How governments are failing on the right to education

This report presents important new findings on the right to education from citizen-led research in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nepal. Unlike most such studies it is the product of research and analysis by children, parents, teachers and community organisations who have actively scrutinised the performance of their local schools against core dimensions of the right to education. The process has helped to deepen people’s engagement as citizens in holding their government schools and their public education systems to account.

Ten areas are highlighted where the right to education has been undermined and promises have been broken. Government spending is unnecessarily constrained meaning too many children remain out of school and too many costs are passed on to parents. Girls and children with disabilities face particular disadvantage, sometimes including violence. Infrastructure is often inadequate and governance systems are often weak and not inclusive. Teachers often face overwhelming class sizes, making it hard for children to learn.

These findings will not come as a shock for many people who are familiar with the challenges faced by under-funded public education systems – but it makes a massive difference when it is citizens on the frontline who are raising these issues and calling for change.

Rather than leading to disillusion with public education, positive solutions are put forward to ensure that government systems can deliver on the right to education. These solutions can be clustered under four core areas. Governments need to increase the financing of education – both through increasing the share of the national budget spent on education and increasing the size of the national budget overall. A particular focus is placed on how simple tax reforms in just one area - ending harmful tax incentives - could make a transformational difference in each country.

Increasing the share and size of the budget will not be enough if the sensitivity of spending is not also increased. The report flags the importance of investing for equity, for example to end the disadvantages faced by girls and children with disabilities, and to ensure that professional teachers are well trained and valued. Alongside this there is a need for greater scrutiny of education spending – ensuring better governance systems are in place, that budgets are tracked and that resources are spent appropriately and effectively.

When citizens are actively engaged in building their own evidence base and are mobilising to demand increases in the size, share, sensitivity and scrutiny of education budgets for gender-responsive public schools, the right to education becomes much more than just a promise.

The right to education cannot be contained only in distant conventions and treaties, it needs to be translated and popularised to live in the minds and actions of citizens everywhere.