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International Education Agreements

International Agreements in General, The Years between the Wars (1918–1939)

The term international agreement refers to an international treaty, declaration, or recommendation adopted by the governments of many different countries in order to set out certain principles or courses of action in a selected field, or set of fields, of mutual interest. Countries sign international agreements on many things, such as travel and health regulations, telecommunications, air and ship navigation, and labor practices. The earliest such agreements in the field of education were adopted in the period between the first and second world wars, and many more have been adopted since then. Most have their origins in the work of international organizations. In some cases they form part of broader agreements that also cover other fields, as in the case of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Broadly speaking, their purposes and scope reflect the context of international relations prevailing at the time they were drawn up.

An analysis of these agreements could take any one of several alternative approaches. A historical approach is used here in order to draw attention to both the accumulation of these agreements over time and the possibility that countries have found it easier to adopt new agreements than to implement old ones. The focus is on agreements that are basically worldwide in scope, and not just confined to countries in a particular geographical region. The full texts of all the agreements specifically mentioned here can be consulted at the websites of the United Nations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

International Agreements in General

International agreements can be classified according to the level or degree of commitment that countries formally accord each agreement's implementation. The most demanding level is that of an international treaty, sometimes referred to as an international convention or covenant. Treaties typically require a formal signature by representatives of the countries concerned, and they are considered, under international law, to be legally binding on the countries (states) that ratify (accede to) them. The countries that are party to an international treaty normally need to ensure that the terms or provisions of the treaty are reflected in their national legislation.

Certain international treaties have as their purpose the setting up of an intergovernmental organization. An example is the treaty signed in San Francisco in 1945 that set up the United Nations. Another example is the treaty drawn up and adopted by a group of countries in London in 1945 that established UNESCO. Countries that accede to the United Nations and UNESCO treaties undertake to pay dues (assessed financial contributions) to these organizations, and to abide by these organizations' constitutions.

International treaties are normally drawn up and adopted by international conferences of states (so-called diplomatic conferences). They usually come into effect when an agreed number of states in each case has formally ratified them, which can sometimes be several years after the treaty was originally adopted, depending on how rapidly individual states are able to incorporate the treaty in their national legislation. In the case of education, most international treaties since 1945 have been drawn up and adopted by diplomatic conferences convened either by the United Nations or by UNESCO. No international treaty concerning education was adopted before 1945.

International treaties usually include a provision for states to report to a treaty body on measures taken to ensure their implementation. In the case of treaties adopted under the auspices of the United Nations, for example, the latter has established committees, such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to serve as treaty bodies.

Diplomatic conferences are also convened from time to time for the purpose of drawing up and adopting less demanding forms of agreement, such as an international declaration or recommendation. Broadly speaking, declarations tend to focus on principles that should guide action, while recommendations tend to focus on courses of action, although this distinction is not always clearly apparent. The states concerned formally undertake to make their best efforts to abide by the provisions of the declaration or recommendation in question, without necessarily agreeing to adopt specific legislative measures as might be required by a treaty. The declarations, recommendations, and treaties adopted by international conferences of states are generally referred to in diplomatic parlance as international normative instruments.

Other types of agreement include resolutions adopted by the member states of international organizations, as well as international declarations and recommendations of an essentially nonformal character that representatives of countries have expressed their support for without formally committing their respective states to abide by. The latter are typically drawn up and adopted by consensus at nondiplomatic conferences that have a mixed composition of participants, often including representatives of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations as well as of governments. Probably the best-known example in the field of education is the World Declaration on Education for All, adopted by the World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990. Such conferences have also tended to adopt a plan or program of action for implementation of the declaration or recommendation specifying how the various parties concerned will work towards the agreed goals or objectives. In some cases, agreement has also been reached on the establishment of a mechanism to monitor implementation.

The Years between the Wars (1918–1939)

With two or three exceptions, the international education agreements adopted during the period between the two world wars were generally of a nonformal character. The exceptions were in the form of resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations set up by the peace conference that followed World War I. The majority were in the form of recommendations adopted by successive international conferences organized by the International Bureau of Education (IBE), a hybrid nongovernmental/intergovernmental body established in Geneva in 1926.

