Home / Youth Human Rights Basics / What Rights Do Young People Have? / Rights in focus: Right to education

Right To Education

Rights in focus

Education is both a human right in itself and an ‘empowerment right’ or stepping stone to realizing other human rights. Education is the primary vehicle to lift economically and socially marginalized people out of poverty, to obtain the means to fully participate in their communities.

As such, education serves to level inequalities and ensure sustainable development.

The right to education includes:

  • Free education, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages
  • Compulsory elementary education
  • Free, or progressive introduction of free secondary education
  • Equal access to higher education, with progressive introduction of free education
  • Human rights education
  • Right of the parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children
  • Access to education as well as vocational guidance for young women, youth with
    disabilities and young refugees


In depth…

Education is directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It should enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial or religious groups.

Education at all levels should exhibit the following interrelated and essential features:

  1. Availability: sufficient quantity of functioning educational institutions and programmes within each State. Requirements vary depending on the context, however certain infrastructure such as buildings or other protection from the elements, sanitation facilities, safe drinking water, teaching materials and trained teachers must be provided.
  2. Accessibility: educational institutions and programmes have to be accessible to everyone, without discrimination. This includes appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can access education on an equal basis with others.
    1. Non-discrimination: education must be available to all, especially the most vulnerable groups.
    2. Physical accessibility: education has to be within safe physical reach, either in terms of geographical location or via modern technology.
    3. Economic accessibility: education has to be affordable to all; primary education shall be available “free to all”, States should progressively introduce free secondarily and higher education.
  3. Acceptability: the form and substance of education, including curricula and teaching methods, have to be acceptable (e.g. relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality) to students and, in appropriate cases, parents.
  4. Adaptability: education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of changing societies and communities and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings.


To ensure the right to education for young people with disabilities, international standards as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities must be observed.


The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the lack of access to education, particularly in contexts where it was not possible to deliver education online or remotely, highlighting the need to close the digital divide. In March 2020, over 1.5 billion young people in more than 165 countries were out of education, representing 87% of the global population enrolled at school or university. Data and information on the impacts of the pandemic on youth is available in the report of the United Nations High Commissioner on for Human Rights on the human rights implications of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on young people (available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), as well as via UNESCO, particularly in relation to education.


Despite broad recognition of the right to education by States, education may and does come under attack, particularly in countries affected by armed conflict, insecurity, and weak systems of human rights protections or political pluralism. Educational institutions should be safe havens for students and educators, where they can work toward a better future. 2 Moreover, education can protect young people from forced recruitment into armed groups, child labour, sexual exploitation and child marriage. Attacks on education can be a grave violation of international law, breaching international criminal law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

2Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack: https://protectingeducation.org/

Where can I learn more?

For more information on the right to education, see:

  • The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO)
    webpage on the right to education.
  • The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’s General Comment No. 13:
    The right to education (article 13) (1999). Note: The Committee on Economic, Social and
    Cultural Rights is a UN Human Rights Treaty Body. More information on the Treaty
    Bodies and their work is available in Section C of the present toolkit (see question What
    are the Human Rights Treaty Bodies?).

For more information on protecting education from attack, see:

Right To Decent Work

The realization of the right to decent work fosters autonomy and independence in young people, which can pave the way for the realisation of other fundamental human rights.