Childrenʼs Rights and Education

International Perspectives

by Beth Blue Swadener (Volume editor) Laura Lundy (Volume editor) Janette Habashi (Volume editor) Natasha Blanchet-Cohen (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XIII, 268 Pages


This book compares ways in which children’s rights in, to, and through education, formal and informal, are viewed and implemented in a variety of social and political contexts, aiming to shed light on how policies and practices can improve equal access to high quality education in an environment which is respectful of children’s rights. Chapters focus on understanding the opportunities for and challenges of addressing children’s rights to participation and to inclusion. Authors draw from a variety of disciplines, including critical and cultural studies of childhood, and bring internationally comparative policy perspectives to share nuanced and contrasting examples of ways in which a rights-based approach to education might empower children and youth. The book deepens and complicates research on children’s education rights, and will contribute to courses in comparative education, childhood studies, education policy, and children’s rights.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
  • Introduction
  • What Are Children’s Rights?
  • Why Education Rights and the CRC?
  • Questions Engaged and Cross-cutting Themes
  • Organization of the Book
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Section 1: Complexities and Perspectives in Promoting Participation and Inclusion
  • 1 Education Rights in a Society Emerging from Conflict: Curriculum and Student Participation as a Pathway to the Realization of Rights
  • The Northern Ireland Context: Conflict and Transition to Peace
  • State Response: Policy and Practice
  • Developing Respect for Cultural Identity and the Promotion of Tolerance
  • Mutual Understanding and Citizenship Education
  • History Education in a Divided Society
  • Development of Respect for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 2 Children’s Rights and Educational Exclusion: The Impact of Zero-Tolerance in Schools
  • The Wide Reach of Zero Tolerance
  • Education and Children’s Rights
  • Educational Exclusion, Poverty, and Race
  • Narratives of Exclusion
  • The Students
  • Lack of Care
  • Consistently Inconsistent: Lack of Fairness
  • Silenced Voices
  • Disrupted Education
  • Student Recommendations
  • Keep Students in School
  • Listen to Us
  • The Damaging Impact of Zero-Tolerance Policies: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
  • Due Process
  • Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Reflective Teaching
  • Alternative Education
  • Student Activism and Building Social Networks
  • Exclusion and the Right to Education
  • Note
  • References
  • 3 The Protagonism of Under-18 Youth in the Québec Student Movement: The Right to Political Participation and Education
  • Education and Participation Rights: Policy and Practice
  • The Context of Education in Québec
  • Method
  • Perspectives of People Under 18 Years of Age on Political Participation
  • Reasons for Participating
  • Means of Participating
  • Perspectives on Fulfilling Participation Rights
  • Discussion
  • Note
  • References
  • 4 What’s Right in Children’s Rights? The Subtext of Dependency
  • Education of Roma Children Through the Dependency Lens
  • Theoretical Scene
  • Roma, Those “Mischievous Fiends”
  • About the Study
  • Findings
  • Benefit Rights: A Case for Children’s Rights
  • Final Remarks
  • Notes
  • References
  • Greek
  • English
  • Section 2: Child-Rights Approaches in the Early Years
  • 5 A Rights-Based Approach to Observing and Assessing Children in the Early Childhood Classroom
  • My Multiple Images of the Child
  • My Ruptures in Engaging with Children
  • My Initial Inquiry
  • Rethinking How I Observe and Assess Children’s Learning
  • My teaching in a time of national reform
  • My Eyes Wide Shut
  • I Have No Conclusion but a Continuing Journey
  • References
  • 6 “You’re Not Listening to Us”: Explicating Chil-dren’s School Experiences to Build Opportunity for Increased Participation Within School Communities in the United States
  • Introduction
  • Situating Child Rights–Based Research in the United States
