The right to education must include standardised measures to ensure equality, quality and accountability. The future development agenda should be committed to its enforceability. These were some of the conclusions following two days of thought-provoking discussions during a conference held last month.
The conference, “The Justiciability of the Right to Education in the post-2015 Development Agenda”, was held on the 25 & 26 May 2015 in India, and was organised by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR).
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Dr Kishore Singh, opened proceedings by highlighting that this right is justiciable in many countries. Despite this, the two main reasons for the failure to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—including achieving universal primary education—are a lack of financing, and a lack of monitoring. These issues need to be addressed in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Overview of presentations
Swati Sharma of Centurion University discussed the potential role of public-private partnerships and corporate social responsibility in respect of education.
Professor Sandra Fredman of Oxford University gave an overview of the right to education, exploring the relationship between development goals and human rights. She highlighted that unlike the MDGs, the SDGs include quality as a component of the right to education.
Professor Salomao Ximenes of the Sao Paulo Federal University informed participants of education-related litigation in Brazil. In particular, in 2012, the court ordered that a public hearing be convened to deal with the lack of available pre-school places, and that 150,000 new places be made available in a time-bound manner.
Sarah Sephton, Cameron McConnachie and Jason Brickhill of the Legal Resources Centre provided details of the cases litigated in South Africa. Their strategy has been to start with straight-forward cases addressing issues such as furniture, and then move onto address more complex issues. Recently, the LRC has launched three separate cases taking the South African government to court over the replacement of 500 mud schools in the Eastern Cape. Having initially tackled infrastructure, the LRC is keen to expand its litigation to focus on the quality of education.
Jayna Kothari, Aparna Ravi and Varsha Iyengar from CLPR began the second day of the conference by presenting on education litigation in India. The most important legislation passed in this respect has been the Right to Education Act 2009, which provides for free and compulsory primary education. Controversially, the Act mandates a 25% quota for disadvantaged children but Courts have excluded ‘minority’ schools from this requirement.
Kothari gave a presentation on challenges relating to remedies in education-related cases. For instance, the court has put a High Powered Committee in place to meet every month to steer education policy. While this creates stakeholder participation, it has been very difficult to suggest accountability measures to the government.
Niranjan Aradhya of the Centre for the Child and the Law in India gave an in-depth analysis of the Right to Education Act 2009, explaining that despite the Act, systemic inequalities persist. He suggested increasing investment in education, checking corporatisation of education, and a re-focusing on education as a social good.
Ramya Jawahar and Gowthaman Ranganathan of the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) in India spoke of the various interdisciplinary methods employed by ALF in relation to socio-economic rights. They highlighted the wider issue of the tightening of funds in the non-profit sector by the government.
Avni Rastogi of Transparent Cities Network and the Community Service and Outreach team gave a detailed explanation of the mapping and data collection methods which can be used to collect accurate data for education-related litigation.
The conference concluded with a discussion of three principal themes which had emerged: i) the role of litigation, ii) the issue of equitable and quality education, and iii) education in relation to other issues. In relation to litigation, a principal concern is that litigation needs to change on the ground and engage with communities. In respect of quality education, a principal issue is that of monitoring and measuring outcomes. Teacher-training can be one way to improve outcomes.
Governments need to be held accountable if they are not attaining the goals set out in the post-2015 agenda. They must invest more in education and regulate the private sector. While the countries represented at the conference have an enforceable right to education, it is hoped that many more jurisdictions will follow suit.
Dr Kishore Singh closed the conference with confirmation that he will ensure the issues discussed at the conference will be incorporated into discussions around the post-2015 development agenda.