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We are here : Home / Publications / Newsletter / N°25, 09 - 2005


The right to education : what is not working
Letter n°25, September 2005

In its last summary report on Education for All (EFA), UNESCO recognizes that access to complete primary education for all in Africa presents a nuanced, if not contrasting, picture:  “In 1990-91, less than half (49%) of a generation of children benefited from education up to the last year of primary school.  In 2002-03, this proportion had only progressed by 10 points (59%).  4 children out of 10 still did not complete primary school in 2002-03.”


UNESCO’s projections permit 34 African countries to be classified as not having attained universal primary education (UPE) in 2002-03, according to their chances of reaching it by 2015.  By this method, 31 of them will not achieve UPE by 2015, of which 25 will remain under the bar of 75% of the level of achievement.  These results, it is written, are preoccupying in the sense that they leave the same countries on this side of the decisive threshold from which economic and social benefits can clearly be realized, which can be translated also into less efficiency in public spending on education.  Money is not the only problem.  There is also the poor quality of the educational system, affirms the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA):  “the practices that one observes at the moment in African classrooms are not efficient from an educational perspective.” 


If Africa remains, in several respects, the focal point for hardships of all kinds, the disparities on a world scale continue to grow and can be translated, according to the UN, into a veritable “crisis of inequalities” amongst other things with regard to access to education. 


What must be kept in mind, within the backdrop of universal access jeopardized by education, is the right to education itself, more particularly its recurring non-respect.  Why?


According to Katerina Tomasevski, former special rapporteur on the right to education to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to education is in danger of disappearing.  The first reason for this phenomenon is drawn from the fact that the action plans demanded of almost half of the countries in light of realizing universal primary education do not benefit from economic aid, which leads them to a assured still-birth.  Secondly, continues Mrs. Tomasevski, the existing action plans do not adopt an approach centred on the promotion of the right to education, but rather on the reduction of poverty by means of allocations to education and health care.  Yet this approach, advocated by the World Bank and the IMF, does not guarantee the right to education and, consequently, to compulsory education.  Yet, without it, how does one assure universal access to education to all if, a fortiori, the funds distributed do not share this purpose? 


Another reason evoked by the former rapporteur refers to the privatization of education.  According to her, this signifies that the governmental delegations undertake a sham presentation before the Human Rights Commission while in practice, on the basis of their legislation; they have already converted education into a marketed service so that only people with sufficient buying power can from now on allow themselves to send their children to school.  Another factor, finally, results that countries support more the right to development because this can perhaps be considered as a state right, which authorizes countries to request international aid as poor countries.  Once the funds are attributed, these countries can very well accord priority to sectors of activity other than education, notably to armaments. 


In order to reinforce the application of the right to education, Mrs. Tomasevski relies a good deal on NGO’s:  “if we leave human rights in the hands of governments and the human rights commission, nothing will happen”, she says.  NGO’s nevertheless must afford as much attention to economic, social and cultural rights as they provide to civil and political rights. She adds that a real affirmation of a spreading movement dedicated to the right to education must be encouraged and it is for the NGO’s to take the initiative in this.


Sources :

UNESCO. (2005) “Education for All in Africa” 

This report was prepared as a supporting reference of the Dakar Forum organized by UNESCO/BREDA (Regional Office for Education in Africa) from 13 – 15 June 2005.  The electronic versions of this report and the executive summary can be downloaded from the BREDA website http://www.dakar.unesco.org/en_index.shtml and the Dakar Pole website.  http://www.poledakar.org/IMG/pdf/Executive_summary.pdf

ONU (2005) Report on the World Situation:  The Inequality Predicament


Human Rights Features (2004) “Education has become a traded service”





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