  • The Potential of Giving Children’s Views “Due Weight”
  • Overview of the Chapter
  • Giving Deeper Meaning to Children’s Perspectives
  • Discovering Pathways to Participating in Children’s Rights–Based Research
  • Gaining Access to Children’s Perspectives
  • Viewing Children’s Life Worlds through Participation, Agency, and Identity
  • Structuring Participation
  • Children’s Agency in Classroom Contexts
  • Exploring Identities
  • Potentials and Possibilities
  • References
  • 7 Renarrativizing Indigenous Rights-Based Provision Within “Mainstream” Early Childhood Services
  • The Rights of Indigenous Children
  • Early Childhood Care and Education in Relation to Māori Children’s Rights to Their Language
  • Te Whāriki and te reo Māori
  • Implementing Te Whāriki
  • Kei a ia ano ana tikanga, mana ano
  • Te Whāriki and Ngā Taumata Whakahirahira
  • Renarrativization Possibilities
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Glossary
  • References
  • 8 Restoring Indigenous Languages and the Right to Learn in a Familiar Language: A Case of Black South African Children
  • Context of the Study on the Experiences of Mother Tongue Instruction in the Foundation Phase
  • Conventions and Policies Pertaining to the Status of Languages
  • What Is Mother Tongue Instruction?
  • Importance of the Mother Tongue on Foundation Phase Learners
  • Declining Interest in Using Mother Tongue
  • Findings on Foundation Teachers’ Experiences
  • Preference for Teaching in English Instead of Setswana
  • Views on the Introduction of English in Class
  • Language of Teaching and Learning in Schools
  • Support Given to African Indigenous Languages in Schools
  • Discussion
  • Grappling with the Language for Education: Where to Go?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Section 3: Education Rights Issues in Diverse Contexts
  • 9 Pursuing Democracy Through Education Rights: Perspectives from South Africa
  • Design and Methods
  • Themes and Issues
  • Broader Views on Children’s Rights and the Children’s Act
  • Contested Children’s Rights
  • Education as a Right in Post-Apartheid South Africa
  • Challenges in Gaining Equal Access to Educational Opportunities for Children
  • Racism and discrimination in desegregated schools
  • Cost of Education
  • Discussion
  • Policy-Practice Gap
  • Children’s Rights and Local Communities
  • Closing Reflections
  • Notes
  • References
  • 10 Claiming the Right to Quality Education in Nicaragua
  • Human Rights–Based Approaches in Education
  • The Right to Education in Nicaragua
  • The “Safe, Quality Schools” Project
  • Methodology of This Study
  • Initial Multi-Stakeholder Participatory Appraisal of the Quality of Education
  • Safe, Quality Schools Booklet of Children and Young People’s Perceptions, 2010
  • Project Team Focus Group on Challenges and Achievements
  • Rights To, In, and Through Education: Complementary and Interdependent
  • Notes
  • References
  • 11 Getting an Education: How Travellers’ Knowledge and Experience Shape Their Engagement with the System
  • Who Are the Travellers?
  • Inclusion: The Blind Spot
  • Who Are the Roma?
  • Roma and Travellers: The Connection
  • A European Focus
  • National Traveller/Roma Integration Strategy
  • Education Strategy
  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Attitudes Toward Travellers and, More Recently, Roma
  • An At-Risk Category
  • Traveller as Deficit
  • Blame the Traveller
  • Contemporary Comment: What Has Changed?
  • Traveller Experiences of Education: A Historical Perspective
  • Possible Way Forward
  • Oppression and Discrimination
  • Anti-Bias Goals for Children:
  • Final Word
  • Notes
  • References
  • 12 When Boys Are Pushed-Pulled out of School: Rights to Education in the Philippines
  • Bound by Convention and Poverty
  • Emerging School Dropout Patterns Among Males
  • Research Methods
  • Boys in the Philippines Still Lack Interest in School
  • When Push Comes to Shove
  • Notes
  • References
  • 13 Intersections of Education and Freedom of Religion Rights in the UNCRC and in Practice
  • Religious Education
  • Models of Religious Education
  • Religious Freedom and Religious Education
  • What Should Religious Education Be?
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Index


