Monday, January 24, 2011

Education as a right...and responsibility

Education is a basic human right.

Seems so simple and true, right? But, the first time I really heard this idea actually put into words—I am sad to admit—was within the last two years. The moment I heard it, I thought, “Duh, of course it is!” However, as I began to really delve into this beautiful concept, I found myself in a morass of questions, questions that helped me understand why the idea of education as a human right is so difficult to actually implement.
How much education? Do we all have the right to get whatever level of education we want? Whether or not it is within the resources available? Whether or not we will be employable after receiving that education?

To what kind of education do we have a right? What kind of education best serves the interests of society? A liberal arts education that teaches us to perceive beauty and speak languages and analyze issues? A professional or vocational education that provides us with excellent job skills? An education at a community school near home? An education at a prestigious private institution?

Who is to provide this education to which we each have a basic human right? The state? The community? The family?

What about those who don't want to get an adequate education? Do they have a right to give up a right? At what age? How do we motivate ourselves to complete our education? So, it's not just a right, actually, it's also a responsibility, isn't it?

Obvioulsy, it’s difficult to come to a consensus on exactly how to make education available so that every person’s right to it is honored. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of the effort. So, laying aside the concerns about how, it is important to establish why it is vital to honor this human right, despite the reasons it is so difficult and complicated to provide. This brought me to the following thoughts:

People need education to function in our complex society. People have a right to be able to access skills and information that will improve their lives and give them agency. This includes:
- literacy: the ability to read for in depth comprehension and to clearly communicate yourself verbally and in written form
- numeracy: the ability to solve problems involving amounts and numbers and measurements as well as spatial ability
- health education and basic sciences – to understand the world and the way it affects us as well as to be able to anticipate and resolve problems occurring between people and the physical/natural world

People also have the right to learn the social and psychological skills to navigate and resolve social conflicts and to function positively in the wider society, such as:
- civic education (social values, citizenship, peace, identity, governance, history)
- rights education (gender, human rights)

Finally, people have the right to learn skills that are necessary to secure fruitful and sustaining employment. This can come in many forms:
- professional education
- vocational education
- nonformal (think workshops, GED classes, apprenticeships) and informal (everyday learning)

So, I’ve worked through the why—at least my own personal version of it—but I doubt there are any blanket answers to the questions of how. The point is that the why is important and demands our attention, so it is unacceptable to give up trying to figure out the how(s).

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