What is the right to education?

The right to education ensures that every person has access to education. It is a cornerstone of a democracy, as this freedom is vital to the development and growth of an educated and free society.

It allows the personal freedom of parents to choose the type of education they want for their children (for example, public vs. private education) and in accordance with their religious and moral beliefs. Furthermore, this right also grants people or legal entities to create their own educational institutions, abiding by the freedom dimension of education rights.

Who ensures this right?

The State plays a large role in both actively safeguarding the right to education, as well as non-interfering in one’s access to education.

The State must work to ensure the availability and accessibility of education for all. In complying with the duty of non-interference, the State is responsible for respecting the right of parents to secure the education for their children in accordance with their religious and philosophical beliefs.

Moreover, the State must actively work to ensure that public educational institutions do not discriminate regarding who has access to education, particularly on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion, among other identity and group associations.

It is also the duty of the State to ensure that the four key requirements are observed:


The state should eliminate possible barriers in access to education. Education must be physically accessible (be within safe reach) and economically accessible (affordable to all), and must be accessible to all without discrimination. The State must ensure access to education for all children in the age range of compulsory education and ensure that it is free (this does not include secondary and higher education).


Accessibility focuses on the elimination of barriers in the access to education – this includes financial, legal, and administrative barriers, as well as addressing discrimination within education accessibility. The State government must ensure access to education for all children in the age-range of compulsory education and ensure that this education is free (this does not include secondary and higher education).


The pillar of acceptability refers to the State’s responsibility to accept the ability of parents to choose education for their children and not interfere in this process. The scope of acceptability also includes acceptable minimal standards to which educational institutions must abide by (quality of education, safety, health factors) and the freedom from censorship in education. Moreover, it focuses on ensuring that every child has access to education with the language of instruction in the national language of the state.


Adaptability is primarily focused on the rights of children with disabilities. It ensures the duty of educational institutions must adapt to the diverse needs of children to ensure every child can get a quality education. Schools must also act in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the principle ‘best interests’ of the child that is a key factor in this children’s rights convention.

Learn about more detailed analysis of these four pillars.

International recognition of this right

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first comprehensive list of human rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Already, at that time, the international community recognised that education is a human right – Article 26(2) of the Declaration provides:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make.

In context

  • Children & Family
  • Prisons
  • Discrimination


Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education