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International law and the right to education

The right to education has been recognised since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Article 26 of the Declaration proclaims that: ‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory…education shall be directed to the full development of human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial or religious groups…’. The right to education has been enshrined in a range of international conventions,  including the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), The Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination  Against Women (CEDAW, 1979) and more recently, The Convention On The Rights of The Child (CRC, 1989). It has also been incorporated into various regional treaties. Many countries have also made provisions for the right to education in their national constitutions.

While the right to education is universally recognised, the way it is interpreted at the national level differs substantially. This means that although every human being holds the same right regardless of any national law, the ways of securing this right vary greatly from location to location. For example, in some countries the right to education may be legally enforceable through national legislation, while in others it will be important to look to international law and standards.

See also Understanding and using international law