I stumbled on David Wiley’s Introduction to Open Education by way of a very moving story posted by Andreas (a participant in the course). In it, he referred to a translation of a story (written in the 60s – I think) by a bunch of Italian schoolboys in Barbiana (Italy) called Letter to a Teacher. I was so moved by this – I had to join in.
The “right to education” (as specified by the OHCHR) may be a basic human right but I find the whole issue of “rights” vs. “capacity” (as David Wiley mentioned) interesting and exceedingly complex. Even in our first world “system” of education, people’s rights are superceded by capacity-lacking loopholes. Yes, you have the right to education unless you are homeless, disabled, mentally-ill, a refugee, an illegal immigrant, etc. These conditions challenge the capacity of our institutions to cope – in part, as Tomasevski points out (pr.2/pg. 29), because they “are often not recorded in any statistics because they have not acquired the legal and/or administrative confirmation of their existence.”
Problem # 1 – you only have rights if you can prove you actually exist – statistically.
The other (major) sticky piece for me is the whole issue of child labour as an obstacle to education because it is often so integral to the survival of a family. In some countries, parents may “choose”, in desperation, to sell one of their children to local fisherman (essentially as slaves) in order to provide food for the remaining children. In their world – education (though arguably essential to their long term survival) must seem inconceivable.
Problem#2: if poverty is a human rights violation – then who will be held accountable, brought to trial, responsible for fixing it?
Should the right to education be a basic human right – yes, in my opinion – ultimately it serves the needs of a civil society. Is it meaningful in the global context at this moment? I’ not so sure. Although people can (and have) exercised their rights under the convention – and this is a good thing – I think we have a log way to go to make it meaningful for the most vulnerable among us.
On the question of whether “open access” or “mandated education” is sufficient – I think it is more basic than that. I think it is a question of values and survival. People will only access education (or deal with the policy issues related to capacity vs. rights) when they are shown some sort of evidence that the benefits outweigh the cost.