Members' Research Service By / January 24, 2022

Education: A human right to cherish and protect

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education, in celebration of its fundamental role as a building block for peace and development.

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Written by Ivana Katsarova.

Education is more than a human right: it is a collective responsibility and an investment in the future.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education, in celebration of its fundamental role as a building block for peace and development. Worryingly, data from UNESCO show that currently 258 million young people still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40 % of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some 4 million children and youth refugees are out of school.

This year we mark the fourth International Day of Education as humankind has reached a watershed: inequalities are growing, our planet is scarred and polarisation is increasing. The still-raging Covid‑19 pandemic has put an additional strain on society and exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis. We are thus faced with a generational choice: keep on doing ‘business as usual’ or radically change course. Curiously, the ongoing pandemic has become an eye-opener, as existing educational gaps have become increasingly evident. Socio-economic inequalities, greater difficulties of access for those with special educational needs, issues in school communication and between teachers and educational authorities have been amplified by the lack of digital tools and skills. However, the sudden leap has also given rise to outreach initiatives and a growing awareness of resources whose potential was still under-exploited.

In November 2021, UNESCO released a new global report on the future of education entitled Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education. Prepared by an international commission with the aim of activating a global debate, the report gathered contributions from over a million people, calling for ‘a major transformation in education to repair past injustices and enhance our capacity to act together for a more sustainable and just future’. The report answers three fundamental questions: What should we continue doing? What should we abandon? What needs to be creatively reimagined?

Indeed, the Covid‑19 pandemic was a painful reminder of our fragilities, interdependencies and the need to redefine our relationships with each other. We are already familiar with the solutions, but need to consider them again and, most importantly, start implementing them:

  • we need to develop scientific and digital literacies to counter the spread of misinformation plaguing and dividing our societies;
  • redefine our relationship with our home – the one and only planet Earth – empowering students with the right sets of skills to care for it through education for sustainable development;
  • ensure innovative pedagogies supporting solidarity and cooperation and cherishing diversity, pluralism and creativity;
  • place teachers at the heart of education renewal; their crucial role has been highlighted (again) by the pandemic and they deserve recognition and professional support;
  • redefine our relationship with technology to make sure digital tools benefit all and are at the service of all. The digital transformation would be a vain effort if it is not centred around inclusion.

Crucially, placing education at the very core of transformation and making it meaningful for everyone, would help to succeed with these aims. However, this will require a societal shift. Such a challenging enterprise will need broad support encompassing governments, civil society, educators, students and youth to mobilise all available resources and reimagine a common future, built on respect, courage and creativity.

With all this in mind, the new generation of Erasmus + is on a good track. It places a strong focus on social inclusion, the green and digital transitions, as well as on promoting young people’s participation in democratic life. In line with the European Green Deal, the programme will lead by example, by encouraging participants to use lower-carbon transport as an alternative to flying. Erasmus funding will also be channelled into building knowledge and understanding of sustainability and climate action. (Just a few days ago, on 14 January, the European Commission published a proposal for a recommendation on learning about environmental sustainability.) Similarly, the programme strives to be more inclusive for people with fewer opportunities and more accessible for small organisations. What is more, 70 % of its €28 billion budget will support mobility opportunities for all, in a lifelong learning perspective. About 10 million individuals, including students, teachers and trainers, are expected to participate in mobility activities abroad during the course of the programme. Thus, as teachers, students and parents continue experimenting with new forms of education, policy-makers will continue analysing the results of such experiments to make education more flexible, inclusive and resilient in the future.

Further resources

Breaking cycles of disadvantage through education: An EU perspective
In-depth analysis by Denise Chircop, EPRS, December 2021
The analysis looks at statistics on perpetuated disadvantage in education and training, and studies a number of contributing factors by looking at evidence from case studies and other research that investigates the development of educational systems. It also analyses the extent to which reforms have been possible and the complex reasons behind them.

Lifelong Learning in the EU
Animated infographic by Denise Chircop, EPRS, September 2021
Learning is not limited to a single, specific phase in life, that of the years at school, but also happens in different contexts, over the course of a lifetime. With its strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, ET2020, the European Union supported the concept of lifelong learning by coordinating cooperation between Member States on training and formal, non-formal, and informal education.

Participation in early education and care
Infographic by Denise Chircop and Eulalia Claros Gimeno, EPRS, September 2021
Following research findings on the positive impact of early childhood education, EU education ministers set a participation target for 2030 of 96 % of all children aged three and over. This will depend on having enough places that are accessible and affordable. At the same time, the quality of the provision is just as important to reap the potential benefits. The infographic looks at the current participation of young children in early childhood education and what Member States are doing to improve upon it.

The future of tertiary education in Europe
In-depth analysis by Denise Chircop, EPRS, September 2020
The analysis focuses on six challenges facing tertiary education in the EU: the need to maintain relevance to current and future aspirations; the impact of digital and disruptive technologies; the way it collaborates with business; global and intra-EU collaboration; quality assurance; and financing and barriers to inclusion. It also looks at trends in two of the largest higher education systems outside the European Higher Education Area, those in the United States and China.

Further reading

Erasmus 2021-2027: The Union programme for education, training, youth and sport
‘EU Legislation in Progress’ briefing by Denise Chircop, EPRS, July 2021

Inclusion measures within the Erasmus+ programme 2014-2020
Study by Ex-Post Evaluation Unit, EPRS, September 2021

The European Education Area and the 2030 strategic framework for education and training
Briefing by Denise Chircop, EPRS, May 2021

Education in isolation in the pandemic, following the path of Isaac Newton
Briefing by Denise Chircop, EPRS, June 2020

Implementation of citizenship education actions in the EU
Study by Ex-Post Evaluation Unit, EPRS, August 2021

Rethinking education in the digital age
Study by Scientific Foresight Unit, EPRS, March 2020

Education and the New European Bauhaus
‘At a glance’ note by Denise Chircop, EPRS, March 2021

Early leavers from education and training
Infographic by Denise Chircop and Eulalia Claros Gimeno, EPRS, March 2021

Inclusion of migrants in formal education
Infographic by Denise Chircop and Eulalia Claros Gimeno, EPRS, November 2019

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