Economic, social and cultural rights

Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realising other human rights. Education is essential for the development of human potential, enjoyment of the full range of human rights and respect for the rights of others.

Core elements of the right to education include (as specified in international treaties):

  • entitlement to free and compulsory primary education 
  • availability of different forms of secondary education 
  • access to higher education on non-discriminatory terms 
  • education directed to develop individuals to their fullest potential and to prepare them for responsible life in a free society, including development of respect for others and for human rights 
  • availability of accessible educational and vocational information 
  • measures developed by the State to ensure full participation in education 
  • availability of some form of basic education for those who may not have received or completed primary education 
  • protection and improvement of conditions for teachers 
  • respect for the right of parents/legal guardians to choose schools other than those established and funded by the State, and to ensure that the religious and moral education of their children conforms to their own convictions 
  • respect for academic freedom and institutional autonomy, including the freedom to express opinions about a workplace institution or system, fulfil functions without discrimination or fear of sanction, and participate in professional or representative academic bodies.

The right to education is set out in a number of international treaties, the most significant of which are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Articles 13 and 14) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 28 and 29).

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that education should be directed at:

  • the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential 
  • the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations 
  • the development of respect for the child’s parents; his or her own cultural identity, language and values; for the national values of the country in which the child is living; the country from which he or she may originate; and civilisations different from his or her own 
  • the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin 
  • the development of respect for the natural environment [Article 29]