The idea of governments adopting agreements concerning education emerged from the broader movement of opinion among the leaders of the major industrial countries after World War I in favor of new approaches to the challenge of fostering international understanding and peace. The League of Nations was conceived in this spirit as a permanent mechanism of consultation between states, essentially for the purpose of overcoming misunderstandings and disagreements before they could develop into armed conflict. A key concept of the League was that such consultation should not be just a matter of diplomatic contacts between ministries of foreign affairs, but should also include contacts between the national administrations responsible for matters that were often the basic sources of misunderstanding and disagreement between countries, such as commerce and trade, communications, travel, employment, and health. Various subsidiary organs of the League were established in order to facilitate cooperation between countries in certain of these fields.

Education was not specifically mentioned in the treaty setting up the League, although at the peace conference that drew up the treaty, some countries had favored its inclusion. Others felt that education was mainly an internal matter. Nevertheless, at its first session in 1920 the League's General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the League's (executive) Council to examine a closely related question, that of "international intellectual co-operation," which the resolution's sponsors (Belgium and France) considered to be highly relevant to the task of developing a spirit of understanding, cooperation, and peace among nations. In the following year the League established an International Commission on Intellectual Co-operation, composed of eminent personalities in the sciences and humanities from different countries and charged with advising the council on measures that governments could take with a view to stimulating international cooperation among scientists, artists, philosophers, writers, and other groups of intellectuals, in furtherance of the League's overall objectives.

This opened a door for the League of Nations to enter somewhat indirectly into educational matters. Thus, one of the early actions taken by the League's General Assembly was its adoption in 1923 of a resolution calling upon countries to encourage the teaching of the goals of the League and the ideals of international cooperation to young people. However, in the absence of a formal mandate in education, the scope for further initiatives by the League in this field was limited. In the years remaining up until the outbreak of World War II, the only other instance of such an agreement being reached by the League's General Assembly was the adoption of a resolution in 1935 calling upon countries to encourage the teaching of history for peaceful purposes.

In the meantime, however, the French government (with the League's blessing, though not its financial support) had set up a body, the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, for the purpose of carrying out operational activities in areas of concern to the commission. These indirectly had an educational dimension, if only because international intellectual cooperation partly concerned international cooperation between educational institutions, such as universities, that in most countries were the main centers of intellectual life. The institute became active in promoting exchanges between researchers in different countries, in both the sciences and humanities, and in promoting international cooperation between universities, particularly with regard to teacher and student exchanges and the mutual recognition of degrees and diplomas. Much of this work was to be taken up after World War II by UNESCO.

The absence of a mandate for the League of Nations to get involved in educational matters did not preclude the League's members from showing an interest in another framework of cooperation in this field, which came to be provided by the IBE. The IBE was established in Geneva in 1926 as an offshoot of the University of Geneva's School of Education (Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau), one of the main centers in Europe of the New Education movement, a body of educational thinking closely associated with the ideas of John Dewey and the Progressive education movement in the United States. Originally conceived as an international nongovernmental clearing-house of educational research and documentation, the IBE revised its statutes in 1929 so as to permit governments to become members, and it was soon discovered that there was widespread latent support for the creation of some kind of forum in which national educational policymakers could exchange views and experiences concerning educational developments in their respective countries.

From 1934, therefore, the IBE undertook to organize an annual conference, the International Conference on Public Education, open to any country that wished to participate. More than thirty countries sent delegations to the first conference, and the attendance increased at subsequent conferences. Delegations were invited to present reports on recent educational developments in their countries, and to participate in a general debate on educational themes selected by the IBE for examination by the conference. The themes (usually three) were selected with a view to addressing current policy issues of concern to conference participants. At the first Conference, for example, the themes were Compulsory Education and the Raising of the School Leaving Age; Admission to Secondary Schools; and Economies in the Field of Public Education. Later conferences examined themes such as The Professional Training of Elementary School Teachers (1935); School Inspection (1937); and The Organization of Preschool Education (1939). In order to give a structure to the debates, the IBE also prepared ahead of the conference a draft recommendation on each theme setting out policies that the conference could consider as likely to help advance the development of education. At the end of its proceedings, the conference would adopt by consensus a final version of each recommendation, taking into account any amendments suggested during the debate.

