The Right To Education

Knowledge is power: The Right to Education

Education as the keystone

Why go to school?

One of the first things we learn at school is to read and write – can you imagine going through life without this skill? Whether we realise it or not, we rely on things we learn at school every day: we use basic knowledge in language, mathematics, even history, to make sense of the world. Education turns us into knowledgeable, responsible citizens with the skills, attitudes, and knowledge we need to be positive members of society. We learn how to think and how to work hard and efficiently. And then there’s the social aspects of school: we make friends and we learn how to cooperate with and respect others.

All this is important for our self-development, but there is another implication: without what we learn at school, we can’t get a job. And without work to earn income, we won’t be able to cover any of our basic needs – buy food, get a place to live, buy clothes, let alone do the things we like to do for fun, like go to the cinema, buy books, travel and so forth and so on.

Simply put, a life without education would suck. And that’s before looking at a society without education – imagine living in a country where there is no way of ensuring that doctors, plumbers, pilots, bus drivers and builders have the knowledge and skills they need to do their job.

Without exaggerating, we can say that we need education to cover our basic needs, to reach our personal goals, and to prevent society from collapsing. This is why education is the keystone for a good society, and is recognised as a human right.

The right to education

"Everyone has the right to education… Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26

Education is a right, because without education, people will not be able to realise their abilities and potential, and indirectly, they are far less likely to have their other human rights realised: work, housing, health etc.  Education for all ensures that everyone have the same tools and opportunities to make a living and provide for themselves and their families. Therefore, a lack of education is one of the root causes of global poverty and inequality: inadequate access to education creates a circle of poverty, because without education, the socially and economically marginalised have no opportunity to get a job or start their own business.

On the other hand, the right to education recognises that education is necessary for social security, stability, and progress. All societies need qualified and competent people to function – civil servants, engineers, medical personnel, craftsmen, mechanics, farmers and so forth – and they all need to be educated.  To meet the great challenges of our time, like sustainability, food security, poverty and inequality and access to water, we need many bright, creative and hard-working minds who can come up with solutions - and without education, these minds will never develop.

No schools, no opportunities

Education is a right, but in practice it is still a privilege for many. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN is aiming for universal access to education by 2030. There has been much progress – 91 % if children in developing countries are now in school, and since 2000 the worldwide number of children out of school has been halved. But there are still challenges: 61 million primary school-age children are not enrolled in school, and many places have schools without enough teachers or materials to ensure a quality education.

Especially girls lack access to quality education. In many societies, social and cultural structures still present barriers to girls’ education. There women are supposed to marry early and stay at home with their families, and denying them an education makes sure they are still trapped in traditional gender role. But putting girls in school gives them clear advantages; for example, a woman who has been to school earn 25 % more, and she is three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

Therefore, giving education to girls gives them the opportunity to learn and work independently, and is incredibly important for development and gender equality.

What can you do?

If you’re reading this, it probably means that you have been lucky enough to have had a quality education. We still have a long way to go to reach the goal of quality education by 2030, and it will not happen by itself. To get there, we need to raise awareness, cultural and institutional change, and a whole lot of funds for schools, materials and teachers. Every one of us can contribute to this by:

  • Pressure our governments to make education as a priority in both policy and practice, and make sure they make and follow commitments to provide education to vulnerable and marginalised groups
  • Encourage the private sector to invest resources in the development of educational tools and facilities
  • Support NGOs that works with youth to foster the importance of education

How are you going to used your knowledge to create a more equal world?

Activity (11+): Knowledge as magicAnnex 1,  Annex 2, Annex 3. 


Right to education Project. Free education

Right to education Project. Comparative table on minimum age legislation.

ActionAid, Global Campaign for Education (2007). Education rights a guide for practitioners and activists. Global campaign for education.

UNESCO (2011). Global education digest 2011.

UNICEF. Girls' education and gender equality.

Harvard Political Reviw (2011). A Vicious Cycle of Unequal Access.


Why are not all children in school?

-         Because they are girls in places where women are denied education

-         Because they live in war zones

-         Because their countries are poor: there are no teachers, no schools, no materials

-         Because of child marriage: Recent estimates show that one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18

-         Because of child labour



Facts and figures:

·   91 per cent of children in developing countries are in school, but 57 million children remain out of school

  • 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women
  • More than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa
  • An estimated 50 per cent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas


Source: UNDEP