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See also the UN Forum on Minorities 2008 

©Jenny Matthews/ ActionAid Picture
©Jenny Matthews/ ActionAid Picture
and the new State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009


In an epoch of inter-ethnic violence and the resurgence of nationalism, the importance of fostering multicultural, tolerant societies is increasingly clear. The existence of minorities can either be considered societal richness and diversity, or a pretext for division and distrust. Education plays a key role in determining which of these outcomes will prevail. The social good of education is not intrinsic but dependent on its content and form; compulsory education can have either a socially destructive or constructive impact. 

Human rights require education to adapt to minorities in a more fundamental way than simply through the removal of highly offensive stereotypes from textbooks. Issues such as the language of instruction, inclusion, and the equalisation of opportunities require human rights responses. In Europe today, this need is profoundly felt by minorities, notably the Roma. 

In many countries linguistic or ethnic minorities are marginalised, and dalits or the ‘untouchable caste’ suffer extreme discrimination. They may live in remote areas and have little access to information or resources, they may be discriminated against through prejudice and denial of cultural rights, and the curriculum offered may not be appropriate to their lives. 

Work with such groups involves valuing their language and culture, and looking at how their knowledge, skills and preferences can be integrated into the education system. It may involve arguing for alternative curricula and pedagogy, for specific issues to be integrated into teacher training, or for people from minority communities to be trained as teachers. It could also include looking at issues of funding and resourcing for education as well as bringing issues such as bilingual, or alternative, education models onto the government agenda. It is likely also to include raising awareness and interest in education locally, as many parents and guardians will not be sending their children to school, perhaps because of the prejudice and exclusion they suffer there. However, a likely first step is raising awareness on the right to education. Marginalisation and oppression suffered by these groups may mean that they are unaware of their rights. Building awareness and possibility for action is clearly the first stage in any initiative. 

“The human rights approach has one very strong advantage: minority rights cannot by definition be guaranteed by majoritarian politics, and instead require legal protection of individual (and some would argue group) rights. The principles underpinning these rights promote substantive equality of all which, more than formally equal treatment, is equality in fact, which may actually require differential treatment. This is particularly true in situations of historical inequality, and in order to combat intergenerationally transmitted stereotypes”(p. 6).

“The purpose of education, in the human rights model, is the composition and maintenance of multi- as opposed to mono-cultural societies. It is not the homogenisation of diverse societies but the open recognition of difference and the promotion of diversity. From this perspective it is essential that education be all inclusive and not separate (or segregated) according to language, race, ability, sex or other criteria. Promoting tolerance and respect in homogeneous classrooms has a rather hollow ring. “Curriculum packages that promote tolerance will have little impact if they are delivered within educational structures that are fundamentally intolerant” (p. 9). (Read more: Duncan Wilson: Minority rights in education PDF).

 The Forum, "Minorities and the Right to Education", aimed to provide a platform for dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to people of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.Worldwide, minority children continue to suffer disproportionately from unequal access to quality education, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty by leaving them marginalized from a range of employment opportunities and full participation in society. International frameworks on equal access to quality education for minorities were also discussed at this first Forum.UN Forum on Minorities 2008

Amnesty’s work on Roma rights in Slovakia

Minotiy Rights Group work: Roma, Batwa, Turkey, China, etc.

Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,Religious and Linguistic Minorities

Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages  

Case study: The case of Roma children in Slovakia

[More to come].