The right to education is at the heart of UNESCO’s mission. To fulfil this mission, the Organization has drawn up numerous standard-setting instruments – conventions, declarations, recommendations, charters, programmes of action – relating to the right to education. On December 14, 1960 the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Convention against Discrimination in Education (CADE), which entered into force on May 22, 1962. The CADE is the only legally binding international instrument that exclusively focuses on the right to education. UNESCO Legal Instruments
It is unquestionably through normative action, with implementation mechanisms, that the right to education in its various dimensions - "from initial or basic education to lifelong learning ..." - can be realized. – (World Education Report 2000: The right to education – towards education for all throughout life, Foreword, UNESCO Publishing 2000).
These standard-setting instruments fall into two categories: those having binding force, since they are adopted and ratified by the Member States and those which, if they do not have binding force, embody a great political and moral authority, which endows them with almost obligatory nature. They often constitute a step toward the formulation of binding instruments and to the creation of customary law. Legal instruments
The United Nations has many standard-setting instruments relating to the right to education, ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to various conventions, declarations, recommendations, Frameworks and Programmes of action, aimed at ensuring the implementation of this right or particular aspects of it.
The specific dimensions of the right to education are especially covered by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979).
Another treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), requires the States Parties to eliminate ‘racial discrimination in all its forms…..’ in regard to ‘the right to education and training’, among several other rights.
Certain instruments or texts, notably Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, are clearly more comprehensive than others. Article 13 of the Covenant has been interpreted as being the most comprehensive on the right to education
To affirm the right to education, States have adopted a number of international legal standards which, build upon each other like the links in a chain. They form a comprehensive, if evolving, corpus, evidencing a progressive development of this right.
A brief chronology of international instruments recognising the right to education:
1946: Adoption of UNESCO’s Constitution.
1948: Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
1959: Adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, by the General Assembly, in November 1959.
1960: Convention against Discrimination in Education, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO, 14 December 1960.
1965: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted by General Assembly, resolution 2106 (XX) of 21 December 1965.
1966: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted in 1966, article 13.
1974: Recommendation on Education for International Understanding and Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the General Conference at its eighteenth session, Paris, 19 November 1974.
1978: International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO, 21 November 1978.
1979: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 18 December 1979, New-York.
1989: Convention on Technical and Vocational Education, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its twenty-fifth session, (Paris, 10 November 1989)
1989: Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, December 1989.
1990: World Declaration on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, adopted by the World Conference on Education for All, Jomtien, Thailand, 5-9 March 1990.
1997: The Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning, adopted at the fifth International Conference on Adult Education, Hamburg, (Germany), 18 July 1997.
2000: The Dakar Framework for Action: Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments, adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, 26-28 April 2000.
2001: Revised Recommendation concerning Technical and Vocational Education, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its 31st session (Paris, 2 November 2001)
2006: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities