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5 Must-Read Essays on the Right to Education

When the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 26 asserted that all people have the right to education. That right appears in other documents such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and in treaties about women and girls, refugees, migrants, and others. Many constitutions around the world also list education as a right. However, the right to education isn’t always upheld. To understand more about education as a human right, and where and why it’s often not a reality, here are five must-read essays:

Girls Can Change The World – But We Have To Invest In Them First” – Malala Yousafzai

Writing for Time Magazine in 2018, Malala Yousafzai’s essay details the importance of educating girls. It’s short, but like all of Malala’s writing, it’s impactful. She opens with the sobering statistic that 130 million girls are not in school. Despite promises at the United Nations to guarantee that every girl will get 12 years of education by 2030, donor countries either halted or decreased their giving for education. Malala expresses her discouragement, but remains hopeful, drawing attention to the Malala Fund and impact of local activists and educators.

The youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala is a Pakistani human rights activist, with a special focus on female education. In 2012, the Taliban attempted to assassinate her since she was already a well-known activist, but she survived. The attack and recovery made her a household name, and she won the Nobel Prize two years later. She is a writer and current student at Oxford University.

Is Education a Fundamental Right?” – Jill Lepore

A relatively-unknown Supreme Court Case from 1982, Plyler v. Doe addressed questions about education, immigration, and if schooling is a human right. In her essay, Jill Lepore writes that this case could become much better known as various lawsuits filed on behalf of immigrant children enter the court system. These are the children who are separated from their parents at the border and deprived of education.  Using Plyler v. Doe as a guide along with the other cases both past and present, Lepore explores the issue of education as a fundamental right in the United States.

This essay appeared in the print edition of The New Yorker in September 2018 under the headline “Back to the Blackboard.” Jill Lepore is a professor of history at Harvard University and a staff writer for the New Yorker. Publications include the book These Truths: A History of the United States and This America: The Case for the Nation.

How to Improve Access to Education Around the World” – Jan Lee

In this piece on the Triple Pundit platform, Lee takes a look at how Pearson, an education publishing and assessment service company based in the UK, is making an impact on education access around the world. In the United States, Pearson works on finding solutions for the social and economic problems that lead to low high-school graduation rates. Pearson also invests in low-cost private education around the world. The essay highlights how access to education can be improved through new educational technology for students with disabilities and outreach to underserved communities. Since this article was sponsored by Pearson, it doesn’t look at what other companies or organizations are doing, but it provides a good model for the kinds of actions that can help.

Jan Lee is an award-winning editorial writer and former news editor, whose work can be found Triple Pundit, JustMeans, and her blog The Multicultural Jew. On Triple Pundit, she’s written stories on a variety of topics, such as Leadership & Transparency, Data & Technology, and Energy & Environment.

Higher Education Is A Human Right” – Heidi Gilchrist

It’s established that primary education is a human right, but what about higher education? In her essay, Heidi Gilchrist argues that it is. Looking specifically at the United States, her reason is that in order to access the American dream- which she calls the “ideal it [the country] was founded on” – people need higher education. As global society starts to depend more on technology and other complex systems, more and more jobs will require advanced degrees. In order to truly succeed and achieve their dreams, people will need higher education. Gilchrist offers another perspective on the issue, as well, writing that countries need people with advanced degrees to protect national security. Having higher education remain a luxury means only the wealthy can access it, and that harms a society in every regard.

Heidi Gilchrist is a Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School and an Assistant Professor of Legal Writing at Brooklyn Law. In her previous career, she served as a national security analyst in the federal government, and as a laison to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City. She writes on national security and how it converges with human rights law and civil rights.

Public schools for private gain: The declining American commitment to serving the public good” – David F. Larabee

In an essay that is both a history lesson and critical look at the pursuit of education as a “private benefit,” Larabee argues that this new view of schooling is dangerous. While in the past, school had been seen as a community where students of all backgrounds and finances mingle and receive opportunities, it’s morphing into just another capitalist arena. Wealthy parents are choosing private schools and focusing their resources there, while public schools and students struggle. School is becoming “a means of private advancement,” Larabee says, instead of a source of public good. This has serious long-term consequences.

David Larabee is a Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, emeritus, at the Standard University Graduate School of Education. He describes himself as a “sociologically oriented historian of education.” He is also an author, most recently of 2017’s A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education.

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