This volume represents a dialogue that the co-editors and contributors have been part of for several years, in part through our collaboration on the Children’s Rights Learning Group of Una (a joint learning initiative on children and ethnic diversity). We have often speculated about how various social institutions—particularly those broadly related to education—would change if children’s rights were an authentic priority. We thank all the children whose voices and perspectives helped inform the chapters in this volume—giving their views due weight is at the heart of our work. We also thank the contributing authors for raising critical issues and sharing diverse perspectives on children’s rights, lives and education.

We want to thank Christopher Myers, Peter Lang Managing Director, who was very responsive and helpful, as well as our excellent copyeditor, Tom Bechtle. We also appreciated working closely with book series editor, Gaile S. Cannella and production editor, Sophie Appel. We benefited greatly from the assistance of student intern and editor, Nathalia Biscarra in formatting and reference checking. We thank Damian Charette for his cover art, that reminded us that children indeed dream the cosmos. Finally, we appreciate the support and patience of those who supported us throughout the book editing process.

← ix | x → ← x | xi →


Kishore Singh

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

More than 20 years ago, the declaration adopted at the World Summit for Children (1990) stated that “There can be no task nobler than giving every child a better future.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted the preceding year (1989), laid down a comprehensive framework for the rights of the child, including the right to education. Under the convention, which is the most universally ratified human rights instrument, states that parties have obligations to incorporate its provisions into domestic laws and policies and to ensure their implementation so that all children everywhere enjoy their right to education. At the same time as the World Summit for Children, the Education for All (EFA) agenda, launched at the World Conference on Education for All (1990) and moved forward by the World Education Forum (2000), expressed collective commitment by the international community to the realization of universal primary education of good quality as the right of every child—boys and girls alike.

However, in spite of progress over the past two decades within these international frameworks, there is an appalling gap between the commitments and the reality. Nearly 60 million children remain deprived of their fundamental right to education—including those belonging to economically and socially marginalized and vulnerable groups such as linguistic and ethnic minorities, immigrants, the handicapped, indigenous peoples, child victims of conflict in many countries, and ← xi | xii → street children. Millions of those living in poverty suffer educational deprivation and multiple disadvantages. Instead of receiving education, which is their fundamental right, children in many countries are engaged in child labor at an early age or—worse still—are lured into becoming child soldiers.

Thus, the right to education is not fully respected and is often least available to those who need it. Growing disparities in access to education are most worrying. Early childhood care and pre-school education, which, as an integral part of basic education, are the first essential steps in achieving EFA goals, are also scant. Ensuring equality of opportunity in education in law and in fact is a continuing challenge that almost all states face. While the right to quality education is the right of all children and a core obligation of all governments, many of the children who have access to education do not receive education of good quality, and there is widespread concern over poor learning achievements.

Therefore, at the 2010 Millennium Review Summit the international community made a renewed commitment “to provide equitable educational and learning opportunities for all children” and to ensure “quality education and profession through the school system” (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65/1). Abiding concern about the impediments to realizing the rights of the child is also expressed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rule of Law (24 September 2012), which recognizes the importance of the rule of law for the protection of the rights of the child. The declaration commits governments to ensuring the best interests of the child in all actions, and the full implementation of the rights of the child.

A rights-based approach rather than a welfare approach should guide state action. Such an approach also enables us to understand better the concept of the “best interest” of the child and its multiple implications—to protect and promote the right to education of every child as an inalienable right; to inculcate in children universally recognized values of human rights and democratic principles, with a child-friendly pedagogical approach; and to nurture in them moral and ethical values and a love for learning. It also implies a school environment that is respectful of human rights and is conducive to preparing children for the responsibilities of freedom. Both the individual and the society are beneficiaries of the right to education, and the best interest of the child is also the best interest of a society, and its future.

The right to education is a primary responsibility of states. It is also a social responsibility—of community, of parents and families, of teachers, of schools, and of all stakeholders in education. It is incumbent upon public authorities to undertake affirmative action and positive measures in favor of children who remain deprived of their fundamental right to education because of historical injustice, social exclusion, marginalization, and poverty—in particular, extreme poverty. A child’s right to education should be protected as a justiciable right and enforced ← xii | xiii → in any situation involving its breach or violation. It is always useful to bear in mind the General Comment 5 on “General Measures of Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” (2003) elaborated by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which states that “for rights to have meaning, effective remedies must be available to redress violations.”

