Convention against Discrimination in Education

Convention against discrimination in education
Last update: 14 October 2022

The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education is foremost among UNESCO standard-setting instruments related to education and particularly relevant to fully realizing the right to education.

Its conceptual strength is evidenced by its recognition under modern international law, as well as the frequency with which its main elements are mentioned in other instruments relating to education adopted by the United Nations.

UNESCO conducts periodic consultations to ensure its implementation.

Key facts about the Convention against Discrimination in Education

  • It is the first legally binding international instrument which is entirely dedicated to the right to education.
  • The Convention is recognized as a cornerstone of the Education 2030 Agenda and is a powerful tool to advance inclusive and equitable quality education for all. 
  • Unlike several other human rights treaties, it does not admit any reservation which means ratifying states cannot decide to exclude certain aspects or provisions from the legal effect of the Convention; therefore, once ratified, the Convention is fully applicable to all its State Parties which must conform to all the rights and obligations laid out in this instrument.
  • As of today, 108 states have ratified this Convention!

What does the Convention guarantee?

The Convention reaffirms that education is not a luxury, but a fundamental human right. It highlights states' obligations to ensure free and compulsory educationbans any form of discrimination and promotes equality of educational opportunity. States that have ratified the Convention are obliged to implement the right to education as it is elaborated in the text.

The main provisions of the treaty include:

  • Primary education free and compulsory
  • Secondary education in its different forms, generally available and accessible to all
  • Higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity
  • Equivalent standards of education in all public educational institutions of the same level and conditions in relation to quality
  • Opportunities for those who missed all or part of their primary education and their continuation of education
  • Training opportunities for the teaching profession without discrimination

The Convention also ensures:

  • Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • The liberty of parents to choose for their children’s education in conformity with their moral and religious beliefs
  • The right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities

Why is the Convention relevant today?

The world was not on track to achieve international commitments to education prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis has exacerbated disparities worldwide, with vulnerable students at higher risk of being left behind as education delivery massively shifted to distance learning solutions.

It has never been more necessary to enforce the right to education in all contexts. By renewing the attention paid to the rights and obligations laid down in the Convention, states need to take legal and policy measures to effectively put an end to all kinds of discrimination and ensure equality of opportunity in education. 

While the Convention was adopted in 1960, over the years, methods of teaching and learning have greatly evolved, and new challenges have appeared. Ten years away from the targets of the Education 2030 Agenda with the objective of ‘leaving no one behind’, it it time for the international community to renew its commitment towards ending discrimination in education by giving further momentum to the Convention, in order to reflect the new challenges of the 21st century.

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