The spirit that drove the conferences was basically that of the New (or Progressive) Education thinking associated with the IBE: expansion of educational opportunities and the promotion of more child-centered pedagogies. The recommendations were nonformal and purely advisory, and it was accepted that countries would adapt them to their individual circumstances. Their usefulness for participants (generally ministries of education) probably lay in the broad stamp of international approval that they accorded to policies that most countries were inclined to pursue anyway. Significantly, the majority of the recommendations concerned the organizational and administrative aspects of education rather than its contents, which would have been more difficult to handle politically.

Agreements since the End of World War II

The success of the IBE's conferences was probably a factor in the interest among a number of countries, even before the war was over, in the possibility of future international cooperation on educational matters. Towards the end of the war, at the initiative of the British government, a standing Conference of Allied Ministers of Education was formed in London to discuss the tasks of educational reconstruction and cooperation that countries would need to undertake after the war. This body soon coalesced around proposals for establishing an intergovern-mental educational and cultural organization, with scientific cooperation being added later. In the meantime, the United States had initiated a process of international negotiations and discussions with a view to setting up the United Nations Organization, the purposes of which were envisaged in Article I of the organization's charter to include, besides the maintenance of "international peace and security" and the development of "friendly relations among nations," the achievement of "international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." The San Francisco treaty containing the charter came into force in October 1945. The London treaty containing the constitution of UNESCO came into force in November 1946.

Under Article I of its constitution, UNESCO was basically conceived by its founders as complementary to the United Nations:

The purpose of the Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.

In accordance with their founding instruments, the United Nations and UNESCO have been responsible for initiating most of the international agreements concerning education that have been adopted since the end of World War II. However, in one important respect their founding instruments were incomplete, because the U.N. Charter in particular (to which the UNESCO Constitution refers) does not actually spell out anywhere what the "human rights and fundamental freedoms" are that the United Nations is mandated "to achieve international cooperation…in promoting and encouraging respect for." This task was considered at the time to be too complex for the San Francisco conference to handle, and was therefore deferred until a later date. It was taken up by the United Nations itself shortly after the organization came into being, and was to result in the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1948.

In adopting the declaration, the opening words of which affirm that "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," countries have accepted a set of principles, covering a vast range of human endeavor, that the organizations of the United Nations system are required under their statutes to encourage member states to put into practice. The principles directly relating to education are set out in the declaration's Article 26:

(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 towards 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.

Virtually all international agreements concerning education adopted since 1948 have owed at least part of their contents to this article, whether or not the agreement has been specifically focused on human rights or on related questions of international concern such as peace and development.

The agreements fall into two groups: those that deal with education along with several other fields, and those that essentially are confined to education. The former correspond broadly to the agreements adopted under the auspices of the United Nations, and the latter to those adopted under the auspices of UNESCO. A comprehensive listing of the various agreements follows, with brief comments on selected aspects of their contents. Particular attention is given to the treaties, since they represent the strongest degree of commitment by countries.

United Nations agreements. The agreements adopted under the United Nations' auspices are considered first, beginning with the treaties. The three main treaties that contain provisions concerning education are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Another treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), requires the states parties (nations that have ratified a covenant or convention) to eliminate "racial discrimination in all its forms" in regard to "the right to education and training," among several other rights, but does not elaborate further on the matter.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) has a much broader scope than the other treaties. It emerged directly from the process of drawing up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, following a decision of the United Nations Economic and Social Council that the principles enunciated in the declaration should be transformed into treaty provisions establishing legal obligations on the part of each ratifying state. The prevailing view was that two separate treaties or covenants were needed, one dealing with civil and political rights, and the other with economic, social, and cultural rights, the rationale being that civil and political rights could, in principle, be secured immediately, whereas economic, social, and cultural rights could be achieved only progressively, according to each state's available resources. The preparation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was very laborious, given the legal issues involved for each member state, and took nearly eighteen years. The covenants were adopted in their final form by the General Assembly in December 1966. Another decade was to pass before they came into force. They have substantially influenced all subsequent international treaties relating to human rights.

