education as a basic human right
Today, I stumbled upon AHumanRight.org, a group that believes that Internet access is a basic human right and is trying to buy a satellite to increase access. Wow. In the midst of a holiday season that makes me more skeptical than usual about people’s capacity for good, this strikes me as an incredibly big (and good) idea.
In the current world, trying to ensure education as a basic human right might be best achieved by gaining universal Internet access.
For many kids in the world, access to Internet could be the greatest boost they get.
And in developed countries, like the U.S. where I currently live, folks in ed reform are debating the merits of formal education vis a vis its capacity to produce a generation prepared for today’s world’s challenges. No one argues that access to the Internet is essential to preparing a 21st century citizenry.
Not that I’m arguing that the Internet could or should replace traditional education…but achieving universal Internet access seems like a much more attainable goal than gaining universal secondary enrollment (let alone graduation) and/or fixing the current educational system.
Regardless of what you think about schools today, buying a satellite to increase Internet access for under-served populations is certainly a goal we can all get behind.
Well, for all of the writing I’ve done on this, I haven’t really answered the question:
In your opinion, is the “right to education” a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high-quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?
After all the reading and reflection I’ve done, I would say that the right to education should be is a basic right, but that education should not be compulsory in all cases. For several reasons, I’m not comfortable making compulsory education a global imperative.
Most have to do with local issues. First, some countries are simply not economically capable of providing universal free education. (Also, the charging of school fees as an alternative to paying for education through taxes is a complicated local decision related in part to local logistical issues. Somehow, someone has to fund education. “Free” is an oversimplification.) Beyond that, I think there must be allowances for local issues of culture, society, values, and governance. I don’t pretend to know what all those issues are, but I think the specifics need to be defined by local populations. (See Stian’s discussion of some of these issues.)
[Another approach to resolving the discomfort I'm feeling with mandated universal education is giving a right to decline as discussed by Greg Francom and others.]
For the country that I live in, a prosperous developed country, I think that the right to a free universal education is a basic human right. Why? Our country has the means to provide this and there is a consensus among our populous that it is a basic right. We may differ somewhat in the specifics of what Tomaševski and/or the UN recommend, but the fundamental right is there.
In our country, I think open access to free, high-quality educational opportunity is not sufficient, but that instead it is important to mandate education through a certain age or level. However, I also think that parents have a right to choose (within some parameters) the specifics for their own children’s’ education.
I found Primer No. 2 by Dr. Katarina Tomaševski to be helpful in illuminating the gap between “should” and “is.”
I think this gap is part of what I am struggling with in the question for this week. If you ask me “Should education be a ‘basic human right’?” the answer is a much easier yes. However, is it? That is more difficult.
In Primer No. 2, the author says “Human rights law defines rights as claims addressed to governments; these specify what governments should and should not be doing. Law is symmetrical and rights cannot exist without corresponding governmental obligations.” Later, she goes on to say that “Because law is symmetrical, the right to education entails corresponding obligations….Nobody can be required to do the impossible.”
Clearly, though, in the current world, for largely economic reasons, it is impossible for some countries to provide universal free education to all children. Tomaševski acknowledges this.
That, then, is the gap. For these countries, it seems difficult to impose obligations and enforce punishments for failing to meet those obligations.
Tomaševski poses several possible solutions to this, many of which involve the international community, regional coalitions, and organizations like the World Bank. All of these are likely to take considerable time.
This is the time though to elevate the importance of education as a basic human right. One of Tomaševski’s lasting legacies is starting the clock ticking and creating awareness for these issues.
The first reading by K. Tomaševski has been thought-provoking for me. I am surprised how much I am struggling with the answer to the question “Is education a ‘basic human right’?” My initial response was yes, of course, but the more I think about it, the more complex the issues seem.
In Tomaševski’s Right to Education Primer No. 1, she gives more definition to what a basic human right is. In part, she says, “Rights entail corresponding obligations as well as remedies for violations.” It is helpful to me to define a basic right as such, and to ask the question “Should a country be punished for a violation of this?” It was also a helpful clarification for me that basic human rights need to be defined and provided for not only by individual governments, but also by global organizations, such as the UN, the World Bank, and the IMF.
Tomaševski also seems to acknowledge that some governments are not in a position to provide for education for all of their citizens. For developing countries, Tomaševski seems to say that donor organizations, including the World Bank and IMF, are obligated to provide for the right. Later, there is a suggestion that this may sometimes need to be done without the support of the government. I wonder though, if a government is not a partner in establishing a right to education, how sustainable will it be? I would argue that donor money may not be well spent without both governmental and popular support.