Collective reflections in this volume supported by empirical research on children’s educational rights, and key issues addressing their more effective implementation in various geopolitical and cultural contexts enrich the understanding of human rights law. With its focus on a rights framework, the volume also shows how the right to education is a good example of the interdependence of all human rights, particularly the mutually reinforcing links between the right to education and cultural rights and the interface between the educational rights and religion rights and freedom in education.

A commendable feature of this volume is that it embraces a perspective inspired by social justice and equity as it applies to children’s educational rights. This is of paramount importance in overcoming marginalization and exclusion in education, often grounded in historical and cultural patterns of a society. Education is a common global public good, and world leaders must safeguard this as such, preserving social interest in education. As this volume argues, education is a fundamental human right, not a product.

This volume will be very useful for policymakers in devising equitable and innovative approaches aimed at promoting and protecting the educational rights of children. It will also be beneficial to researchers and human rights defenders, as well as practitioners who safeguard and foster these rights. Educating every child is a noble cause that must receive unqualified support, especially since the right to education is not only a human right in itself but also essential for the exercise of all other human rights.

← xiii | xiv → ← xiv | 1 →


Beth Blue Swadener, Laura Lundy, Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, & Janette Habashi

When asked about human rights, children inevitably say “show, don’t tell” but they are very, very rarely asked. If we were to honestly and openly answer their questions, we would have to acknowledge that a great deal of change is needed to create space for human rights in education.

—Katarina Tomaševski (2006, p. 140)

We all have stories about what has shaped our engagement with issues of children’s lives and education rights. For Beth, doing research related to impacts of neoliberal policies, and volunteer work in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly with out-of-school children in Kenya, led to work on broader issues of children’s rights. For Laura, a legal scholar and education researcher in Northern Ireland, understanding and advocating for the rights of children in this and other post-conflict settings has been a strong theme in her work. Janette has worked with Palestinian children in the West Bank and Jerusalem on projects related to their understanding of geopolitical issues and a journal project led by youth. Natasha has worked with diverse communities in Canada and focused on children’s rights in Venezuela and Colombia; most recently, she has done research with young leaders of the Québec protests of the rapidly rising costs of education. Together, as colleagues and collaborators, we share a passion for social justice as it applies to children’s rights and, as editors of this volume, to children’s education rights. ← 1 | 2 →

This book engages with questions and possibilities related to children’s lives, rights, and education. Contributors to this volume discuss, unpack, and share context-specific research from 10 countries on the impacts that children’s rights do, can, and should have on children’s experience of formal and informal education. Many of us have been in dialogue about intersections of issues, including roles that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) may play in the realm of education for all children, those in post-conflict and other challenging situations, cultural and theoretical tensions, as well as contradictions of universal policies often anchored in Western ideologies and linked to the neoliberal turn in education. We share a collective interest in how child rights–based framing of policy and practice might benefit children at the margins of dominant culture. While a tool for holding governments and communities accountable to the honoring of the protection, provision, and participation rights of children, the CRC is clearly interpreted and enacted in varied ways across differing cross-national contexts. This volume seeks to elucidate, complicate, and enrich such discussions and debates. Throughout, we emphasize the importance of children’s experiences and voices in shedding light on how children’s rights are—or should be—implemented.

What Are Children’s Rights?

Human rights have been defined as rights that are “so fundamental to society’s well-being and to people’s chance of leading a fulfilling life that governments are obliged to respect them, and the international order has to protect them” (Feldman, 2002, pp. 34–35). Human rights, as set out in international legal frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, apply to all human beings, children included. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, there was increasing recognition that certain groups of people (including women, racial minorities, and children) were particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and, therefore, in need of additional, dedicated legal protections. The key statement of these rights in relation to children is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (United Nations, 1989).

The CRC was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989 and came into force in September 1990. It is the most widely ratified and therefore internationally accepted statement of children’s rights standards, with the United States now the major holdout among members of the UN. The CRC is a unique document whose coverage and scope “in recognising the rights of children and young people, and setting out how they are to be promoted and protected is unrivalled in terms of their comprehensive nature, national and international standing and relevance” (Kilkelly & Lundy, 2006, p. 335). It is a touchstone for children’s rights throughout the world, providing benchmarks and standards across most aspects of children’s lives that are widely supported, rele ← 2 | 3 → vant, and easily understood. The value of a rights-based, as opposed to a needs- or welfare-based approach, lies not just in its universality or legitimacy, but also in the inherent “moral coinage” of rights, which allows rights holders to make claims for treatment that are not dependent on the goodwill or charity of those who can provide that help (Freeman, 2000).

