State obligations and responsibilities on the right to education

Right to education - State obligations
Last update: June 13, 2022

International human rights law lays down obligations which states are bound to respect.  

By ratifying international human rights treaties, states assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. 

Principal responsibility of states 

States are the duty-bearers under international human rights law and hold the principal responsibility for the direct provision of the right to education, although there are exceptions for specific contexts. 

Through ratification of international human rights treaties, governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties. 

All countries in the world have ratified at least one treaty, covering certain aspects of the right to education which means all of them are expected to implement that right.  

Content of states’ obligations concerning the right to education 

Like all human rights, the right to education imposes levels of obligation on states: to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education.  

  • The obligation to respect requires states to avoid measures that hinder or prevent the enjoyment of the right to education. 
  • The obligation to protect requires states to take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right to education. 
  • The obligation to fulfil means that states must take positive measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to education. 

The obligations related to each of the 'essential features' of the right to education are categorised under four areas: availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability.

Right to education - state obligations graph 1
Right to education - state obligations graph 1 - French
Right to education - state obligations graph 1 - Spanish

Main components of the right to education

Right to education - state obligations graph 2
Right to education - state obligations graph 2 - French
Right to education - state obligations graph 2 - Spanish

States are also bound by the principles of non-retrogression (they should not take deliberate backward steps by adopting measures that will repeal or restrict existing guarantees of the right to education) and by allocating the maximum of their available resources. 

For more information see the Right to education handbook

Right to education handbook
UNESCO
Right to Education Initiative
2019
UNESCO
0000366556