The Covenant of Civil and Political Rights mentions education in paragraph 4 of its Article 18, which declares that "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions." Article 13 of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights basically restates paragraph of 4 of Article 18 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, there are certain differences. Thus, it provides for "the progressive introduction of free education" in secondary and higher education, and requires the states parties to the covenant "to have respect for the liberty" of parents and guardians "to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, that conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State." It also requires the states parties to recognize that "the development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved." Under Article 14, the states parties that have not already instituted a system of free and compulsory primary education undertake to do so "within a reasonable number of years." As of February 8, 2002, the covenant had been ratified by 145 states.

The other two treaties mentioned above were intended to focus on particular categories of persons deemed to be especially in need of support and protection. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) deals with education in its Article 10. The provisions of this article are based in part on the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as an earlier UNESCO convention (the 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education), but they enumerate in detail specific conditions that the states parties shall apply in order to "ensure" to women "equal rights with men," such as "the same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories,…access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality,…the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education," as well as several other conditions of a similar nature. As of February 8, 2002, this convention had been ratified by 168 states.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) deals with education in Articles 28 and 29. Article 28 is largely a development of Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, while focusing specifically on the child (essentially defined as a person below eighteen years of age). However, it differs from the covenant by certain omissions and additions. A significant omission is any mention of the "progressive introduction of free education" in respect to higher education. The convention states simply that higher education shall be made "accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means." A significant addition is the requirement that states parties take action with a view to achieving the right of the child to education "on the basis of equal opportunity," a notion that first appeared in an international instrument in UNESCO's constitution. Another addition is the requirement that "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention." Yet another addition is the requirement that "States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries." Article 29 deals mainly with the purposes of education. It basically reiterates the provisions of the covenant, but adds that "States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to…the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own," as well as "the development of respect for the natural environment." As of February 8, 2002, this convention had been ratified by 191 states–all the member states of the United Nations except for Somalia and the United States of America.

The main declarations adopted by the United Nations containing provisions concerning education are the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959); the Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples (1965); the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (1967); the Declaration on Social Progress and Development (1969); the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons (1971); the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975); the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992); the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (1999); and the Millennium Declaration (2000). In addition, certain other declarations containing provisions concerning education have been adopted by international conferences of states convened by the United Nations, notably the Proclamation of Teheran adopted by the International Conference on Human Rights (1968); the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development (1992); the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights (1993); the Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development (1995); and the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995).

As their titles indicate, the various declarations fall into two broad categories: those focusing on human rights as such and/or the rights of a particular class of persons (e.g., children, women, mentally retarded and disabled persons, persons belonging to various kinds of minorities) deemed to be especially in need of protection and support; and those focusing on particular aspects of the international context (e.g., peace, development, and the environment). Certain of the declarations in the first category were followed up later by treaties (e.g., Rights of the Child, Elimination of Discrimination against Women). The declarations in the second category have been less amenable to follow-up by treaties, in part because they deal with matters that have been much more open to ideological and political disagreement among countries. Particularly during the cold war, declarations and resolutions of the United Nations concerning peace were open to controversy over the relative priority, if any, to be accorded to peace versus human rights. The declarations relating to the environment and social development, however, have been relatively free of controversy.

The United Nations General Assembly has also from time to time adopted resolutions proclaiming an International Day, Year, or Decade relating to education, the purpose being to focus world opinion on a particular aspect of education considered to be deserving of attention and support. Examples include International Literacy Day (September 8), World Teachers Day (October 5), International Literacy Year (1990), and United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995–2004).

UNESCO agreements. Turning to the international agreements adopted under UNESCO's auspices, it may first be noted that UNESCO undertook to convene the International Conferences on Public Education jointly with the IBE from 1947 onwards, thus assuming a share of the responsibility for the recommendations adopted by these conferences. The IBE was formally incorporated into UNESCO in 1969, after which the conferences were convened biennially (as International Conferences on Education) up until 1997, and irregularly since then. The International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, which had been partly involved with education before the war, closed down at the end of 1946.

