UNESCO hosts international seminar on the evolving right to education

The world in which the right to education was originally conceived has changed beyond recognition. Many are living longer, healthier lives, reaching higher levels of formal education and changing careers multiple times. Technology has become an intrinsic part of our day-to-day existence. At the same time, crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are causing seismic shifts in societies across the globe.

These were just some of the topics that were brought to the table at the International Seminar on the Evolving Right to Education, which took place on 7 and 8 December 2021. Bringing together education ministers, scholars, education specialists, international organizations and civil society representatives, UNESCO convened the International Seminar to open a dialogue around which aspects of the right to education framework may need to be reframed in light of 21st century trends and challenges. The reflection builds on the recent report by the International Commission on the Futures of Education that suggests broadening our understanding of the right to education towards lifelong learning across different times and spaces. Human Rights Day 2021 provided the backdrop for the Seminar, placing the concepts of inclusion and equity front and center of discussions.

The two-day event kicked off with an opening session, with introductory presentations made by Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and Borhene Chakroun, Director of the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, followed by Ministers of Education of Ecuador and of Portugal, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the UN Deputy Human Rights Commissioner, as well as high-level speakers from a range of education and rights backgrounds. The second day was organized around six thematic parallel sessions that facilitated open discussion and the generation of ideas.

Arguments were made for more explicitly defined rights in some areas, such as lifelong learning, early years education and access to higher education. Other common threads of discussion that ran through all the sessions was the need for greater awareness of local contexts when reflecting on the right to education, and more attention to the systemic barriers that hinder progress, such as poverty and sexism. The complex issue of regulation in the digital learning space fostered extensive discussion.

There have been inspiring leaps of progress in some countries, where education systems have gone beyond the minimum standards set out in the right to education framework. Some education ministries have developed properly inclusive schools, that celebrate difference and diversity. Others have extended access to groups that historically struggle to fully enjoy their right to education, such as those in rural areas, and the elderly.

The International Seminar, which marked the completion of a year-long campaign on the 60th anniversary of UNESCO Convention against discrimination in education, was the occasion to launch a consultative process that will be pursued in the new year. We continue to welcome submissions to an online platform and survey on the evolving right to education as part of this process.