The Right to Education in Times of Covid-19

‘Recover Better’ is this year’s slogan and theme for the International Human Rights Day commemorated every 10th of December. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 has brought with it new challenges in all sectors and walks of life; and now more than ever, the world needs to ‘do better’. On this day, The Malta Human Rights Education Centre puts the spotlight on one of the most important fundamental rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The Right to Education.

Article 26 *UDHR.

(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 Covid-19 pandemic has marked history and impacted local, national, regional and global life in every single way. Educational systems had to take rapid measures to limit the health risks of students, educators and communities as a whole; and the challenges that they continue to face will be long lasting. As educational systems and institutions move from an emergency state to a sustainable response, there is “a need to innovate the way we learn and teach, by blending face to face and online provision in new ways that may require new pedagogical approaches. We will need to ensure that no students are cut off from the benefits of education and from the possibility to develop their talents and potential to the full regardless of where they live, their gender, their ethnic origin, their beliefs and convictions, the socio-economic difficulties they face and the discouragement they face in their immediate environment.

Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe writes:

“Safeguarding the right to education is a public responsibility. Every member state is obliged to meet this challenge, but there is no doubt that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made that harder to achieve. Students and teachers are spending long and disrupted periods away from the classroom. Lessons must be taught in new ways that rely heavily on the internet and technology. Parents are often required not just to be present but to take on responsibilities that are normally covered by professional educators… Inclusive, expansive and high-quality education is essential for ensuring that every individual can fulfil their potential academically and professionally and as informed, active citizens in their respective democracies.”

There is a strong need to strengthen democracy through education, as well as human rights principles in order to live peacefully in our ever-growing diverse societies. “We cannot allow a health crisis to turn into a crisis of democracy“. For our democratic institutions to function properly, they must build on a culture of democracy that can only be achieved through education at all levels. This requires “an awareness of our past, as well as an understanding of our present and a will to build our future on the values we share as Europeans”.

The LEMON online platform is one of the Council of Europe’s resources that offers a one-stop place for educational material on topics related to human rights, democracy, digital citizenship and so on. They are free of charge, and can be used to teach issues facing today’s society in innovative ways.

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