What you need to know about the Convention against Discrimination in Education


The year 2020 marks sixty years since the adoption by UNESCO’s General Conference of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education. An instrument, which has been at the forefront of the Organization’s standard-setting instruments in the field of education. Today, more than ever, this Convention is of particular relevance to overcome barriers to fully realizing the right to education. Join UNESCO’s #RightToEducation campaign: Say no to discrimination in education!

Key facts about the Convention against Discrimination in Education

  • It is the first legally binding international instrument which is entirely dedicated to the right to education.
  • The Convention is recognized as a cornerstone of the Education 2030 Agenda and is a powerful tool to advance inclusive and equitable quality education for all. 
  • Unlike several other human rights treaties, it does not admit any reservation which means that ratifying States cannot decide to exclude certain aspects or provisions from the legal effect of the Convention; therefore, once ratified, the Convention is fully applicable to all its State Parties which must conform to all the rights and obligations laid out in this instrument.
  • As of today, 106 countries have ratified this Convention!

What does the Convention guarantee?

The Convention reaffirms that education is not a luxury, but a fundamental human right. It highlights States' obligations to ensure free and compulsory education, bans any form of discrimination and promotes equality of educational opportunity. States that have ratified the Convention are under the obligation to implement the right to education as it is elaborated in the text.

The main provisions of the treaty include:

  • Primary education free and compulsory
  • Secondary education in its different forms, generally available and accessible to all
  • Higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity
  • Equivalent standards of education in all public educational institutions of the same level and conditions in relation to quality
  • Opportunities for those who missed all or part of their primary education and their continuation of education
  • Training opportunities for the teaching profession without discrimination

The Convention also ensures:

  • Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • The liberty of parents to choose for their children’s education in conformity with their moral and religious beliefs
  • The right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities

What is ‘discrimination’?

Already in 1960, the Convention established clear grounds of discrimination specifying that the “term `discrimination' includes any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education”. Today, such discriminations continue to permeate our society despite governmental efforts to eradicate such treatment.

Why is this anniversary particularly significant?

While  the world was not on track to achieve international commitments to education prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, this crisis has particularly exacerbated disparities worldwide, with vulnerable students, who are usually more at risk of being discriminated against, at higher risk of being left behind.

Education systems around the world have been faced with unprecedented challenges as the delivery of education massively shifted to distant learning solutions due to the sudden and widespread closure of schools in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Often heavily reliant on connectivity, such distance learning solutions have only increased the marginalization of the most vulnerable people.

It is, therefore, high time to ensure the realization of the right to education in all contexts. By renewing the attention paid to the rights and obligations laid down in the Convention, States need to take legal and policy measures to effectively putting an end to all kinds of discrimination and ensure equality of opportunity in education. 

Furthermore, while the Convention against Discrimination in Education was adopted in 1960, for the last 60 years, methods of teaching and learning have greatly evolved, and new challenges have appeared. Ten years away from the targets of the Education 2030 agenda and particularly in regards of the objective of ‘leaving no one behind’, the international community could envisage to renew its commitment towards ending discrimination in education by giving further momentum to the Convention, in order to reflect the new challenges of the 21st century. This 60th anniversary also coincides with the 10th Consultation of Member States on the implementation of the Convention!