Understanding Education as a Privilege

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Table of Contents

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Education as a Protected Human Right

Protocol 1, Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998 protects the right to an education. The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in 2000 with the intention to protect the basic rights and freedoms of everyone in the UK.

The Human Rights Act translates the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. The ECHR states that “No person shall be denied the right to an education” and that “The State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.

However, to what extent do national governments actually uphold this law? Do all people actually have access to an education? How effective is this education?

Quality of Education

So, everyone in the UK and Europe has the right to an education, protected by law. But why? Why is education a human right?

Education is a key social and cultural necessity that plays a vital role in maintaining civil society and ending social inequality. An effective education helps to promote peace, equality, awareness, and social skills.

Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child outline a child’s right to an education and the quality and content of that education. Article 29 (quality and content of education) states that education should help a child’s mind, body, talents and personality to the fullest extent. Education should allow all of these traits to flourish, develop and excel both inside and outside of the educational environment.

School Culture and the Curriculum

However, are schools allowing children to develop these things? Their personalities? Their talents? Even their physical health and ability?

British high schools strip students of their individuality. The fact that we’re all stuffed into identical uniforms is one prime example. The school system bans an essential part of our own identity (clothes and appearance) before we even enter the classroom. Female students are reprimanded for wearing makeup. Black students are being excluded for wearing their natural hair (read more). During my time at high school, they paid more attention to whether girls’ knees were covered than blatant racism, homophobia, and sexism thrown around the corridors.

When discussing education as a right or privilege, we need to talk about what education actually involves. What are we receiving as part of our basic human rights?

Proper education should do all of the things the UN Convention promises and more. School should not only prepare children for the world, but it should also increase their awareness. They deserve and are entitled to a basic understanding of the society around them. The modern education system (from 5-18) does not teach children about the social systems and social values that affect their entire lives. The current curriculum doesn’t teach young people about racism, homophobia, sexism, class inequality and other major social issues. Regardless of their own identities, these things will affect every aspect of their everyday lives.

There’s a lot that the current education system needs to include – but unfortunately, doesn’t. For example, the sex education curriculum doesn’t teach enough about homosexual sex, preventing pregnancies, or consent. Rape culture is carried aggressively from UK high schools through to colleges and universities. Effective education and information on safe pleasurable sex would prevent assaults and violence from taking place massively.

Education as a Privilege

The education and school system is in no way perfect. However, it’s still a huge benefit and it’s not something that should be taken for granted.

The majority of students have no idea how lucky they actually are to be in full-time education, whether public or private. In the UK and Europe, education is a human right. But in many parts of the world, access to education is unheard of. In fact, in some parts of Europe, some communities and individuals can’t access education.

In some countries, culture and politics overlook the importance of education. They don’t see education as necessary. Even, in high-income countries (that place cultural value on education) there are still so many children and adults that aren’t provided with access to education.

So, when we think of education as a privilege, we mean a social privilege – similar to white privilege, male privilege, or wealth privilege. In all of these examples, society caters to the group mentioned (educated, white, male, wealthy, and so on). People without education will have more adversities and obstacles to overcome.

Why Education Is Important

Lack of education massively impacts a person’s entire life. The majority of workplaces and employment centres will ask for qualifications and grades. For those that have been to high school, this won’t be an issue. But for those that couldn’t, it can be very difficult to get a job – almost impossible to get a good job with benefits and security.

There’s the added fact that, if they didn’t have an education, there’s a lot of important information that they missed out on. People without education will lack reading comprehension, writing skills and cognitive ability.

There are so many reasons why some people are unable to access an education. There are a lot of cultural factors that affect the significance of education. But, there are far too many young children who need (and have a right to) education but aren’t actually receiving it. Their human rights are being denied and, across the world, they’re suffering because of it.

Education is a privilege because it opens doors that others aren’t even aware of. It’s a privilege because we can use our education to help us understand society, socialise with others, get a job, develop our talents, and so on. For people without an education, these things can be impossible. There are potential presidents, popstars, lawyers, scientists, entrepreneurs, activists, and film producers that will never get the chance to unlock that potential… because they are denied an education.

Disabilities Affecting Access to Education

Even in countries where education is a human right, there are still many people without access. Or in some cases, the education that they do have isn’t designed to accommodate their individual needs.

Disabilities are a major factor that affects a child’s education. Most people will remember how students were reprimanded (sometimes publicly) if their attendance fell below a certain percentage. However, this is actually a very ableist and problematic practice. Of course, children must attend school. In the UK, it’s a criminal offence for parents to not send their child to school.

However, for some children, it can be very difficult to get to school – almost impossible, in some cases. Around 150 million children worldwide live with a disability and 90% don’t attend school. This could be because of practical issues with transportation. Some students can’t walk to school but also don’t have anyone to take them. Public transport can be quite expensive as a regular mode of transport in the UK.

There are many reasons that children with disabilities are unable to attend school. The government needs to introduce policies that help these students and provides for their needs. Their attendance is out of their control but they may still face sanctions if it’s low. Internationally and locally, there needs to be an increase in governmental policy that acknowledges the different needs of people with disabilities.

Education as a Global Issue

Children are denied their basic human rights all over the world – the things they need to survive as part of society. Education is one of them. According to UIS data, there are almost 260 million children and young people that are out of school (source).

In many parts of the world, the government does place essential value on education… for boys. Malala Yousafzai became well-known after she survived an attempted murder by the Taliban in 2012. The Taliban targeted Yousafzai because she was campaigning for female education in Pakistan. In several regions, girls aren’t allowed to enter any form of education at all.

Despite substantial evidence demonstrating how girls’ education is essential to development, peace, growth and equality, the majority are kept from it. Across the entire world, girls make up over half of the children out of primary school.

However, while there is a massive gender issue barring girls from entering education, there are also millions of boys that don’t have access to education. At lower and upper secondary level, there are actually fewer boys in school than girls. The overall numbers are almost identical. 132 million girls are out of education and 132 million boys are out of education (source).

War and Conflict Affecting Education

One of the major issues preventing children from having an education is conflict. Domestic and international conflict breeds warzones. UNICEF estimates that there are almost 50 million children worldwide that are missing school because of war and conflict. More than half of these children are primary age (under 11). Unfortunately, many militaries use directed attacks against schools and educational centres as a war tactic. Some parents genuinely fear sending their children to schools. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the M23 rebels violently took control of 250 schools in 2012, which put them out of use.

Funding Education

For these countries, it can also be very difficult to fund education. In 2020, the US budget for the Department of Education was $64 billion (roughly £45 billion GBP) (source). In 2019-20, the UK spent approximately £90 billion on education (source). Internationally, of all the money that is spent on education, only 0.5% is spent in low-income countries – compared to 65% that’s spent in high-income countries. Many countries struggle to finance stable and effective education systems. If there aren’t charity-run, free schools in certain places, there is no option for education.

Finding and affording teachers can be a complex issue for some countries. In some regions and nations, teacher shortages aren’t uncommon and it hinders the education process for a lot of young students.

Natural Disasters Affecting Education

Natural disasters can cause education to be inaccessible in several ways. Obviously, they can physically demolish educational buildings and institutions. The physical damage can last for months to years, meaning children don’t have access to focused educational environments. They also cost a lot to recover from. Financially, governments might redirect funds that could be put towards education.

However, it has also been proven that the psychological impact of natural disasters can negatively affect a child’s ability to learn and perform in school (source). The symptoms, similar to PTSD can last up to 5 years after the accident. Depending on what level a child is at, this can considerably undermine their entire education if they aren’t able to perform or function effectively in a classroom environment.

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