Day 2: OxHRH, Open Society Foundations and Vidhi Centre Right to Education for Minority and Disadvantage Groups
admin 15th January 2016

Today the OxHRH, Open Society Foundations and Vidhi Centre continued the cutting-edge conference on Comparative Perspectives on the Right to Education for Minorities and Disadvantaged Groups.

With the move to focus on quality of education there is the new challenge of how to measure quality of education from a human rights perspective and how can courts enforce this right. The day began with an innovative panel: Measuring Quality and Enforcing a Right to Quality Education. Pranav Kothari, began the day drawing on his experiences working with the Educational Initiatives to put into context the low learning and difficulty of meeting the quality requirements prescribed by the Right to Education Act (India). Shailendra Sharma, Pratham, argued for the greater and creative use of technology in ensuring each child receives personal learning. Turning to the situation in the United States, Helen Taylor, Oxford University, used the Campaign For Fiscal Equity litigation in New York State as a case study to demonstrate the strategic value of a human-based assessment of quality for conceptualising and enforcing the right to education for minorities and disadvantaged groups. The panel concluded with a presentation from Avinash Singh, National University for Educational Planning and Administration, who reminded the audience of the importance of appreciating the difference between tribal groups and passionately calls for new pedagogy for disadvantaged children if a right to quality education is to be realized.

The afternoon’s panel examined the challenge of Balancing the Right to Freedom of Religion and Culture and the Right to Education. Starting first with South Africa, Michael Bishop, Legal Resources Centre, analysed the language rights in the context of education of the economically powerful Afrikaans to make the nuanced argument that attention to this issue can be used to ensure the government levels up the rights for all learners. Azra Razzak, Jamia Millia Islamia, highlighted the risk of political representatives in communities where there are minority schools being unfairly treated by bureaucracy and judicial system dominated by majority. Ranu Jain, Tata Institute for Social Sciences, argued that the tag ‘minority’ does not imply that the state will take special measures to support those minorities, but simply that those minorities have the freedom to foster and practice their own minority language and culture. Turning back to the Right to Education Act (India), Jayna Kothari gave a nuanced analysis into the challenge to defining minority schools which are exempt from the RTE Act and calls for the norms and standards provisions of the Act to apply to minority schools.

The conference concluded with a round table discussion on The Role of the Courts in Realizing the Right to Education. Justice A.P. Shah, Former Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi and Chairman 20th Law Commission of India, traced the evolution of the right to education in the legislation and courts in India and called for greater alliance among non-governmental organizations to realize the right through litigation. Sarah Sephton, Legal Resources Centre, concludes that the comparative presentations from the conference highlight the importance of continuing to support the public education sector and highlights the challenge of using litigation to ensure desk and chairs to schools in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Colin Gonsalves, Human Rights Law Network, poignantly asks why with a growing gross domestic product is the state of education in India so dire? He explains that the state of education is both a legal, political and global issue. He decried the leading problems to education in India: commercialization of education and the role of the court in facilitating the privatization of education and the role of religious and cultural norms in perpetuating disadvantage. He reminded the audience that litigation is a very powerful tool and calls on further strategic litigation to ensure a right to education. The final presentation from Michael Bishop, Legal Resources Centre, argued that litigation can be successful in getting media attention on certain issues and points out that litigation cannot administer the education system. From experience he points to the importance of anticipating remedial non-compliance and building up a body of case law by strategically bringing claims that are likely to be upheld by the court.

There were great comparative insights from India, South Africa, European Court of Human Rights, international human rights law, US and Kenya on how to fully realize a right to high quality education for minorities and disadvantaged groups. There was inspired, perceptive and astute presentations and questions from a vibrant and engaged audience. We look forward to further collaborations with academic, students, policy-makers, non-governmental organizations and government officials on the right to education.

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