Manual on Rights-based Education: Global Human Rights Requirements Made Simple

United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation


How can rights-based strategies be used for furthering the goal of Education for All (EFA) by 2015? This manual by, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), strives to mainstream human rights in education in order to contribute to both to EFA and to the fulfilment of the right to education. It highlights the relevant human rights standards and how they could best be translated into education practice at the micro level. It also points to the key human rights questions that ought to be addressed at the macro level.

The differing attitudes to education around the world and the decentralisation of authority to local governments means there is a need for a unified framework within which to develop education systems and regulatory institutions. This framework must also ensure that human rights inform the curriculum and extend the benefits of a quality education to all children. Rights-based education provides that cross-cutting framework.

Education is addressed in range of UN and other international agreements, but these have not been ratified by all countries. Furthermore, ratification is only the first step towards a government making meaningful changes to their education system. Often, a treaty is only used as a guiding principle for enacting national legislation- and it may in turn differ from the actual education policies that are drawn up. Universal rights of the child must go hand in hand with universal governmental obligations to enable equal access to education, quality standards, elimination of discrimination, and a host of related issues. Rights-based education strategies oblige governments to make education available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable:

  • Available education means ensuring free and compulsory education for all children. One of the key requirements of international human rights law is that governments respect parental freedom of choice.
  • Accessible education means, above all, the elimination of discrimination.
  • Acceptability refers to the quality of education, which is addressed by those human rights standards related to the processes of teaching and learning.
  • Adaptability emphasises the key principle of child rights, namely that education should respond and adapt to the best interests of each child. Rights and education are engaged in a mutually defining process, each essential to the enhancement of the other.
  • While education systems must be informed by the various human rights treaties that aim to safeguard the interests of children, schools and curricula must be oriented so that they contribute to the human rights of all.
  • The obligation of developing indicators of quality and enforcing standards falls on governments.

Acceptable standards of education are essential for achieving equality of access and the elimination of discrimination.

  • Achieving an acceptable level of quality education also demands that attention be paid to the opportunities school-leavers can expect to enjoy when finishing education and entering the job market.
  • Attention should also be paid to teachers’ rights, medium of instruction, educational contents and school discipline.
  • The human rights perspective urges governments to consider education as vital in the transmission of core values from one generation to the next.
  • Ensuring free and compulsory education is extended to, and enforced for, all children is important for keeping children in school and making sure they are not exploited for cheap labour.


Tomasevski, K., (2004) ‘Manual on Rights-based Education: Global Human Rights Requirements Made Simple’, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Bangkok