Access to education: A fundamental human right and a challenge for the 21st century

Access to education: A fundamental human right and a challenge for the 21st century

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”


These are the opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948. The authors of this declaration seemed to understand a great truth - that we are all equal and have the same fundamental rights.

However, despite the noble statements in this and other such documents, the actualization of equality among humans has lagged sorely behind.


When you take a look at this map from "Our World in Data", you can see that a majority of countries around the world do not have adequate Human Rights protections, even as recently as 2014.

Unfair labor practices still abound globally. Millions of refugees are displaced each year due to conflict in their home countries. There are many examples in history of groups of people trying to assert dominance or superiority over another group of individuals, sometimes violently and gruesomely.

Generally, these atrocities seem to have been the result of a handful of people negatively manipulating a much larger multitude of people who were already vulnerable to influence, often due to a lack of education and awareness about the world, into believing that they have some sort of inherent “betterness” in relation to the rest of humans.

This is factually and scientifically not true.

For most of the last 64 years, since Watson and Crick discovered DNA, and even before that, we have collectively deluded ourselves into believing that some people are born smart, others are born stupid. Some are born good, others bad. Some have the good luck of being healthy, others are destined for disease. Of course, people always have known that there are certain actions that you can take to improve your health, or to learn new skills, or improve your character, but only within a certain, very limited range.

Yet there is a mounting body of scientific evidence that shows that human beings have dramatic capability to drastically change everything about themselves and overcome the circumstances that they have been born into. For example, in the popular book, The Brain That Changes Itself, author Dr. Norman Doidge details a case study of a woman who was born with half of a brain but which was able to rewire itself to function normally.

In another case study, he discusses a woman who was born “retarded” but was able to use brain exercises to gain normal function.

In light of information like that, what really separates one human from another human? When we all have the same potential, can we possibly say that one race is better than another? Or that there should be haves and have-nots? Some are evil and some are good? Some smart, some dumb?

No we cannot.

Yet this is what leaders of extremist groups try to sell to the most vulnerable among us. It is a known fact that extremist groups recruit children and adults who often have no opportunity to make money legitimately because they have not received proper education.

When we are thinking of how we can solve some of the biggest problems society faces, including, but not limited to, violent extremism, ensuring that all children receive a proper education should be the first place that we look.

Education is a fundamental human right.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states,

“(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.”

And yet, as with many other things that we recognize as fundamental and inalienable human rights, the right to education for all is one that is far from being a practical reality. According to The Borgen Project, 72 Million children of primary education age are not in school, and 759 Million adults worldwide are illiterate. Many more millions of students do not complete secondary or higher secondary education. Additionally, many of the students who are in school do not receive much benefit. This global education epidemic can be attributed to a number of factors, such as a lack of education facilities, geographical barriers, child labor, poor teaching quality, lack of resources, and many other variables.

However, if we hope to build a better world for everyone, we must find ways of delivering high-quality education to all children around the world, as well as to those adults who are no longer of school-age, but lack proper education.

Marie Curie is quoted as saying, “You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.”

I could quote research or find statistics to support the statement that we are all better off when more people are educated holistically (that is to say, educated intellectually, emotionally, and with an appreciation for core universal human values such as respect for others’ viewpoints, acceptance of dissimilar people, etc.) but I consciously choose not to, as I really believe that this is something that goes without saying and needs no further support.

I think there are many ways to go about solving the problem of access to education. The primary challenge to be solved, in my opinion, is that of matching supply of education with demand for education on a global scale.

Modern technology has transformed a once large world into a much “smaller” global village. We can do business with people in the United States, Argentina, Ukraine, and China all from the comfort of our living room. We can look up information about literally anything we are curious about with a few clicks of a button.

With these advances in technology, many global inefficiencies related to supply and demand are being addressed. Organizations and platforms such as Uber, Kickstarter, and Airbnb are matching supply and demand in their respective industries and have fundamentally changed the way we travel, raise money, and find accommodation. There is a great opportunity to match supply and demand in the education sector as well.

Many countries have a teacher surplus, with many teachers unable to find full employment. Other countries not only do not have enough teachers, but also their teachers are often under-qualified. Some countries have a surplus of land and space to be used for schools and educational purposes, whereas other countries, due to rough terrain, harsh climate, or other factors, do not have the space for this. What if we found a way to match these excesses and deficits to create a more efficient education delivery model? Imagine what we could become and achieve as a species together!

Next week, I will share my thoughts on how this could be accomplished, practically and tactically. For now, I want to leave you with this:

We live in an exciting time of human history. Our technology has progressed in leaps and bounds. Scientific knowledge is also advancing faster than ever. However, it is imperative that, while we continue on this rapid trajectory of progress, we do not leave behind our more vulnerable brothers and sisters and neglect to help them secure their basic rights.

As Nelson Mandela said, “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” To that I would add, “and to neglect to care for the human rights of others is to challenge our own humanity.”

Let’s build an inclusive world where everyone has a fair chance at a comfortable, meaningful, and satisfying life. This starts with building a more inclusive and efficient education system that matches supply and demand to benefit teachers and students across the globe.

What are your thoughts, comments, or suggestions on how we could do this? I am genuinely interested in hearing your ideas!

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