The CRC is legally binding in international law. The primary enforcement mechanism is a system of periodic reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Individual countries report on their progress in relation to the implementation of the CRC every 5 years (see www.ohchr.org). Then, states are required to reflect on their progress in implementing the CRC according to reporting guidelines, which specify the information that the state is required to submit (Article 44). In education, the committee asks for relevant and updated information in respect to

laws, policies and their implementation, quality standards, financial and human resources, and any other measures to ensure the full enjoyment of the respective rights from early childhood to tertiary and vocational education and training, in particular by children in disadvantaged and vulnerable situations. (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2010, p. 9)

Specific issues to be addressed by the states parties are: the right to education, including vocational training and guidance (Article 28); the aims of education (Article 29), with reference also to quality of education; the cultural rights of children belonging to indigenous and minority groups (Article 30); and education on human rights and civic education. The committee also welcomes submissions from other interested parties, including NGOs, many of whom work collaboratively to produce an alternative report often involving children meaningfully in the process of compilation. The committee conducts a hearing in which it questions state officials on their progress and takes evidence from other parties, at the end of which it publishes “concluding observations,” reports about the individual state’s progress in implementation. While the scope and depth of the reports are limited by the time and space available, the observations, along with the states parties’ self-evaluations, provide rich insights into the state of children’s rights and educational policy in each signatory state (Lundy, 2012). The observations also provide a benchmark for civil society to assess the fulfillment of education and advocate for change.

Why Education Rights and the CRC?

The right to education is one of the most widely accepted of all human rights provisions, having been a consistent feature of international human rights treaties since the establishment of the UN. It is regarded as “an indispensable means of realising other human rights” (UN, 2001, para. 1) and is, consequently, the only ← 3 | 4 → right that is administered compulsorily by the signatory nation-states. Children are required to receive an education, an obligation that recognizes not just the importance of education to society, but the fact that children cannot derive full enjoyment from their other rights unless they have benefitted from an education. It is this interconnectedness of educational rights with other rights in the CRC that makes a focus on educational rights especially important.

Also critical is that, while most human rights can be seen to be either socioeconomic or civil and political rights, the right to education is arguably both (Beiter, 2006). It places the burden on states to make provision for education, and that provision in itself enables the rights holder to engage and participate fully in society and therefore enjoy civil and political rights. The multifaceted nature of the right means that it cannot properly be described as a simple right “to” education in the way that there is a right to an adequate standard of living or to health care. Rather, it has become common to refer to it as collection of rights which, taken together, constitute rights to, in, and through education (Howe & Covell, 2005; Verhellen, 1993).


XIII, 268
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
participation inclusion policy youth
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 268 pp.

Biographical notes

Beth Blue Swadener (Volume editor) Laura Lundy (Volume editor) Janette Habashi (Volume editor) Natasha Blanchet-Cohen (Volume editor)

Beth Blue Swadener earned her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently Professor of Justice and Social Inquiry and Associate Director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on cross-national policy studies in early childhood, particularly in Africa, with emphasis on children’s rights and participation. Laura Lundy is Professor of Education Law and Children’s Rights at Queen’s University, Belfast, where she earned her PhD and qualified as a barrister. She is currently Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights (www.qub.ac.uk/ccr). Janette Habashi is Associate Professor of Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma, with a PhD from Kent State University. Her research with children and Indigenous populations examines socialization, national identity, political participation/resistance, and children’s rights-based approaches in policy and research. Natasha Blanchet-Cohen is Assistant Professor in Applied Human Sciences at Concordia University and holds a PhD from the University of Victoria. As an applied researcher on community youth development for over 15 years, she focuses on young people’s agency and embedding youth decision-making into practice.


Title: Childrenʼs Rights and Education