The perspective of the Right to Education Project
Education is a human right and it should be recognised and adhered to as such by States and other duty-bearers. This recognition also entails the creation of structures, systems and opportunities that enable rights-holders to know and claim their rights. When the right to education is confronted with, or even undermined by, adverse structures, systems and opportunities, it becomes necessary to mobilise action for greater respect, protection and fulfilment of this fundamental right, and to do so by involving a diverse range of actors working across disciplines.
The Right to Education Project (RTE Project) is based on the premise that, in addition to being an internationally-recognised human right in itself, education is an enabling right, the full enjoyment of which is fundamental to securing wider social and economic justice, and the best possible conditions to achieve a life in dignity. For children in particular, it is key to “the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.”It is therefore imperative to expose and oppose threats or obstacles to this and ensure that children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in, to, and through education.
A strong body of international human rights law and standards on education already exists. Increased awareness of the content of these rights and standards, how they impact on each other and how they can and must be implemented at national, regional and international levels can only enhance the work of duty-bearers as well as human rights, development and education activists.
In particular, the focus on education as a legal entitlement is necessary for the sustainable achievement of the objectives of Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), because these policy frameworks do not include enforceability and accountability measures. In some respects they also lack an appreciation of how they can be achieved for the most marginalised groups, such as for example minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people and people living in extreme poverty, all of whom are often among the prime victims of violations of the right to education.
By looking at legal frameworks for the protection of children’s rights and how they impact on the right to education, the RTE Project fosters not only better understanding of the CRC, necessary for better implementation, but also a more holistic approach to the child “as a whole” and to the indivisible and interdependent nature of all human rights as indivisible and interdependent. This perspective offers multiple entry points for potential advocacy and change: from partnerships with civil society groups to strengthening the capacity of States; from lobbying to law implementation; from research to action.
The 4A approach to education
The RTE Project was created in 2000 by the then Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Dr. Katarina Tomaševski. Central to her work, and subsequently to how education rights have come to be viewed and understood by all actors, are the 4As which operationalise both the obligations of duty-bearers and the entitlements of rights-holders: Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability and Adaptability.
The 4A framework guides the RTE Project’s work and captures the multiple interactions between fulfilling the right to education and eliminating threats to children’s rights. Children for whom education is available and accessible are more likely to be protected from situations of domestic or child labour, child marriage or juvenile delinquency, which bring with them greater risks of suffering abuse or exploitation; acceptable education can guarantee children a space free from threats to their physical and psychological integrity in which to develop to their full potential, and gain the skills and knowledge to resist and to report mistreatment; and finally adaptable education moulds itself to the specific needs of each community and child , for example through offering a timetable compatible with permitted working activities, ensuring working children the opportunity to acquire the same fundamental skills and knowledge as their peers.
The interconnection between the 4As is also important: if one is missing, the risks for children increase. For instance, it is not sufficient merely to ensure that children attend school (availability and accessibility) if they face violence and abuse in and around that school (lack of acceptability). Equally, the minimum age for the end of compulsory education may well be aligned with the minimum age for employment, and all children be in school rather than at work, but if the education they receive is not acceptable or adaptable they may find it more difficult to stay in school and access all types/levels of further education. If what they learn is not relevant for their future development or for their work prospects, they may also be more prone to drop out and not make the most of the education that is available to them.
All the above prompts us to think about education in broader terms than simply those of enrolment and provision of infrastructures and services: each aspect of education must be assessed – from intake to learning outcomes and from the suitability of curricula to levels of participation in the governance of schools. It forces us to reflect on quality, non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, participation and accountability, not just to education, but also in and through education. In situations where child labour, child marriage or juvenile delinquency are more likely to occur, it is important to clearly identify causes and consequences: are these practices and situations making it impossible for children to attend school and receive education? Or is the lack of educational opportunities and of quality learning pushing them out of the system? Are curricula and learning methodologies and outcomes acceptable and conducive to children’s full development? Or are they perpetuating discrimination, disadvantage and stereotypes? Do children and their parents have a say in the educational process? Are there accountability mechanisms to redress situations of abuse, violence, or similar distortions of the right?
Both the 4A framework and the children’s rights perspective support such an exploration.
 CRC, art. 29.1(a).
 Tomaševski K., 1999, Preliminary Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, paragraphs 42-74; UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13: the right to education, UN document E/C.12/1999/10, 1999, paragraph 6.