In this report, the Special Rapporteur argues that treating economic and social rights as human rights is essential both for efforts to eliminate extreme poverty and to ensure a balanced and credible approach in the field of human rights as a whole. He argues that economic and social rights currently remain marginal in most contexts, thus undermining the principle of the indivisibility of the two sets of rights.

Conventional wisdom celebrates the great strides that have been made in recent years in relation to economic and social rights. At the international level, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been adopted, an impressive number of special procedures have been created to focus on these rights and bodies like the Human Rights Council spend much more time than they once did debating these issues. At the national level, economic and social rights proponents celebrate the impressive degree of constitutional recognition of some or most economic and social rights, the growing capacity of courts in many countries to enforce them, the growth of national non-governmental organisations working on economic and social rights and the emergence of a vibrant scholarly literature on the justiciability of those rights.

However, despite important recent progress, the reality is that economic and social rights remain largely invisible in the law and institutions of the great majority of States. In support of this proposition, the Special Rapporteur notes that: many of the States whose Constitutions recognise economic and social rights have not translated that recognition into a human rights-based legislative framework; the increasingly widespread constitutional acceptance of the justiciability of economic and social rights contrasts with the resistance of many of the relevant courts to acting on these rights; many of the States that enjoy the world’s highest living standards have specifically rejected proposals to recognise economic and social rights in legislative or constitutional form; most national-level institutional mechanisms for promoting human rights neglect economic and social rights; and national economic and social rights accountability mechanisms are generally much rarer than mainstream accounts would suggest.

The extent to which economic and social rights remain unacknowledged as human rights is the frequency with which debates about economic and social rights slide imperceptibly and almost naturally into broad discussions of development. But, in fact, development initiatives might not be rights-promoting, or even rights-protecting. In this report, the Special Rapporteur spells out why it matters that economic and social rights be treated as human rights and examines the ways in which this can be done by outlining the recognition, institutionalisation and accountability (RIA) framework that focuses primary attention on ensuring recognition of the rights, institutional support for their promotion and accountability mechanisms for their implementation.

The second edition of the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) presents the latest evidence on global progress towards the education targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

With hundreds of millions of people still not going to school, and many not achieving minimum skills at school, it is clear education systems are off track to achieve global goals. The marginalised currently bear the most consequences but also stand to benefit the most if policy-makers pay sufficient attention to their needs. Faced with these challenges, along with tight budgets and increased emphasis on results-oriented value for money, countries are searching for solutions. Increased accountability often tops the list.

The 2017/8 GEM Report shows the entire array of approaches to accountability in education. It ranges from countries unused to the concept, where violations of the right to education go unchallenged, to countries where accountability has become an end in itself instead of a means to inclusive, equitable and high-quality education and lifelong learning for all.

The report emphasises that education is a shared responsibility. While governments have primary responsibility, all actors – schools, teachers, parents, students, international organizations, private sector providers, civil society and the media – have a role in improving education systems. The report emphasises the importance of transparency and availability of information but urges caution in how data are used. It makes the case for avoiding accountability systems with a disproportionate focus on narrowly defined results and punitive sanctions. In an era of multiple accountability tools, the report provides clear evidence on those that are working and those that are not.

Whilst the importance of equality and inclusion in tackling out-of-school children is now widely recognised, the extent to which discrimination, in all its forms, contributes to the denial of primary education, and the potential for the rights to equality and non-discrimination to offer solutions, are currently underexplored. This report seeks to fill this gap by (1) identifying the ways in which inequality and discrimination underpin children’s lack of access to and completion of primary education, through illuminating the discriminatory nature of the barriers and challenges children face in this context; and (2) exploring ways in which equality law may be used to tackle this problem, looking in particular at equality law approaches to advocacy and strategic litigation.

This youth report, based on findings and conclusions from the 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring report, asks how young people are involved in the process of accountability in education. As students, what are we responsible for in our education and how are we held accountable? How can we make sure other actors–like schools, universities and governments–are held accountable for their responsibilities? These are critical questions, because we know that there’s a long way to go before all young people around the world have access to a quality education:
absent teachers, overcrowded classrooms, illegitimate diplomas, unregulated private schools and truancy are all issues that education systems are struggling to overcome.

It’s sometimes tempting to say that these problems aren’t ours to fix, that the responsibility lies with the government or with an older generation. But this simply isn’t true: education is a shared responsibility, and young people have an important role to play. In this Report, you’ll hear the stories of young people around the world who have stood up for the right to education in their communities and who have been integral in triggering change. You’ll also read about how you can become involved in our campaign to make sure governments can be held to account for education. This means making sure that citizens can take their governments to court if they are not meeting their education responsibilities. From creating video clips to holding awareness-raising events, there is a range of ways to make your voice heard. Your involvement is integral in making sure the world is on the right path to meeting our education goals. 

Key resource

RTE's background paper for the Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/8: Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments.

The purpose of the paper is to show how a human rights-based approach offers insights and practical solutions to address the accountability deficits found in both education policy decision-making and implementation, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Specifically, the paper argues that a human rights-based approach to accountability can bolster public policy accountability by defining the responsibilities of authorities, ensuring they are answerable for actions regarding those responsibilities, and how they can be subject to forms of enforceable sanctions or remedial action for failures to carry out those responsibilities.

As the national government is the primary duty bearer for the right to education it is important for any report on accountability to start with the responsibilities of government. The paper provides an overview of the right to education legal framework to which States have legally committed, as well existing international and regional accountability mechanisms.

The paper then explores the connections between the 2030 Agenda, the Incheon Declaration, and human rights law. The Incheon Declaration affirms, ‘the vision and political will reflected in numerous international and regional human rights treaties that stipulate the right to education and its interrelation with other human rights” (para. 2). In the Declaration education is framed as both a “public good” and a “fundamental human right” (para. 5). However, whether a rights-based approached is consistent or present in the operationalisation of SDG4 has not been clearly debated. Part of this challenge is the diluted and often, overly simplistic notion of what the right to education entails. The paper seeks to better understand the similarities and differences of these two large global frames for education and includes a matrix that links the normative content of each framework. This matrix shows that the content of each is largely aligned, even if the processes are not. The paper argues that by recasting the content of SDG4 as part of the right to education, the legal obligations owed to that content can be invoked. This renders various elements of SDG4, if the state in question has legally committed to the right to education and incorporated the right to education in their domestic legal orders, amenable to adjudication by competent mechanisms, offering the possibility of legal accountability through legal enforcement.

The second half of the paper explores the prevalence of the right to education in national laws and the conditions necessary for the right to education to be successfully adjudicated at the national level. It provides an overview of how countries have incorporated the right to education in their domestic legal orders, as well as a list of countries where the right to education is justiciable. This is complemented by a series of case studies that draw out the requirements for successful adjudication at the national level.

At the national level the incorporation and implementation of the right to education, as required by international treaties, requires at least three stages. Firstly, countries must translate their international legal commitment into concrete action to ensure the full enjoyment of the right to education. This includes the incorporation of the right to education into the domestic legal order, through the adoption of education laws and policies. Secondly, countries must secure the right to education as a justiciable right. Lastly, the justiciable right to education must be able to be adjudicated fairly through the judicial system. Whilst the first stage is completed at a near universal level by countries, the final two stages, essential for the fulfilment of the right to education, are achieved by significantly fewer countries. Even when justiciability is present, various barriers may be present that hinder the adjudication of the right to education. Understanding how countries move from incorporation to application and implementation is essential to understanding whether the right to education is truly realised in a country. Our analysis shows that legal enforcement, through mechanisms competent to hold duty-bearers legally accountable, has a positive impact on the realisation of the right to education. Furthermore, little is known about how the political, social, and cultural context of a country limits or enables the adjudication of the right to education. This paper examines court cases from countries around the world to identify the conditions that enable the right to education to be realised through adjudication.