Main Content

Human Rights Index #46 – Access to Education

Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

Despite efforts to increase the number of children receiving education worldwide, the numbers of out-of-school children has been increasing in the Middle East and Northern Africa due to conflicts in those regions. These regions have begun a new initiative called the Out-of-School Children Initiative, which is part of a larger worldwide initiative by UNICEF and UNESCO. The objectives of this initiative are to identify barriers to education and analyze the existing and needed policies related to increasing participation in schooling.

The international legal community recognizes the right to education as a basic human right. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) both state that everyone has a right to education, and specify that elementary education should be compulsory and free. The right to education is further guaranteed by the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). These instruments incentivize and promote accountability among countries to improve participation in education programs and to increase the quality of schooling offered. These treaties also promote the equal right of girls and boys to attend equal education programs, which will in turn increase gender equality as a whole.

The United Nations has set goals for improving education worldwide by 2020. These two goals are to reduce school drop-out rates below 10% and to achieve at least 40% of 30-34 year olds completing a tertiary level of education (such as university or professional programs). UNICEF has also identified universal primary education as one of its Millennium Development Goals. Part of the goal is to eliminate the gap in educational achievement between boys and girls. Some of the barriers that girls and young women face in access to education are social attitudes toward women, marriage at a young age, and a lack of female teachers to serve as role models. These are only some of the goals outlined and incentivized in the international community to increase overall access to education for all children.

1 In every 2 African American high school students in the United States has access to the full range of math and science courses taught in high school compared to 70% of Caucasian high school students. (The New York Times 2014)

10 Percentage decrease in financial aid toward universal education in the last ten years, partly exacerbated by the financial crisis. (UNICEF 2016)

15 Percentage of out-of-school children polled by the Jordanian government who reported that they had applied for school enrollment and had been waitlisted due to a lack of schools. (UNHCR 2016)

33 Percentage of children in South Asia who are completing primary school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. (World Bank 2014)

38.3 Percentage of individuals in Turkey who dropped out or failed out of school after beginning, but before finishing secondary education. Turkey has the highest percentage in the European Union; the EU country with the lowest percentage was Slovakia with only 4.9 percent. (European Commission 2013)

41 Percentage of adults in Brazil with a high school education, which surpasses the 35 percent of adults in Mexico with a high school education. (WorldFund.org)

50+ Percentage of children of primary school age in Sub-Saharan Africa who do not attend school. Fifty five percent of these children are girls. (UNICEF 2016)

60 Percentage of children in India who cannot read after three years in primary school due to poor quality in education and the fact that state funded teachers are absent 20% of the school days. This is despite an enrollment rate of 96% in India. (The Guardian 2014)

66 Percentage of universities in the Middle East where women outnumber men. Despite this increase, there are still large disparities in gender equality in the workforce, such as Quatar, where 63% of university students are female, but only 12% of the labor force and 7% of legislators are female. (CNN 2012)

70 Percentage of teachers in Mexico who failed the National Teacher Examination. Additionally, one third of teachers in Brazil barley passed high school. (WorldFund.org)

80 Percentage of out-of-school girls in South Asia who will never start school compared to only 16 percent of boys, giving South Asia the largest gender disparity in access to education. (UNICEF 2015)

3,000,000 Number of children out-of-school because of conflict in Iraq and Syria. (UNICEF 2015)

12,300,000 Number of children in the Middle East and North Africa that are out of school with an estimated 6,000,000 more at risk of dropping out. (UNICEF 2015)

77,000,000 Number of women who are illiterate throughout the world, 29 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. These 77 million women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate population. (UNESCO 2016)

124,000,000 Number of children estimated to be out of school due to conflicts and natural disasters worldwide. (UNESCO 2015)

250,000,000 Number of children out of the 650 million enrolled in primary school worldwide who are not learning basic skills. (CNBC 2014)


*Copyright © 2016 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). UICHR’s Human Rights Indexes have been prepared under the direction of Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston, who passed away unexpectedly on October 28, 2015. Index #46 was one of three near completion at the time of Prof. Weston’s death. It was drafted by Prof. Weston with the generous assistance of Deanna Steinbach, research assistant at the UI College of Law, and was finalized by Prof. Weston’s UICHR colleagues. The final three entries in the Human Rights Index series are being published in memory of Prof. Weston.