Education – It’s a Right, Right?

By Alex Paul Atup. Alex is a young writer from New Era University in General Santos City, Philippines. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

I remember a story I read in a book back when I was a six-year old. It was about a boy who wanted to go to school, but cannot because his family does not have enough money to send him to school as they prioritize their eldest son who was about to graduate college with all they can offer. The boy worked in the morning to earn extra funds for his family so that even in their status, they can somehow be eased. In his free time, the boy studied using his brother’s old books by himself in a room lit only with a candle, because they cannot even afford electricity.

This kind of setting seems to reflect the world today.

Education is a right. Everyone should have access to education. With education, one can have a good life in their future.

Such words are the words usually answered when one is asked about whether education is a right or a privilege. It’s an age-old question debated all over the world by a wide variety of people, be it students, professionals, politicians, and even in the United Nations.

Those kinds of statements are true, and it is even backed up by numerous legal documents and international treaties. Perhaps two of the most influential of these documents is the 26th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 1948, and Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Additionally, number four of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is for the education for all. If one were to search the internet, read books, even consulting one’s common sense, there’s no mistaking that education is a right—or at least, it’s supposed to be.

In review, rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement. There are many types of rights, and human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, gender, nationality, language, religion, or many more. There are two types of human rights—civil and political rights, which are rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality, and social, cultural, and economic rights, which are human rights concerning the basic social and economic conditions needed to live a life of freedom and dignity.

Now let’s look at the second type of human right. Those rights include the right to work, right to health, and naturally, the right of education is one of them. Everyone needs to learn for their future life. They, in time, need to be self-sustaining, and education is the key. Everyone needs to learn, because without learning, literally, nothing is also achieved. They need to keep up with this ever-changing world, and once again, education is the key for that.

Yet let’s look at the statistics on what’s happening right now. According to the latest United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics, there are about 263 million children not in school. 63 million of it was children in primary school, 61 million for children in lower secondary levels, and 139 million of it was for the upper secondary school, most of it coming from the African regions. These numbers have barely changed for the better, for the last five years.

The question that comes to mind would then be: If education is a right like many would say, why are there many children and youth not in school? I thought education was supposed to be a human right—inherent to every human being? If it is a right, why are there rightful people not in their rightful place in school? What are the factors that affect the right to education?

The rate of youth not in school is lower the poorer the country is. Many factors affect the education of the youth—firstly is money. The poorer the country, the bigger rate of unemployment, creating a domino effect, eventually leading to parents not having enough money to send their children to school. This is even one of the topics on the story I recalled above. So, is it because of poverty?

Is education free? There are laws that account for free basic education from elementary, to high school, and even college, but why does poverty hinder education? The lack of money results in the lack of food, then resulting to malnutrition. If a certain person is malnourished, his ability to go to school is hindered. What else? Discrimination? There were even times men were given priority in education with women only taught to tend homes and become good wives, and even if women had the chance to go to school, they are only limited in numbers. Is this what we call a right? Yes, some of them may have the experience going to school, but their schooling is hardly completed, once again, because of poverty.

Once again—isn’t education supposed to be a right?

It is a right, legally. It is a right, conceptually and theoretically. However, if we see the reality, it is a privilege, masked as a right. Yes, it is impossible to have 100% of the youth in schools, but the number of children and youth not in school is very huge, and this makes me wonder if education really a right or not.

Education is a right, but with almost half of the world on poverty, it is a privilege because only the wealthy, and even those with enough money can afford complete education. It is considered as a right, but governments does not have the ability to give EVERYONE quality education. Only those who are lucky enough have the privilege to go to school, and not all can go being educated.

One more pressing matter why youth is not in school is because of motivation. Many students tend to cut class because of boredom and other activities—even addictions. Some may have valid reasons, but only few. But in this case, the factor that affects motivation is choice. Many so-called ‘millenials’ today may have an alibi of the famous tagline “You only live once, so why don’t you make the most of it?” in which it becomes the reason of students pursuing hedonistic pleasures rather than building a foundation for their future life. Their potentially dangerous choice makes them waste their privilege. Don’t they realize that they are lucky? Many students also have the fear to go to school because they experience bullying, and that is one of the examples of how students deprive their own right to go to school—it’s alarming.

Education is a privilege. Everyone should have access to education, because with education, one can have a good life in their future, yet not everyone can have this. It’s the sad reality this world is giving us. Remove discrimination and poverty, and we’re all just human beings—equal with each other. We have the right to education, and thus, all of us must have it, but once again, we can’t.

I remember my story once again. I wonder if the boy is already going to school? I mean, education should be a right, right?


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