Right to Education…for “Every” Child

Posted on January 21, 2009  /  0 Comments

Malathie Kalpana Ambrose


Statistically we hold a higher state in education among the South Asian countries. Proudly we declare that our literacy rate is above 92%. But do all our children enjoy their right to education? How about the children in refugee camps in North and East? How about the children in remote areas where they have to walk more than 6km to the nearest school? How about the differently abled children who are not accepted either by the society or any school? How about children live in the streets, exposed to all sort of anti social bustles? How about the innocent kids who left the school at very young age due to poverty or other responsibilities? How about the children who have to fight for a “dream land” against their own will carrying a gun with the hands that should carry books and toys? How about the children who discriminated due to their race, caste, creed, religion, poverty and numerous other factors?


In this article, Greg Duly, the former Country Director of Save the Children in Sri Lanka is concentrating on the right based education and the implications which are to be taken by the responsible parties including the state. The article was published on Daily Vews,20th August, 2003.



A rights based approach to education: Implications for Sri Lanka

by Greg Duly

Children’s rights are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children, adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in November 1989. The Convention has been ratified by all countries except Somalia and the US. It is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural.


One of the many implications of the Convention is that children are rights holders with entitlements as well as capabilities and responsibilities to act as agents of social change.

The right to education is enshrined in the Convention in Articles 28 and 29. Article 28 requires State Parties to recognize the right of the child to education on the basis of equal opportunity. It requires States to: 1. Make primary education compulsory and freely available to all; 2. Make education and vocational guidance available and accessible to all children; 3. Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and reduce drop-out rates; 4. Ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the Convention; and 4.


 Encourage different forms of secondary education

Article 29 is in reference to the fact that child education shall be directed to the: 1. Development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to his fullest potential; 2. Preparation of the child for a responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of the sexes, and friendship among all peoples; 3. Development of respect for the childs parents, cultural identity, language and values, and the national values of the country which the child is living in or originates from, and for civilisations different than his own; 4. Development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and 5. Development of respect for the natural environment.

Regarding government educational policy and practice, the implications of the right to education occur on several levels and we will examine these.

Public expenditure: The right of children to free primary education implies that the State must invest the requisite financial resources. Although the Sri Lankan government has implemented a policy of free primary education, over time, the governments expenditure on education has declined from 3 % of GDP in 1990 to 2 % in 2001.

This, combined with other factors, has resulted in lower enrolment, higher drop-out rates and reduced learning achievements. In terms of literacy, Sri Lanka is now ranked 21st in the region. Learning achievements in literacy, numeracy and life skills in Year-5 students were only 62.8 %, 45.1% & 26.5 respectively.

Although the Government forecasts increased investment in education to 2.8 % of GDP by 2006, this is well below the generally accepted international norm of 5 %. To address this, a. State resources to the education sector should be increased; b. The Government should put in place procedures for making public expenditure in education known to Sri Lankan citizens; and c. The provision of education services to children should be prioritised in loan and structural adjustment negotiations.

Education policies, strategies and practice: The right to education places numerous demands on the Government and the Ministry of Education. Among these are compulsory primary education. For many years the Sri Lankan Government has had a policy of compulsory education and been committed to it. Article 28 requires governments to provide education on the basis of equal opportunity. Sri Lanka’s education policy supports this principle.

But in practice there are concerns. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that a significant number of children with disabilities, in particular girls, are not able to attend school . Also, massive disparities between rural and urban areas undermine this particular right.

To address this, the allocation of State resources must ensure equitable distribution by region, ethnic or religious groups, and to children with special needs. All non-State schools running special needs programmes should be registered and regulated. Government and schools need to take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and reduce drop-outs.

Historically, Sri Lanka boasted high enrolment rates, but recent estimates are that 12% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are out of school and that dropout rates stand at 10% nationally and 15.8% for the North-East.

This requires that the Government’s response should be multi-dimensional and include: a. Supplying sufficient numbers of trained teachers to rural and conflict areas; b. Constructing, rebuilding or renovating schools structures as necessary; c. Maintaining a commitment to a peaceful settlement to the conflict; and d. Introducing transport arrangements that make it easier and less costly for children to attend school Implications for civil society: Internationally, it is now received wisdom that civil societys engagement improves government accountability and the quality of service delivery.

In Sri Lanka, whilst individuals from civil society have contributed to policy formulation and implementation, historically there has been little significant civil society collaboration on education. It is not that education is not a priority, but inaction may rather derive from the feeling that civil society does not have a role in this area.

Implications of article 29: The individual elements of Article 29 contain significant implications for national education policy and practice. The Ministry of Education has embarked on sweeping reforms to suit contemporary conditions. At primary school level the emphasis is on total personality development, competency based curricula, and classrooms focusing on play- and activity-based learning.

The implementation of these reforms has not met with complete satisfaction. The problems identified thus far include: a. Teachers in rural areas being inadequately trained; b. Some parents considering the reforms to be detrimental to their childs progress; c. Resource allocations for the new methods being inadequate; d. Teachers being insufficiently trained in using alternative materials for assignments; e. Parents from low-income groups finding it difficult to provide children with the required alternative materials (which appears to contribute to absenteeism); and f. An excessive proportion of a child’s time being spent on academic activities to the detriment of the development of a well-rounded individual

Some of these problems can be attributed to the process of change, so proper participatory monitoring mechanisms should be implemented to remedy them. We need to allocate adequate financial resources to ensure that successful implementation of the reforms is not undermined simply due to poor financing.

(Greg Duly is Country Director for SCISL. These are edited extracts from his speech before the Ethics Committee of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science on August 8, 2003.)







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