Building peace in the minds of men and women

Right to Education - Support and cooperation

UNESCO develops and monitors education norms and standards in order to foster the implementation of the right to education at country level. The right to education is only realised by concrete implementation and effective enforcement, a responsibility that lies with states.

Legal obligations and political commitments to the provisions of international human rights instruments should be reflected in national constitutions and legislation, then translated into concrete policies and programmes.

Therefore, the main concern in monitoring the implementation of UNESCO’s standard-setting instruments is to ensure that obligations undertaken by Member States are incorporated into national legal systems. The core responsibility devolves upon Governments.

UNESCO supports Member States in translating international obligations into national laws and policies and enhancing awareness on key challenges and issues.

Legal foundations in national systems

The right to education can only be availed by beneficiaries when state obligations are incorporated into the national legal system and their implementation is ensured. It is crucial that the right to education in all its dimensions is duly integrated.

In fulfilling this function, UNESCO monitors the right to education, provides policy advice and technical assistance to Member States that seek to develop or reform their legal frameworks in this field. Countries that have directly benefited from such support include Afghanistan, Kenya, Moldova, Indonesia, Cambodia, Lithuania, Nigeria, Bahamas and Nepal.

Assistance has been offered on a limited scale on requests from Member States. In 2010-2011, UNESCO launched a law and policy review pilot project at regional scale, in the Arab States, with a focus on provisions for gender equality. This was done in an effort to sensitize countries about the importance of having rights-based, inclusive, gender sensitive education laws and to offer evidence-based advice and recommendations in an effort to generate demand for law reform.

In 2014-2015 UNESCO developed Guidelines for reviewing national legislation and policies in the field of right to education to assist Member States in reviewing their legal and policy frameworks and to help strengthen the foundations of the right to education in national legal systems. These Guidelines assist countries in assessing the compatibility of their legal frameworks with the provisions of international normative instruments providing for the right to education, to which they are legally committed.

The new Education 2030 Agenda and SDG4 provide strategic opportunity for Member States to review and reform their national legal frameworks in line with international commitments and state legal obligations under standard-setting instruments to realize the right to education for all.

As part of the wider UNESCO pilot programme launched in 2016 under the Capacity Development for Education Programme and in the context of SDG4-Education 2030, selected least developed countries are assisted in their efforts to achieve SDG4 targets by reviewing their national legal framework relating to the right to education and recommending concrete action, notably through appropriate legislative reform. A synthesis report drawing on the findings of the initial 11 countries reviewed was produced.

Finally, the Right to education handbook, which is the result of a collaboration between UNESCO and the Organization Right to Education Initiative, seeks to guide action on ensuring full compliance with the right to education and overcoming the obstacles that hinder making this right a reality. It also offers guidance on how to leverage legal commitments to the right to education as a strategic way to achieve Sustainable development Goal 4. In addition, it is meant to serve as reference tool for shaping future training programmes on the right to education.

Enforcement and justiciability 

When the right to education is violated, citizens must have legal recourse before the law courts or administrative tribunals. The judiciary has an essential role in upholding the right to education as an entitlement.  National human rights institutions as well as Ombudsmen also have a key role to play.

The former Joint Expert Group UNESCO (CR)/ECOSOC (CESCR) on the monitoring of the right to education underlined the priority concern of the justiciability of the right to education and recommended research and studies on case law and available jurisprudence.