UNESCO marks 60th anniversary of Convention against Discrimination in Education

Paris: With the world’s most vulnerable children and youth at risk of missing out on education as a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO is urging all countries to protect better the fundamental right to learn by ratifying the Convention against Discrimination in Education, adopted on 14 December 60 years ago.

As part of a new campaign to raise awareness of the Convention, UNESCO is launching a conversation about extending our understanding of the right to education to reflect increasingly crucial global needs, namely digital inclusion, learners’ data privacy and access to lifelong learning.

The Convention, the first legally binding international instrument entirely dedicated to the right to education, has been ratified by 106 countries to date: 28% of countries in the Asia Pacific region, 46.8% in sub-Saharan Africa, 60.6% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 63.1% in Arab States to 68% and 88% respectively in Western Europe and North America, and Eastern Europe.

When they ratify the Convention, countries establish, or upgrade, policy and/or legal frameworks to meet international standards, guarantee the right to education and counter discrimination. As such, the Convention represents a powerful tool to advance the 4th Sustainable Development Goal “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

“Education is a fundamental human right that we must ensure and defend every single day, especially considering new and serious forms of exclusion, notably in the digital sphere,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education is a key global legal instrument to protect the right to education and advance equal learning opportunities without regard to race, gender or any distinctions, economic or social.”

Discrimination remains pervasive in education, whether on the basis of disability, gender, language, income, ethnicity, religion, migration or displacement status. About 258 million children and youth around the world are out of school, while 773 million adults, two-thirds of whom are women, are illiterate, according to data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities worldwide, increasing the likelihood that vulnerable students be left behind. UNESCO estimates that over 24 million learners, from the pre-primary to tertiary levels, including more than 11 million girls, risk dropping out of education. According to UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report, about 40% of low and lower-middle income countries have not been able to support disadvantaged learners during school closures, exacerbating inequalities. One third of students – close to 500 million – were not able to access remote learning solutions, underlining the urgency of making connectivity a right.

To build back better, education systems must integrate rights-based, inclusive and non-discriminatory practices in line with the obligations enshrined in the Convention.

UNESCO’s “End Discrimination in Education” campaign aims to raise awareness of the Convention, strengthen implementation and monitoring, extend ratification and stimulate reflection on new related rights needed to prevent an exacerbation of inequalities in the digital age.