By Lucía Rodríguez
A violated right
Education is a fundamental human right. Quality basic education, guaranteed to all human beings with equity and without discrimination has the power to transform individuals, entire communities, and all nations.
In the year 2000, through the Millennium Development Goals, the world’s governments pledged to do everything necessary to ensure the right to education for all before the end of 2015. The good news is that the number of boys and girls not enrolled in school fell by half between 1999 and 2011. The bad news is that there are still 57 million children not attending school. In addition, 774 million adults are illiterate, a figure that has decreased by only 1% since 2000.
Who are the faces behind these figures? It is especially impoverished girls and women, people with disabilities, those belonging to an ethnic minority, or living in rural or remote areas, or in countries affected by armed conflicts.
UNESCO reports that 250 million children worldwide are receiving poor-quality education in overcrowded classrooms, without adequate infrastructure or teaching materials, and with poorly trained and poorly paid teachers.
Why are millions of people denied their right to free, quality education? There are many causes, but they are not unbeatable. Far too often it comes down to a simple lack of political will and inadequate public funding.
Protecting and promoting the right to education
The responsibility for ensuring access to quality education falls on governments, but this does not preclude the duty and responsibility of civil society. Historically, the Society of Jesus has been heavily involved in education; the Jesuits and their collaborators have undertaken many projects to provide education to the most vulnerable.
The International Federation of Fe y Alegría is a good example of that. Present in 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa, Fe y Alegría (FyA) extends beyond where the asphalt ends, to remote rural areas, to prisons, to radio stations… This is a grassroots education movement that has made an “option for the poor.” It caters to 1.5 million people of all ages who attend programs of both formal and non-formal education at all stages, in the classroom or through distance education, and including teacher training, technical training, and more. Every day, 40,000 educators from Venezuela, Haiti, Chad, Nicaragua, Spain, and other countries work to make the right to quality education for everyone a reality.
Another good example is the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). The focus of JRS in most regions where it operates is the education of refugees and displaced victims of war or natural disasters. It is present in 35 countries, and in 2013 it trained thousands of teachers and provided educational services to approximately 238,000 youth.
FyA and JRS are two examples of the commitment of the Jesuits to the promotion of the right to education, but they are not the only ones. Numerous other educational projects are also supported by the Society of Jesus. And today, more than ever, all those who are part of the Ignatian family must redouble their efforts not only to provide education but also to pressure governments and international organizations to ensure the right to education remains a priority for society—and for all governments.
This article by Lucía Rodríguez originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of CJI’s Mission News under the title “The Right to Education: Focusing on the margins.” Lucía Rodríguez is the Executive Coordinator of the Public Action Program of Fe y Alegría in Madrid.