This report summarizes in 281 pages the shortcomings of global educational promises and then examines how the right to education fares in 170 countries. Developing and transitioning countries are divided into six geographical regions and 31 tables highlight the key findings derived from country-by-country surveys. The Report highlights the abyss between the domestic policies of wealthy creditor and donor governments which keep compulsory education free, and their external policies which have made it for-fee. All sources are indicated in 1,317 footnotes.

Part of a law which allowed the Colombian government to charge for primary education was deemed unconstitutional after a pair of Colombian lawyers, collaborating with the law faculty at New York’s Cornell University and a coalition of civil society organisations, brought a direct challenge against its discriminatory provisions.

The report focuses on the legal obligations of states and private entities to mobilise all resources at their disposal, including those that could be collected through taxation or prevention of illicit financial flows, to satisfy minimum essential levels of human rights and finds that states who facilitate or actively promote tax abuses, at the domestic or cross-border level, may be in violation of international human rights law.

The report is based on a detailed examination of UN treaty bodies and special procedures’ views on the current interpretation of the scope and content of this obligation to mobilise resources. Further, it is published against the backdrop of increased awareness of the relationship between economic policies and human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which committed all UN member states to ‘strengthen domestic resource mobilization, including through international support to developing countries, to improve domestic capacity for tax and other revenue collection’ and ‘significantly reduce illicit financial flows’.

Key resource

Education is a fundamental human right of every woman, man and child. In states’ efforts to meet their commitments to making the right to education a reality for all, most have made impressive progress in recent decades. With new laws and policies that remove fees in basic education, significant progress has been made in advancing free education. This has led to tens of millions of children enrolling for the first time and the number of out of school children and adolescents falling by almost half since 2000. Important steps have also been taken with regard to gender parity and states have made efforts to raise the quality of education through improved teacher policies and a growing emphasis on learning outcomes. 

Despite these efforts, breaches of the right to education persist worldwide, illustrated perhaps most starkly by the fact that 262 million primary and secondary-aged children and youth are still out of school. Girls, persons with disabilities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds or rural areas, indigenous persons, migrants and national minorities are among those who face the worst discrimination, affecting both their right to go to school and their rights within schools.

To respond to the challenges, the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) with UNESCO have developed this handbook to guide action on ensuring full compliance with the right to education. Its objective is not to present the right to education as an abstract, conceptual, or purely legal concept, but rather to be action-oriented. The handbook will also be an important reference for those working towards the achievement of SDG4, by offering guidance on how to leverage legal commitment to the right to education as a strategic way to achieve this goal.