The Right to Education

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. 

Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 


What is the Right to Education?

Everyone has the right to education. The objectives of education include the full development and dignity of each person, the ability to participate effectively in society, and the strengthening of respect for human rights. Education is important in itself and is often also called a ‘multiplier’ human right, as the degree of access to education impacts the level of enjoyment of other human rights.

The right to education involves specific requirements at different levels of education. Primary education must be compulsory and free of charge for all, which will involve considerations of both direct and indirect costs relating to education. The compulsory nature of primary education guards against violations of this right by parents or governments, eliminates income-based discrimination and removes incentives for non-attendance. States should develop a national framework that will progressively expand and improve the educational system and successively introduce free education at all other levels, namely secondary, higher, and fundamental education.

Every State should respect the right to educational freedom. This includes respect for the religious and moral convictions of children and parents, the right of parents or legal guardians to choose private schools for their children, and the freedom to establish private educational institutions as long as they conform to national standards for curricula and admissions.

In its General Comment 13, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) provided detailed guidance to States regarding their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education. The Committee also noted that the right includes the following interrelated and essential features:

  • Availability. States should ensure the provision of enough educational infrastructure (institutions and programs) for everyone. These should be equipped with all the materials and facilities needed to function properly in the particular context, such as buildings, teaching equipment and materials, trained and fairly-paid staff, protection from natural elements, sanitation facilities for both sexes, and safe drinking water.
  • Accessibility. Access to education involves three key elements: non-discrimination, physical accessibility, and economic accessibility. Educational institutions should be accessible to everyone, especially the most vulnerable, and no one can be subject to discrimination on the basis of, among other grounds, sex, ethnicity, geographical location, economic circumstances, disability, citizenship or residence status, membership of a minority group, religion, detention, or sexual orientation. Schools should be within safe and reasonable distance from communities or, for remote areas, accessible via modern technology. Education should be affordable to all, and States should progressively introduce free education at all levels.
  • Acceptability. Subject to the overarching aims of education and to minimum educational standards set by the State, curricula and teaching methods should be acceptable to students and, in appropriate cases, parents. This means that education should be relevant to the child’s context, needs and evolving capacities, and should be of good quality and culturally appropriate.
  • Adaptability. Education should be flexible enough to adapt and respond to changing societies and the needs of students within diverse social and cultural settings. 

Photo: Mark Lehn. Australian Human Rights Commission.