Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry from Burkina Faso is the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education. As part of the #RightToEducation campaign to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNESCO asked her seven questions on the state of the right to education around the world today.
- What is the role of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education?
My job and responsibility is to ensure that the right to education is being fulfilled and enacted around the world and to report on violations. I listen to those whose right to education is being denied, whether they are individuals or represented through civil society. My position also allows me to act as an intermediary body between the different stakeholders that are key to ensuring this right – at the government level, in the judiciary system and at the budgetary and planning stage. This is essential in order to oversee and monitor if the right to education is effectively being implemented. My role is not only to report on the progressive implementation of the right to education, but also to assist governments in their efforts to improve, innovate and expand quality and free education for all.
- What is the state of the right to education today?
The reality is that nearly a billion people globally are still not benefiting from their right to education, and most of them are women and young people. Even though access to education is rapidly expanding around the word, the quality of education remains the biggest issue. Are girls and boys actually learning and acquiring skills? That is something that we seriously must focus on and continue to monitor in order to create an equitable society. The digital divide is another major issue that we need to tackle. There is a major risk of millions being left behind. We need to harness innovations and scale them in order to reach classrooms everywhere and provide equal opportunities for learners around the world. We also need to instill more values in curriculums. Learning to live together, tolerance, peace, confidence and respect for one another is key in order to tackle fear and hatred.
- What have been the main achievements?
We have to recognize the achievements accomplished over the years. In some countries in Africa, they have been able to achieve more just in the last 10 years than they had in over 60 years. From school infrastructure to literacy, from girls’ education to the use of technology in learning, there are many success stories and examples that should be mentioned. Civil society’s involvement in education is key. The normative and standard setting role that UNESCO plays on the right to education is essential and continues to contribute greatly to this fundamental human right.
- What is the biggest challenge?
The weak governance of education systems is among the biggest challenges that we face. When the education sector is mapped out and planned in a country, it is important to have all stakeholders present so that they participate and contribute to the success of education in their own communities and to build a holistic vision giving more attention to early childhood, vocational training and research. The budgeting and decision-making for education must be decentralized because it must be tailored to the needs of specific localities and specific vulnerable groups such as nomads, refugees, poor families and people with disabilities. Communities and schools themselves must be able to make decisions that fit their needs. Local actors, such as parents associations and NGOs need to be involved. These are the dynamics that we need to build around schools.
- What is the worst violation of the right to education you have witnessed?
There are countless of examples. Children with disabilities denied education because they are unable to access educational facilities. Students and teachers incarcerated and even killed for demanding their right to education or better working conditions. Young expecting mothers expelled from schools. There are still many places where these gross violations are taking place every day. It is unacceptable. There is still a long road ahead.
- What would you have done differently in your career?
Having been the Minister of Education and Literacy in Burkina Faso, I know that key decisions taken at the political level affect millions of people and their future. I would have liked to invest myself more in politics in order to bring about effective reforms and changes needed to the educational system in my country.
- Who inspires you?
My grandmother was a major inspiration for me while I was growing up. She was a strong, independent and open-minded woman. She taught me to take responsibilities seriously at a young age. The former Education Minister of Burkina Faso, Alice Tiendrebeogo, a writer and teacher, is another person that has inspired me in my career. And of course, like millions of Africans and people from around the world, I look up to Nelson Mandela. His wisdom and values will continue to resonate and teach future generations.