More than 70 countries call for free education
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Free education from preschool through to secondary endorsed by more than 70 nations

by Freya Lucas

July 06, 2023

More than 70 countries from every region of the world expressed support for “efforts to strengthen the right to education, including the explicit right to full free secondary and at least one year of free pre-primary education” at a recent United Nations Human Rights Council held in Geneva.


Luxembourg and the Dominican Republic led the statement of support, however Brazil went even further, inviting “all states to consider a new international legal instrument to formally recognise the right of every child to at least one year of preschool and to free inclusive public and quality secondary education.”


Many of the endorsing countries noted that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified international human rights treaty – makes no explicit reference to early childhood education, and although it requires primary education to be free and compulsory, it does not explicitly obligate governments to provide free pre-primary education or secondary education to all children. 


“For children to achieve their full potential and thrive in today’s world, free primary education simply isn’t enough,” a spokesperson from Human Rights Watch noted.


To illustrate the possibilities of such endorsements, Sierra Leone’s Education Minister David Moinina Sengeh explained (in a video address at an event held the day before the Council) that an initiative launched in Sierra Leone in 2018 removing tuition and examination fees boosted school enrollment by over a million children. 


This year, Sierra Leone made these changes into law, guaranteeing 13 years of free education, from pre-primary through secondary.


“It’s not just governments calling for strengthened international law around free education,” the Human Rights Watch noted.


“Activists and human rights experts, Nobel Prize winners, and, in an open letter from the global civic movement Avaaz, over a half-million people around the world are making a similar call.”


Analysis by Human Rights Watch suggests that the most effective way to strengthen international law on the right to education would be through a fourth optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


As Lucia Fry, Director of Research and Policy at the Malala Fund, explained, extending the international legal framework will not fix everything, but it will “be another strut in the scaffolding holding up the global norm that all children should have an education”.


Additionally, it will provide “wind in the back” for girls “struggling to open the doors of learning to all, and it will be an invaluable tool for children, parents, activists, and policymakers to fight for the right to free education for all.”


Learn more about the call here. For information about the work of Human Rights Watch, please visit their website

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