/Challenging paradigm of Sustainable Development Goal 4 in India

Challenging paradigm of Sustainable Development Goal 4 in India

Challenging paradigm of
Sustainable Development Goal 4 in India
“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and
promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”

Rama Kant Rai
Convener National Coalition for Education (NCE) – India

After the end of disastrous World War II the world community came out with a new commitment for human rights. On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This commitment is called Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) having 30 sections. One of the most important commitments was article 26 which reads as „Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality“.

While the commitment seemed to be comprehensive in its intrinsic form the development of the human beings, full personality, is important as a thematic thread running through the UDHR. Its significance in framing a holistic concept of human nature as essentially free, social, potentially educated, and entitled to participation in critical decision-making is bolstered by repetition at several points of the UDHR as under:

  • Article 22 says everyone’s rights to social, economic and cultural rights are „indispensable“ … for the „free development of his personality“.
  • Article 26 posits a right to education, and states: „Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality“.
  • Article 29 repeats the holistic vision of human rights, saying: „Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible“.

The „full development“ goal was intended to capture the enabling qualities of the right to education, and of education about human rights to capacitate people to their potential faculties so as to ensure human dignity. This view follows from a close reading of the key phrase – „full development of the human personality“ – which is immediately followed without so much as a comma by the phrase: „and to the strengthening of human rights and fundamental freedoms“. Using a standard approach to statutory construction, one might fairly conclude that the joining of the two elements was deliberate and meaningful, especially in view of Mrs. Roosevelt’s injunction to seek conciseness.

Article 26 says education should „further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace“. In its full text it reads as;

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

The United Nation Human Rights Council further resolved reaffirming its resolution 8/4 of 18 June 2008 and recalling all other Human Rights Council resolutions on the right to education, the most recent of which is resolution 29/7 of 2 July 2015, and the resolutions adopted by the Commission on Human Rights on the subject, relevant for the role of private sectors in education. Reaffirming also the human right of everyone to education, which is enshrined in, inter alia, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention against Discrimination in Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and other relevant international instruments.

It welcomed the steps taken to implement the right to education, such as the enactment of appropriate legislation, adjudication by national courts, the development of national indicators and ensuring Justiciability of this right.

This resolution was adopted during the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (13 June to 1 July 2016), urged all States to “address any negative impacts of commercialization of education”, in particular by putting in place a regulatory framework to regulate and monitor education providers, holding to account providers that negatively impact the right to education, and supporting research.

The rights of millions of children are being violated every day. Thousands of children have no access to education, work for long hours under hazardous conditions and are forced into slave like conditions, sometimes even made to serve as soldiers in armed conflict. They suffer targeted attacks on their schools or languish in institutions and detention centers, where they endure inhumane conditions and assaults on their dignity. All these factors directly affect the learning opportunities of children and leads to unhealthy and insecure future.

Almost 7 decades have passed after the UDHR declaration by UN and the world community has seen the significant progress of UDHR in dubious pace. In most of the IIIrd world countries the pace of universalization of education is still a dream. Let us see what happened after UDHR declaration in the world;

The promises made for Right to education

However the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report GMR) of EFA reveals that;

  • Only one third countries have achieved all the measurable goals of EFA.
  • Half of the countries could complete universal primary enrolment.
  • One third of countries did not reach gender parity in primary education;
  • Half of countries did not in secondary education
  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Global Education
  • Monitoring (GEM) report of 2016, says that globally 263 million children, adolescents and youth between age of 6 and 17 are currently out of school and deprived of their right to education.

Thus the EFA goal remained unfinished in most of the developing countries by 2015 as committed by the world community.

  1. SDG-4 Education 2030 and “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030: During the year 2015 the UN member states signed Sustainable Development Goals in its General Assembly. World community has also signed in “Incheon Declaration” called “Education 2030”. This is a more ambitious goal than ‘Education for All’ (EFA) goal which remained unfinished in most of the countries including India.

The appalling progress of promised goal of ‘Education for All’ in India;

Even after seven decades of Universal declaration of right to education under article 26, Jomtien declaration 1990, Dakar declaration (EFA 2000), India made elementary education a fundamental right by inserting Article 21A in its constitution which states “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine” and finally it also signed the Sustainable Development Goal which includes goal 4; Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

The progress of 8 year Elementary Education in India: With more than 1,448,712 Elementary schools (354,743 Private and 1,093,969 Govt.) India operates the biggest education system in the world. The implementation of constitutional amendment and Right to Education Act 2009 is still sluggish and not all children are in schools. The DISE (District Information on School Education) data is a surprising report which reveals that the progress of elementary education is dubious and there is something inherently wrong in the enrolment of children. The ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ seems a farfetched dream for all the children of this country.

