Learning Lessons from Litigators: Realising the Right to Education Through Public Interest Lawyering
31 Oct 2017

The Oxford Human Rights Hub in partnership with the Open Society Foundations to create a free online resource Learning Lessons from Litigators: Realizing the Right to Education Through Public Interest Lawyering for anyone engaged in campaigning, advocating or litigating for the right to education, especially in the context of privatization of education, on the potential and risks of litigation and how it can complement other forms of activism.

The right to education recognized at international law and in numerous domestic constitutions guarantees that everyone is entitled to free, quality education, without discrimination or exclusion. Education is not only an intrinsic right in itself, it is also a multiplier right, a key to the full development of both the individual and her society. Yet the fundamental right to education of millions of children, whether in low, middle or high income countries, is being routinely breached. Not only are governments failing to deliver free quality education to all, they are increasingly arguing that their responsibilities to deliver the right to education can be met by permitting the involvement of private providers who offer ‘low fee’ schooling. This is deeply troubling as private schools in many jurisdictions are resisting regulation by the state to provide equal and quality education to all, especially the most marginalised children. Yet the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Kishore Singh, warned in 2014 that ‘in many parts of the world inequalities in opportunities for education will be exacerbated by the growth of unregulated private providers of education, with wealth or economic status becoming the most important criterion to access a quality education.’

How then can the State be required to fulfil its obligations to realize the fundamental right of everyone to free, quality education, and what role can civil society, lawyers, parents, learners and public interested citizens and other stakeholders play in holding their governments to account? The aim of the online course Learning Lessons from Litigators: Realising the Right to Education Through Public Interest Lawyering is to examine the extent to which courts and international human rights bodies can be effectively utilized as part of a campaign to realize the right to education.

The course aims to:

  • To share the experience of using strategic litigation in relation to the right to education which has been gleaned in campaigns in several jurisdictions so that others can draw on that experience to decide whether and how to use litigation in the optimal way.
  • To demonstrate the potential of international human rights mechanisms as a further complement to other forms of activism, especially in relation to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the relevant treaty bodies, as well and regional human rights courts and treaty bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
  • To open up the possibilities of extrapolating from the experience of strategic litigation and the use of international human rights mechanisms in relation to other human rights.

The online resource will consist of a four-part series of online videos each of about 40 minutes duration. Its approach will be lively and engaging, raising the key questions and airing a range of possible responses which can then be applied by stakeholders in their own contexts. Detailed interviews will be conducted with the key players in several major campaigns for the right to education, including the litigators and civil society organisations in (i) the South African mud schools and textbook context, (ii) the US (Campaign for Fiscal Equity) cases for more resources for disadvantaged inner city schools; and (iii)  the Indian experience with litigation on the right to education culminating in a constitutional amendment and then in relation to the Right to Education Act.

The course will be released in October 2017 and is an exciting opportunity to harness the power of technology to tackle some of the most pressing issues in human rights.