UNESCO has adopted three international and several regional treaties directly concerning education. The international treaties are the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960); the Protocol Instituting a Conciliation and Good Offices Commission to Be Responsible for Seeking the Settlement of Any Disputes which may Arise between States Parties to the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1962); and the Convention on Technical and Vocational Education (1989). The regional treaties are agreements relating to the recognition of studies, diplomas, and degrees in higher education.

Two early treaties indirectly relating to education may be noted: the so-called Beirut and Florence Agreements adopted by UNESCO's General Conference at its third and fifth sessions held, respectively, in those two cities. Their titles indicate their nature: the Agreement for Facilitating the International Circulation of Visual and Auditory Materials of an Educational, Scientific and Cultural Character (1948); and the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials (1950). Although both are designed to promote international cooperation in education, science and culture, they are essentially concerned with reducing tariff, tax, currency, and trade obstacles to the international circulation of the materials indicated in their titles, and thus are, in effect, tariff and trade instruments falling within the scope of the World Trade Organization. With the expansion of electronic commerce in education (cross-border distance education), the two instruments are likely to become better known to national educational policymakers in the future.

The Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) was the first international treaty to be adopted concerning education as such, except for the London treaty that established UNESCO. It was basically designed to transform the principle of nondiscrimination contained in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into legal obligations pertaining specifically to education, while also taking into account the provisions of the declaration's Article 26 concerning the right to education, as well as the principle of "equality of educational opportunity" affirmed in UNESCO's constitution. The convention influenced the provisions relating to discrimination in education that subsequently came to be included in all international treaties concerned wholly or partly with education, from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) down to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). It was also the first international treaty to contain provisions dealing with parental choice and the rights of minorities in education, and in this regard its provisions remain the most comprehensive of any international treaty. As of February 8, 2002, this Convention had been ratified by eighty-four states. The protocol associated with the convention provides for the setting up of a mechanism for dealing with any charges that might be leveled by one country against another accusing it of bad faith in ratifying the convention but not attempting to implement it. As of February 8, 2002, the protocol had been ratified by thirty states.

The Convention on Technical and Vocational Education (1989) is the only international convention ever adopted concerning a specific level or sub-field of education. It was partly inspired by the provision in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirming that "technical and professional education shall be made generally available," and partly by an earlier initiative of the International Labour Organization, which in 1975 had adopted a Convention and Recommendation on Vocational Guidance and Vocational Training. At that time, UNESCO had already adopted (in 1974) its Revised Recommendation concerning Technical and Vocational Education, but not yet a convention. Many of the provisions of UNESCO's convention are in the nature of prescriptions or recommendations, rather than actions that the states parties specifically agree to undertake. As of February 8, 2002, this convention had been ratified by twelve states.

Aside from the treaties, and unlike the United Nations, UNESCO has historically tended to adopt recommendations rather than declarations. The main recommendations concerning education adopted by UNESCO's General Conference are the Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Educational Statistics (1958); the Recommendation against Discrimination in Education (1960; adopted at the same time as the Convention mentioned above); the Recommendation concerning Technical and Vocational Education (1962); the Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers (1966); the Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1974); the Revised Recommendation concerning Technical and Vocational Education (1974); the Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education (1976); the Revised Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Educational Statistics (1978); the Recommendation on the Recognition of Studies and Qualifications in Higher Education (1993); and the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel (1997). The purpose of these recommendations, as of those adopted by the International Conferences on (Public) Education, has essentially been to encourage countries to adopt wise policies and good practices in the relevant fields. Their adoption by UNESCO's General Conference has been intended to give them more weight and validity than the recommendations of the International Conferences on (Public) Education, since the former body is a conference of states, while the latter are basically just conferences of ministers of education. As indicated in the titles of some of the recommendations, it has been understood that the recommended policies and practices might need to be reconsidered later in the light of experience and changes in national and international circumstances.

From time to time UNESCO's General Conference has also adopted resolutions that amount in effect to revised recommendations, though without being formally declared as such. In 1997, for example, it endorsed a new International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED-97) intended to replace an earlier version that had been endorsed by the Revised Recommendation concerning the International Standardization of Educational Statistics (1978).