Massive Number of Out of School Children Based on the 2011 Census figures, there were 233,583,108 children from age 6 to 14 in India. However, from the total enrolment figures for 2011-2012 (page 27 of the DISE 2012-13 Flash Statistics) had only 199,055,138 students in schools (“including enrolment in unrecognized schools and Madrasas”). This means that over 34.5 million children covered by the RTE Act were not enrolled in school.

The role of state to Right to Education: New challenge of massive privatization and commercialization;

The recently drafted New Education Policy 2019 talks about giving a big rope to private sector and trying to soften all the regulatory mechanism in favour of private sector right from pre-primary to University and technical education institute level.  This is going to pose a big challenge for poor and marginalized masses to avail the over ambitious Sustainable Development Goal 4.

With nearly more than 200 million pupils in primary and secondary schools, India has the largest youth demographic in the world. Estimates place the potential value of India’s education market at US$110 billion and, as an emerging economy, multinational corporations like Pearson, along with international chains like Bridge International Academies, have encouraged privatization of the school sector education through the promotion of private schooling, vouchers and public-private partnerships, especially targeting low-income and working class communities. This sector, in the avaricious minds of the profiteers, represents a vast untapped market.

At the same time, government-funded schools have suffered from disinvestment and neglect for decades, creating a mass exodus of working poor and middle class from public schools and leaving the poorest and most vulnerable behind. Recent primary school enrollment has reached 96 percent (with most of the growth in public schools), and girls make up more than 50 percent of new students.

State needs to be more responsive to Right to Education plight.
Throughout the world governments are trying to redefine and promote education quality for all. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the current blueprint for global education policy, not only expanded the scope of education beyond access, it also included goals and specific targets regarding “inclusive quality education for all… in addressing gender disparities and improving teaching and learning”.

More importantly, central to SDG Goal 4, is increasing the number of qualified teachers. Our report centrally argues that the provision of entire school sectors cannot be run on the basis of unqualified minimally trained and underpaid (mostly) female teachers. India must better support teaching and learning – but not with a tablet and minimally trained instructors who read from a script of narrowly defined learning materials.

Education must remain a public good: Privatization of education refers to the state’s policy of allowing educational institutions to be run by private parties for monetary benefits. And this is against the spirit and mandate of UNHDR article 26 and Indian constitution.

  • According to „State of the World Children Report-2016“, released globally by UNICEF, around 34 per cent children from Muslim families, 25.9 per cent from Hindu families and 25.6 per cent from Christian families did not attend pre-school.
  • According to the government’s National Survey for Estimation of Out-of-School Children conducted in 2014, more than 60 per cent of children dropped out before completing grade 3.
  • However, 36 per cent of children drop out before completing elementary education and about half of them are from marginalized and deprived groups.

Need to intervene by International community;Extending Right to Education in UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Within the above backdrop there is a need, therefore, to rethink education more radically and consistently than before. The United Nations has laid down the right to education in the Charter of Human Rights, and declared it to be an obligation – for governments, civil societies and individuals. Its implementation has been partial, at best, and all efforts must be made to achieve its universal enforcement. The world situation has become so acute that the right to education has to be significantly expanded. Education must become a global and comprehensive right – an entitlement that constitutes the core of human self-understanding. This must be jointly and universally affirmed so as to make the states accountable and take the responsibility to realizing the Right to Education for all, as enshrined in SDG 4.

The Project “Extension of Human Rights to Education – 2018” has been conceptualized as a council to the UN. Various social actors involved in the extension of human rights to education will work out different aspects of this matter with the aim of formulating a “Declaration on the Extension of Human Rights to Education” not later than 10th December 2018, which is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The project focuses on Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is to be amended/supplemented by way of a progressive expansion.  Under the “Extending Right to Education in UN Declaration of Human Rights.” project a process has been initiated for establishing coordination with many countries, academicians, social activists and all stakeholders to work on a declaration to chance the article 26 of the Human Right Declaration.

The Goal:

The project is advocating for re-examination of Article 26 of UDHR of 1948 in the changed global scenario and to reformulate it through a council, participation in which is open to all democratic organizations, Teachers’ Union, Students’ Associations, Grassroots NGOs, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), institutions and individuals of the world.


  1. 40% of kids from migrant families don’t go to school’TNN | Nov 20, 2018 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/66700788.cms?utm_,contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
  2. Right to Education Project, Promoting mobilization and accountability,INTERNATIONAL INSTRUMENTS Right to Education of Migrants, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, January 2014
  3. Agile Joy, Research Student & Assistant Professor, Migrant Child Labourers and Human Rights Sacred Heart College, Thevara.
  4. Nearly 81% of the Employed in India Are in the Informal Sector: ILO, In the South Asian region, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka fare much better than India and Nepal where informalisation of jobs is high, especially among the younger population, The Wire Staff ,New Delhi.
  5. All India Press Trust of India, Over 20 Million Indian Children Have No Access To Pre-School: UN Report, Updated: June 29, 2016.
  6. Politeknik, Project Dossier En 2019.