Despite many International Agreements and Declarations on the Right to Education, millions of children and youth are still out of school and millions of adults are still unable to read and write. Without education, these children, youth and adults face a very bleak future and are denied of their ability to develop their full potential – a massive loss of human potential that could aid in eradicating poverty and in achieving sustainable development.
Understanding the Right to Education
As well as being a right in itself, the right to education is also an enabling right. Education ‘creates the “voice” through which rights can be claimed and protected’, and without education people lack the capacity to ‘to achieve valuable functionings as part of the living’.
If people have access to education they can develop the skills, capacity and confidence to secure other rights. Education gives people the ability to access information detailing the range of rights that they hold, and government’s obligations. It supports people to develop the communication skills to demand these rights, the confidence to speak in a variety of forums, and the ability to negotiate with a wide range of government officials and power holders.
Our Constitutions Bill of Rights provides that "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws." Lack of education incapacitates an individual to assert and protect his own rights.
The Right of Suffrage provides that no literacy requirements shall be imposed on the exercise of the right to vote. However, lack of education compromises a voter’s position to exercise his right to vote wisely for his and his country's benefit.
Education is a powerful tool that can provide people, especially the poor and vulnerable groups with the necessary knowledge, awareness, skills and competencies to transform their conditions. It is a primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.
It has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labor and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth.
It is a tool for empowerment – a powerful means to beat poverty.
Unfortunately, these ideas however explicit remain poorly understood and internalized by our “educated” policy and decision makers in government.
Twisted priorities and distorted values even outright corruption have crept in such that construction of buildings, purchase of school facilities, task forces and even feeding programs have become the milking cow of those in certain higher echelons of government.
Learning interventions, alternative education programs and other support services to address shortcomings of the educational system will remain as that – stop-gap, isolated and spotty no matter how heroic, noble and outstanding the efforts of certain public servants and civil society sectors are – because a makeshift solution can be sustainable only to a certain extent and can never take the place of a mandate and a policy on education bolstered by a Constitutional guarantee which is still to be fully implemented.
Neither the call for Charter Change nor the lip service of those in the business of education can bring about substantial change in the education system.
Enlightened sectors in public and civil society need support and encouragement to enable them to show the way and serve as models for the process of education. Various issues affecting local populace can be opportunities for people’s organizations, community and area groups to galvanize and demand for their education needs and other rights. There has to be a consistent lobby for the state to deliver on its obligation on the right to education.
For so long as structural and material projects are given precedence in public investments by government to the detriment of education and other social development projects, the quality of education and, consequently, even our overall economy will remain poor and stunted.