National Coalition for Education (NCE), India
Education was declared to be a human right by the United Nations through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) way back in 1948, but over the decades, education has moved from notion of right to being reduced to commodity, that is traded and available to those who can buy it.
The market takes care of consumers, not of citizens. Not all citizens are sought-after consumers. In the market, those who have purchasing power can buy the commodities/services while those who cannot are left marginalised.
Human rights are acquired by the very virtue of being human. When the human right to education becomes a commercial venture, the marginalised and the poor sections of society are deprived of their birthright. This further aggravates the discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, by extending it to the purchasing power of the human being.
Even after seven decades of the UDHR, approximately 53 million children in the world are deprived of elementary education, out of whom 53% are girls.
The question that arises here is whether we, as global citizens, and the elected governments of various nations have been genuinely serious in recognising the right to education as a human right? Have we tried sufficiently hard to realise the goal of Education for All?
Though in many countries the right to education has become a fundamental and justiciable right, but these efforts have been limited to school infrastructure or enrolment of children or recruiting of ad hoc teachers. There remain problem of dropouts, lack of qualified teachers, lack of conducive atmosphere, inadequate teaching and learning materials, especially in developing countries. These impediments are affecting the realisation of the human right to education. Is it sufficient to include the right to education in UDHR declarations or should we advocate for ‘right to quality education’ as a human right in the UN declaration?
After the devastating World War II, the global community dreamt of a better world and in order to realise this dream, a set of human rights was announced and adopted. Nevertheless, the persistent and increased levels of violence, of extremism, intolerance, distress migration and economic disparities, clearly show that we have not been able to make this world a better place. In such a state of affairs, education – as envisaged in the UN Declaration: “directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms (Article 26, paragraph 2)” – has become more important than ever.
Now one may ask who should be primarily accountable for ensuring that no child is left behind in securing their right to education. There is consensus among champion of human rights, as also mentioned in the UDHR, that the State is responsible for the right to education of children, especially in developing societies.
In 1948, the State was regarded as a welfare state. Later on, with the emergence of the concept of liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation, the welfare aspect of the State was bound to change. The role of market became important in every sphere of life. The rollback theory of State was propounded and the market occupied the vacuum created in different walks of life. Education was no exception to this. In the globalised, liberalised and privatised world, the education sector became a profit-making business. Private investment in education sought returns and more and more private players joined the growing business of providing education. Increased commercialisation of education led to the mushrooming of private schools which provided a very low quality of education. Neoliberal policies of the State paved the way for more private investment in education which led to differential treatment to different sections of society, based on economic capability. Is it justified to discriminate even against children on the basis of their economic background? Education must be the only human right that has to be bought from private investors!
Slogans like ‘common education for rich and poor alike’ are being increasingly cast aside. Due to ‘resource crunch’ and inefficiency of governments in providing quality education in state-run schools, private players have latched on to more opportunities for business – shell out more for better education; get the kind of education that you pay for. It further led to stratification of society as unequal access and quality of education strengthened the rich and weakened the poor.
In 1990, the world’s nations committed themselves to achieve universal primary education (UPE) and reduce illiteracy by the year 2000 at the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien, Thailand. As the new millennium approached, it was clear that many countries were still very far from reaching these targets, so the international community met again at the World Education Forum (WEF) in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, and committed themselves to achieving EFA by 2015. The Dakar Framework for Action pledges to expand learning opportunities for every child, youth and adult through six key goals including early child hood care and education , provide free and compulsory primary education for all, promote learning and life skills for young people and adults , increase adult literacy by 50 % , achieving gender parity by 2005 and gender equality by 2015 and improve the quality of education.
On 21 May 2015, the Incheon Declaration was adopted at the World Education Forum 2015 (WEF 2015) by 120 ministers, heads and members of Government delegations from 160 countries and development partners including India. The Incheon Declaration reaffirms the vision of the worldwide movement for Education for All (EFA), initiated in Jomtien in 1990 and reiterated in Dakar in 2000. Countries and the global education community committed to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, and leaves no-one behind. This new education agenda, ‘Education 2030’ is fully captured in the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) and its corresponding targets which aims to, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all”. The Declaration represents a collective commitment of the education community to implement the Education 2030 agenda. It affirms the principles of education as a public good, as a fundamental human right, as a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights, and inspires bold and innovative action.
On 25 September 2015, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was formally adopted at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York City. At the gist of this new agenda lie the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which include SDG 4 on education that succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA) serves as the overall guiding framework for the implementation of Education 2030 and outlines how to translate the global commitment into practice at the global, regional and national levels. It aims to support all countries to realize their own vision and ambitions for education within the framework of SDG 4 and its targets and proposes ways of implementing, coordinating, financing and monitoring Education 2030 to ensure equal education opportunities for all.
In the new socio-economic reality of the world, the UDHR stands in need of amendment. It should catalyse new strategies and renewed focus by the State to ensure that education becomes a fundamental human right.
The quality of education has to become an essential element of the right to education. The UDHR should recognise ‘quality education’ as a human right instead of simply education as a human right. For this the quality of teachers is important and this quality is directly proportional to the quality of working conditions of teachers.
As mentioned in the UDHR, “parents should have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children (Paragraph 3, Article 26).” At the same time, in the age of globalisation, the State should ensure that parents and community are empowered enough to have their say in the education of their children.
The private sector cannot take on the role of the State in ensuring human rights and inculcating human values in children. Unlike a private company, a democratic State is representative in nature and takes care of citizens, not consumers. This role of the state should reflect in the declaration of education as a human right.
Skill development is also an important component of education, and should find a place in Article 26 of the UDHR.
Though the right to education is a universal human right, there should also be emphasis on ensuring inclusive education. The UDHR should guide the State towards paying special attention to marginalised sections of society which include children with special needs.
The issue of governance is very important in ensuring the fundamental right to education. In the governance of school education, the role of community should be stressed. A transparent and participative governance system will lead to an accountable education system as well. For this, a decentralised and democratic education system should find its due place in the UDHR.
The role of the private sector should be supplementary to government efforts. Resources and talent from the private sector should be harnessed by the government to realise the goal of quality education for all.
The role of civil society at both the national and international level has been instrumental in advocating the right to free and compulsory education of children. In recent times, many sections of civil society have come under attack across the globe and their role is being undermined. The UDHR should encourage efforts from civil society by affirming their role in the advocacy of education as a human right.
The aforementioned changes will help in achieving the aims of SDGs (sustainable development goals) and the UDHR will become more reflective of the changed realities of the 21st century.