OpenEd Week 1: Right to Education a Human Right?

Note: The following reflection is based on the readings and discussions being conducted during Week 1 of the Introduction to OpenEd course.

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?

Is the right to education a basic human right?  I have struggled with this simple question for days and have prepared several long and winding drafts of an answer that in some versions was “yes” and in others was “no”. As Anotonio noted in his post this week, the answer would be much easier if the question asked if people need to be educated”. As he notes, that is a far easier question than one that forces us to contemplate “how”. As is often said about short answers to complex issues, the devil is in the details. The details I struggled with involve the extent of the right and how the obligation to fulfill the right should be carried out.

I firmly believe that everyone deserves the right to an education and that we (as a society) have a responsibility to support the educational endeavors of the people who come into this world. My answer is founded in my perceptions of the benefits of education to both the individual and society. I view education as a necessary element for advancement. Without education, an individual cannot fully participate in society. In turn, society suffers in terms of both lost opportunity, as well as the drain of supporting those who may not be able to support themselves.

While I believe that the right to education is a universal human right, I struggle with the level (or boundaries) assumed within this right, as well as how the obligation should be fulfilled. I am most at odds with a blanket acceptance of the assertion (as stated in Tomasevski's Primer #2 that the “cardinal requirement” is ensuring “free and compulsory” education as the means to fulfill the obligation. The following highlights my beliefs about the right to an education and my reservations about a “free and compulsory” solution to meet the obligation:

Level of Right (hence, Obligation): What is the minimum level of education that should be guaranteed under a “human right to education”? The ability to read and write? Perform a trade? Perform heart surgery? As Tomasevski highlights in Primer #1 , this question has been central to the debate for decades. While the achievement of a universal primary education (to meet basic learning needs) is the current (yet, postponed) commitment, I would argue that this level of education is not sufficient to achieve one’s full potential. Yet, while it is my belief that a primary education is NOT sufficient (for either the individual or society), I believe that education beyond a primary education exceeds the “human right to education” boundaries. Therefore, it is my belief that with increasing age and educational level, the responsibility for educational attainment begins to shift from society to the individual learner.

Economics: Is “free and compulsory” the most effective and efficient means of funding and providing education? As an American, I was blessed to be offered a wonderful public K-12 education and attend three different state universities that were heavily subsidized by the tax payers of each state. Yet, I am also a believer in capitalism and free markets. Therefore, I question the effectiveness and efficiency of an educational economic model that is funded through taxation and delivered and administered through a single central body.

In America, most are quick to dismiss the possibility that a free market education system could offer greater efficiency and increased quality as suppliers compete to meet the demands of their customers (the learners). Yet, I disagree with the assertion that ALL learners (as consumers of education) are better off with “free and compulsory” education and contend that many learners’ needs would be better met in a free market education system where education is offered and purchased like any other product or service in our economy.

Further, by focusing on a “free” of charge (to the learner) model, we shift the focus away from an efficient management of the costs to deliver education and the money collected from society to fund it. As Karen notes, “free” is an oversimplification. I feel that most parents are well suited to decide where their education dollars are best spent within a free market. This is in contrast to a government administered system funded through taxation. As outlined in Tomasevski's Primer #1 (p. 20), where large sums of money are directed to central governments, mismanagement (and corruption) can prevent efficient and appropriate use of those funds. In addition, government dollars allocated to manage the education system are not available to support other important social services.

Choice and Diversity: If a “free and compulsory” model is to be the funded educational option, then what are the implications with regard to learner choice and diversity in curriculum? By funding (through taxation) an access-for-all education system, we are taking away available funds from (hence, limiting the choices available to) those who want to pursue alternative forms of education offered by private entities. Universal, free and compulsory education is designed to ensure access to a basic level of education for all learners, regardless of income level. By collectively funding an all-for-one / one-for-all model, we are setting aside individual choice and diversity in curriculum in favor of a model that provides universal access-for-all. Yet, as Karen asserts, “There must be allowances for local issues of culture, society, values, and governance.” As Greg highlights from the reading, choice is a major concern when learners are forced to participate in instruction that is biased or filled with prejudice and hatred.

While I believe that access to education is a human right, I do not believe that access to education is sufficient. I believe that there is a minimum level of education a person must attain in order to function in society. As I stated above, the benefits of education accrue to both the individual and society. I view education as necessary to both the individual’s and society’s advancement. Without education, an individual cannot fully participate in society and, in turn, the society suffers. I also believe that minor children are not in the well suited to decide whether or not they should be educated.

Therefore, I believe it is necessary to mandate education through a certain age. However, as I noted in my comments above, not necessarily in an all-for-one / one-for all universal model which sets aside individual choice and diversity in curriculum. Both Greg and Houshuang highlight examples of how such a mandate can be a problem, especially for those in the cultural, religious, gender, and / or political minority!


it's not a human right

it's not a right, it's a privilege. that should be obvious.

Obvious from Anonymous

What is less obvious is who you are, Anonymous.