Providing the right to education is an obligation of governments and requires that they translate their international commitments into national legislation. UNESCO has initiated activities aiming at providing advisory services to Member States in the process of constitutional reforms as well as modernizing/developing national legislation in the field.
The Organization has provided technical assistance to countries including Kenya , Indonesia , Lithuania , Cambodia , Nigeria , Afghanistan and Moldova.
The National Conference on Education in Nairobi in November 2003 initiated the democratic process of implementing reforms in education and training starting with a thorough review of policy experience and strategic considerations. The Conference underlined the need for a comprehensive revision of existing laws to achieve the right to basic education for all.
UNESCO participated in the conference and provided expert advice, underlining the importance of its standard-setting instruments. Special emphasis was placed on the fundamental principle of equality in education opportunities and the core obligation of the Government to provide free primary education.
Following up on the Conference, the Education Act and existing laws concerning education and training are being revised to create a coherent legal framework. In order to accelerate progress towards universal primary education (UPE) the government has initiated the abolition of all direct fees for primary level education, school feeding programmes and the provision of learning material available for the poor.
UNESCO’s advisory services, views and comments were used in the drawing up of the Universal Basic Education Bill in 2003 and covered issues related to financing basic education in federal systems which was essential to achieving basic education for all. The experience and approach of Member States, such as India and Brazil, were taken into consideration regarding the process of implementation of national legislation.
The Organization was also involved in the creation of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act in 2004, a landmark development in the field of right to education and Education at All (EFA) in the country. The new Act is an outstanding example of national commitment to achieving basic Education for All as a fundamental human right. Furthermore it is enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria that Government policy should ensure equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.
UNESCO provided expert advice in the drafting of a new law by the Republic of Lithuania in 2001 using the Dakar Framework for Action as a basis for national education legislation. The new Law on Education reaffirms education as a fundamental human right. It provides that the new education system should promote equal education opportunities, efficiency and quality of education in particular for Adult and Special Education, socially excluded people, those with disabilities and vulnerable and disadvantaged children. The legislation also guarantees constant improvement in education quality through co-ordination of policy formation, management, planning, delegation of powers and responsibilities, analysis and monitoring.
The Republic of Indonesia enacted a new Law on National Education System in July 2003 based on the 1945 Constitution of Indonesia which states that each and every citizen shall have the fundamental right to education. This creates a legal framework for the major educational goals, policies and plans. The key targets include expansion and equity, improving quality and relevance, and autonomy in higher education. The Law seeks to open access to formal and non-formal education at all levels to all the citizens of Indonesia. An outstanding feature of the Law is the implementation of free compulsory basic education for all Indonesian citizens aged 7 to 15. This is a major step towards achieving the aims of the National Plan of Action: Indonesia’s Education For All (2002).
In adopting the new legislation, the Government of Indonesia recognizes that it must create equality of opportunity in education and ensure basic education for all, including those belonging to economically disadvantaged or socially marginalized groups and living in remote areas. The Law reflects universal access to basic education without gender bias, non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, equity in education and quality.
Non-Discrimination and Equal Educational Opportunities: UNESCO’s Normative Action - was presented to the International Comparative Conference on Equal educational Opportunities: Brown v. Board of education at 50 and 10 years of Freedom in South Africa, organized in April 2004. UNESCO’s insights into the right to basic education for all as a fundamental human right without discrimination or exclusion. This also involved reflection on the effective enforcement of the right to education and its justiciability, and the case law and jurisprudence in South Africa, and was aimed at strengthening and constitutional and legislative bases of the right to education and its foundations in national legal system. Besides, UNESCO’s contribution also covers policy concerns in promoting affirmative action and positive measure in favour of economically and socially marginalized.
UNESCO also worked with national authorities in South Africa on legal and policy issues connected to universal free primary education in order to open access to socially and culturally disadvantaged groups and children from marginalized and poor households. National legislation was modified so that fee payment was restricted to those who could afford it.
UNESCO provided technical assistance to the national authorities of Cambodia in creating the “Draft Education Law of Cambodia”. Modifications were introduced in line with international legal obligations following UNESCO recommendations and keeping EFA as a priority.
Following a comprehensive review, improvements in the draft were suggested including sections on the principles and norms of the right to education and rights and responsibilities of teachers, parents, learners and the community. Technical and vocational education, non-formal education and literacy for empowerment were also covered. Emphasis was placed upon quality basic education and equality of educational opportunity including providing basic education for street children, ensuring gender equity and positive measures in favour of marginalized groups, ethnic communities and children from poor households.
India’s Representative to UNESCO’s Executive Board stated during its 166th session in April 2003, that: “The fundamental right to education was enshrined in the Constitution of India, and the country had earmarked US $20 billion for basic education up to 2010. That was an act of faith on the part of India’s constitutional democracy to guarantee the fundamental right of every child to education and to launch a far-reaching initiative to eradicate illiteracy. (…) Although the idea of full and equal opportunities for education and a commitment to give fresh impulse to popular education were enshrined in the mandate of UNESCO, they had yet to be translated into reality for one and for all.”
UNESCO participated in discussions on the implementation of the right to education and national legislation at the Special Session on the Right to Education at the 2nd International Conference on International Law, in November 2004 in New Delhi. Experts examined (i) State obligations towards the right to education with special reference to India; (ii) their implementation in the context of EFA process; (iii) the foundations of the right to education in national legal system and its constitutional and legislative bases in India as well as (iv) financing of education.
The session also underlined the importance for India to adhere to the Convention against Discrimination in Education and the need to translate international legal obligations into culturally sensitive educational programmes.
The Government of Afghanistan prepared the National Education Strategic Plan for Afghanistan with UNESCO’s assistance, and upon its adoption in 2007, called on the Organization to provide technical assistance in creating the draft of Education Law as a national priority. Emphasis was placed upon international norms and standards upheld by UNESCO and the United Nations, and national education development priorities.
Emphasis was places on universal access to education and equality of educational opportunities. Special consideration was given to the fact that the draft should be based upon the provisions in the Constitution of Afghanistan.
The draft of the Education Law includes the provision of nine years of basic education which is standard in many countries and embodies the principles of Islam. In line with the provisions in the Constitution of Afghanistan, these have been interlinked with human rights, democratic citizenship, tolerance and mutual understanding and respect.
In February 2005, the President of the Republic approved the Strategic Directions concerning the Modernization of the Education System. With UNESCO’s technical assistance the Government of Moldova recently drew up a draft Education Law which integrates the National Development Strategy for 2008-2011, the Consolidated Strategy for the Education Sector, the Education for All Strategy, the National Programme for Educational Development and the Strategic Directions concerning the Modernization of the Education System.
The draft legislation reflects the fundamental principle of equality of opportunities in education enshrined in the Convention against Discrimination in Education, to which the Republic of Moldova is a State party.
The draft lays down a legal framework providing for equitable access to quality education and universal inclusion particularly for vulnerable groups and children of immigrant families. The draft reflects equity, quality and financing as key areas in the EFA agenda and provides for 9 years of compulsory and free basic education and 12 years of basic education.
Special consideration is given to the Council of Europe/UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European region (Lisbon Recognition Convention); and OECD/UNESCO Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education.
The draft also covers the management of the education system, and status of personnel; teacher certification and professional training; academic mobility; regulation of institutions for private education and private-public partnerships. Provision was also made for financing, so that permanent resources could be mobilized nationally and involve all stakeholders.