"Achieving the right to education for all is one of the biggest challenges of our times. The second International Development Goal addresses this challenge: universalizing primary education in all countries by 2015. This is also one of the main objectives set at the World Education Forum (April 2000), where the right to basic education for all was reaffirmed as a fundamental human right.

The fundamental question is how the obligations relating to the right to education undertaken by Member States under international and regional instruments are incorporated into national legal systems? This is all the more important for achieving the Dakar goals, in keeping with the commitments made by Governments for providing education for all, especially free and compulsory quality basic education. But in spite of such legal obligations and political commitments, millions of children still remain deprived of educational opportunities, many of them on account of poverty. They must have access to basic education as of right, in particular to primary education which must be free. Poverty must not be a hindrance and the claim by the poor to such education must be recognized and reinforced."

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.