This leads to a bigger discussion of the whole area of international aid. Tomaševski says that “a cynical image of aid defines it as poor people in rich countries helping rich people in poor countries.” Perhaps I am cynical, but my own view of aid based on what I saw living in Africa is consistent with this. International aid projects, while always well-intended, seem rarely to lead to sustained change. The reasons for this are many and complex, but certainly include lack of government and popular support. If the people of a country do not initiate the reform, drive the process, and believe it is important, it is unlikely to make a lasting difference. This applies to educational reform as well.
There is a tension between offering of aid and the idea of “partnership” with local people. On the one hand, many say that the local people must drive the process of reform. On the other, donors are making judgments about what is “right” and “wrong.” I worry about outsiders making these decisions without always regarding local cultural values.
Tomaševski touches on this in a discussion of education in Burkina Faso. Parents perception of education’s lack of relevance to local culture and employment prospects caused them to opt not to send their children to school. The traditional aid workers reaction to this is to try to convince local people that the reform strategy is the best. I question not only the efficacy of this approach, but also the ethics of it.
This primer also talks about local choice in terms of curriculum content, leading into a discussion of what should be considered a high-quality education. On the one hand, there is the example of a program in which aid workers offered vocational training, which was viewed by the funding agency to be most beneficial to students. However, after many years and dollars spent, the project was a failure, because parents had an expectation of different learning objectives. (See Box 14.) This would seem to argue for local choice in curriculum content.
However, Tomaševski takes the position that there should be a global agreement on what is considered “good education.” She stakes out a position that school should be certain things and not others. I think, though, that this must be a LOCAL decision. While some of us may think that school should be student-centered, exploratory, and open, other cultures may value other objectives in education, and that should be their choice. (By “they,” I mean the majority of the people, not the government.)
One other point in Tomaševski’s primer that struck me was her condemnation of technology as an educational tool. She says, “For teenagers in the OECD countries who have replaced socialization by surfing the web, there is no evidence claiming benefits for their social skills, tolerance or even basic literacy.” Wow! My experience with educational use of technology (especially Web 2.0 tools like wikis, blogs, etc.) is exactly the opposite. These tools develop literacy and critical thinking skills in a way we often are unable to achieve in traditional classrooms. Further, these technologies may be the key to increasing educational equity in the developing world. True they will never replace teachers, but they can increase teachers’ reach and efficacy. Perhaps Tomaševski was thinking of an older type of technology (drill and practice software) when she wrote this.
So for the next 10 weeks or so, this blog will mostly be devoted to coursework for the Open Ed course.
For week 1, here is the question we’re contemplating:
QUESTIONS: In your opinion, is the “right to education” a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high-quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?
I thought I’d do some thinking about this before I do the assigned reading, and then I’ll reflect further after the reading.
My first thought on this topic is that the right to education should be a basic human right. Having said this, though, I quickly find myself thinking about what a “basic human right” is. It seems to me that human rights are ones extended by governmental or other societal groups. So the discussion is really whether it “should” or “should not” be a basic right. (Clearly, in the current world, education is not extended as a basic human right in many/most places. I suppose that one could view human rights as those granted by God or nature, but for myself, I’m not sure that I think rights exist outside of a social structure. Do animals have basic rights in nature?
Regardless of this, by nature of us being socialized human beings, there are clearly basic human rights which we (probably) can all agree on. In the U.S., our Constitution enumerates the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More broadly, the United Nations has set forth a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Interestingly, while the US Constitution does not guarantee a right to education, the UN declaration does. (See Article 26.)
I guess that I’d say that the right to education is highly desirable as a basic human right. However, I don’t know if it is necessarily economically feasible for every country to provide this. (Having lived in an extremely impoverished part of the developing world reinforces this.) More to the point, it may be useful to look at a continuum of rights in terms of priority.
Surely, the rights to the basics required for life (food, clothing, shelter) must be addressed before it makes sense to talk about the right to education. Many developing countries (and, some would argue, even developed countries, like the U.S.) have not been able to satisfactorily address those basics. In nations where many children die before their 5th birthdays from things like malnutrition, lack of clean drinking water, or readily preventable diseases, the right to education is not the most pressing concern. (I do believe though that money is often made to be an excuse for things that are not really economic issues, but rather issues of priority.)
Still, though, the right to education should be a goal. (I’m not sure that even makes sense. Can a basic right be a “goal”? Maybe not.)
It is also important to consider possible cultural relativism in light of this discussion. Is it possible to have a culture and society in which education is not important or valuable? Certainly, it is, though perhaps not for much longer in our rapidly flattening world. Increasingly, education is becoming a prerequisite to basic rights of life and liberty.
More questions…. Does a basic human right, like education, imply that someone (e.g. a government) has the obligation to provide for that right? Who is responsible for the cost? (This is an interesting debate that is currently being held in the context of the right to health care in the U.S.)
I don’t have the answer to this one, but more thoughts to come later this week after I do some reading.