadvantaged as regards quality education?
  • is primary education really free?

The budget allocated to education

A review of budget allocation is also a very useful indicator for monitoring the full realisation of the right to education. Budget allocation reflects not only the level of resources invested in the education sector but also the policy priorities of the government.

A careful analysis is required to assess - and challenge - the extent to which the most efficient use is made of available resources and political will. It can also help identify areas of neglect, under-funding or decrease in funding, thus unveiling possible failure or violations. However, it is also important to focus on the effort made by the state rather than just the amount spent on education. For instance, a country with few resources could be using them equitably, achieving slow but important and fair progress on the education of all members of society as opposed to a rich country that is investing a relatively large amount of money on education but very little on its most deprived groups or areas, or worse reducing allocation over time.

Other limitations regarding budget analysis include the lack of transparency of some budgets or the fact that increased resource allocation does not always amount to improved access or enjoyment of the right to education. In brief, beyond looking at  how much is spent it is also very important to see how it is spent, as well as how transparent and participatory the process of budget allocation is.

More information about education financing, here.

When identifying violations, it is important to have in mind the difference between immediate obligations – such as non-discrimination – and progressive obligations – such as free higher education. It is therefore important to fully understand what can be considered a violation and what can be considered only a gap towards the full realisation of the right to education (but not yet a de facto violation).

Violations of the right to education are acts of commission or omission by the state which leads to a failure, deliberate or not, to meets its obligations. In the first case (commission) the violation occurs because of the action of the State; in the second (omission), the violation occurs when the state does not take action or fails to take necessary steps.

It is not just the state that violates human rights, private actors (or non-state actors) such as private individuals and corporations are often responsible for violating the right to education of people across the globe. In these instances, the state is obligated to protect human rights by regulating the actions of private entities, to ensure compliance with human rights standards.

For more information, see Fons Coomans (1998) Identifying Violations of the Right to Education.

Tools can be useful to help monitor the right to education. Below are selected tools developed by the Right to Education Initiative:

  • Right to education indicators

In order to monitor state compliance with its obligations and assess the enjoyment of the right to education, indicators (both quantitative and qualitative) based on the specific provisions of human rights law are very useful.

Since 2008, the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) has aimed to develop and operationalise a set of indicators based on international human rights law.  RTE has developed over 200 indicators intended to be used as a tool to evaluate states’ progress towards the full realisation of the right to education, to identify violations of the right to education, and to enable civil society to hold governments to account for their obligations regarding education. See our Monitoring Guide for more information.

  • Promoting rights in school

In 2010, RTE and ActionAid co-developed the Promoting Rights in Schools tool which utilises RTE’s indicators to monitor the right to education at the local school level. The PRS serves as ActionAid’s core education programme and is aimed at both popularising education as a human right and as a means to empower local communities to seek accountability on the right to education.

  • Useful databases

There are a number of databases which compile information on statistics, as well as laws and policies on education. See our list of useful databases.

At national, regional and international level, there are human rights mechanisms that monitor the right to education and can provide information on the implementation of the right to education in a specific country. Most of the time, you can also report to them on violations of the rights to educations or gaps in its implementation.

At national level, it may be useful to link with:

  • national human rights institutions whose mission is to promote and protect human rights domestically. More information, here
  • ombudspersons
  • national offices of statistics. Although, the ministries of education are the most obvious body to collect data on education, you may wish to also look at other statistical information to help you monitor the right to education, such as young adult employment, population growth, health and social care, etc.
  • local school boards and school management committees usually collect data about their students and their experiences while at school.

Note that states have the obligation to adopt minimum education standards and ensure that both public and private institutions meet them. This means that states must develop a monitoring framework to ensure these standards are met. Monitoring mechanisms may include school inspections, licensing criteria or standardised testing. They are often a good source of data for revealing inequalities and potential violations.

At regional and national level, you can link with human rights bodies, such as UN treaty bodies. Find out more information, on our page on international and regional human rights mechanisms

For more information on how to report to these bodies, click here.