The Right to Education

“1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages…. 2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. ....3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”     --Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights




Education is the key to full economic, social, cultural and political participation in society and the right to education can be considered a right each of these categories. Access to primary education is a minimum core obligation; universal primary education must be compulsory and free of charge. The compulsory nature of primary education guards against violations of this right by parents or government. Making primary education free eliminates income-based discrimination and at the same time removes incentives for not attending school.


Governments should develop national policies that will progressively expand and improve the educational system and successively introduce free education at all levels. Every state should respect the right to educational freedom. This includes respect for the religious and moral convictions of the children and their parents, the liberty of parents or legal guardians to chose other than public school in which to enroll their children, and the freedom of every individual or institution to establish educational institutions as long as they conform to national standards for curricula and admissions.


General Comment 13 of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has set forth these standards for the right to education:


Availability. Government should build enough schools to guarantee that everybody can attend one. They should be equipped with all the materials and facilities that they need to function properly such as: teaching equipment, trained staff and faculty, protection from natural elements, and drinking and eating facilities.


Accessibility. Educational institutions should be accessible to everyone. Nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of sex, race, immigration status, religion, and/or ethnicity. Schools should be safe to attend and within reasonable distance from communities. Distance learning can be used for remote areas. Education should be available to everyone despite their level of income. States should gradually introduce free education at all levels.


Acceptability. The curricula and teaching methods of schools should be acceptable to the parent of the children and they should fulfill national norms that are set by the government.


Adaptability. Education should be adaptable to the changes in society and should include the different social and cultural interests of the students.




Legal Instruments on the Right to Education


Universal Declaration of Human Rights art. 26

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights arts. 13 and 14

Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women arts. 10 and 14(2)

Convention on the Rights of the Child arts. 23(3), 28, 29, and 33

International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination arts. 2(2), 5(e)(iv), and  33

European Social Charter Part I 9, 10 arts. 2(4), 7 (3) (4), 10, and15

 San Salvador Protocol arts. 7(e)(f), and 13

African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights art 17(1)

General Comment 11: Plans of action for primary education.

General Comment 13: The right to education.



Additional Resources

Right to Education Project

Circle of Rights. The Right to Education.

Special Rapporteur on the right to education

United Nations Educational, Scientific , and Cultural Organization  

People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)