UNESCO did not issue any recommendations concerning education during the 1980s. This was a period of controversy for the organization, marked by the withdrawal of the United States from the organization at the end of 1984 and the United Kingdom and Singapore at the end of 1985, in protest against what U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, in his letter of withdrawal, said were "trends in the policy, ideological emphasis, budget and manpower of UNESCO [that] were detracting from the organization's effectiveness [and were leading the organization] away from the original principles of its constitution." A definitive study of the merit of these charges has never been made, although in regard to education it may be noted that after the end of the cold war UNESCO became more active in seeking to collaborate with other international organizations for the purposes of advancing its program in areas such as education for development and education for human rights. Two significant international agreements that were to result from this were the World Declaration on Education for All (1990) and the World Plan of Action on Education for Human Rights and Democracy (1993), adopted by the International Congress on Education for Human Rights and Democracy, held in Montreal. The Salamanca Statement (Declaration) on Special Needs Education (1994), adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education (jointly convened by UNESCO and the Spanish government in Salamanca, Spain, in June 1994) may also be noted, as well as a follow-up declaration (the Dakar Declaration on Education for All) to the Jomtien Declaration mentioned above, adopted by the World Education Forum, an international conference convened by UNESCO jointly with its Jomtien partners in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000.

Implementation and Impact

A comprehensive study of the implementation and impact of the various international education agreements indicated above has never been undertaken. Since there are so many of these agreements, all of them overlapping to some extent, and all of them having varying degrees of support from the countries of the world, such a study would in any case be an extremely complex undertaking. Although UNESCO, under its constitutional mandate, could undertake such a study, it has largely confined its monitoring activity to the agreements adopted directly under its auspices. Monitoring of the various agreements adopted by the United Nations has been undertaken by the several treaty bodies established by the United Nations for that purpose. Their activities can be consulted at the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

There are limits to the effectiveness of the existing monitoring mechanisms. The main ones are the dependence of these mechanisms on government-supplied information and the different degrees of readiness and capability of governments to supply information. Indeed, with the growing number of international agreements in education and other fields, there are signs of a reporting overload on governments. Thus, questionnaire surveys addressed by the monitoring bodies to the states parties to some of these agreements rarely elicit responses from more than half the countries concerned. Neither the United Nations nor UNESCO can do much about this, since the agreements are, in the last resort, purely voluntary, and both organizations are bound by their constitutions not "to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state." It is only in countries with highly developed legal systems, as in western Europe, that ordinary citizens can effectively challenge their governments on questions relating to the implementation of international agreements, whether in education or other fields.

What, then, do they all add up to? Have the agreements had any effect on the worldwide development of education? Probably. The development that has occurred over the years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed has certainly been dramatic. In the late 1940s, only a minority of the world's young people had access to any kind of formal education, and little more than half the world's adults could read and write a simple passage about their everyday lives. In the early twenty-first century the great majority of the world's young people go to school, with nearly half of them enrolled in formal education beyond the elementary and fundamental stages, while around four out of five of the world's adults (though a larger percentage of men than of women) are estimated to have acquired at least some simple literacy skills. Doubtless much of this development would have occurred without any international agreements concerning education, but it is reasonable to suggest that the steady accumulation of such agreements, constituting, in effect, a broadly coherent body of international opinion committed to the expansion and equalization of educational opportunities, would have reinforced any secular trends (for example, rising income levels) tending to favor such development. The more that such agreements keep coming, each one affirming one or another aspect of the right to education, then the more difficult it becomes morally for countries to disregard this right.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that there is considerable variation among individual agreements in the degree of commitment that countries accord to their implementation, even among the treaties. Compare, for example, the Convention on Technical and Vocational Education (1990), with only twelve ratifications to date, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in the same year, with 191 ratifications. It is also apparent that some agreements basically restate long-standing, but not fully implemented, earlier commitments. For example, both the Dakar Declaration on Education for All (2000) and the United Nations' Millennium Declaration (2000) expect universal primary education to be achieved in all countries by the year 2015, although the World Declaration on Education for All (1990) had earlier targeted the year 2000. The danger here is of a progressive devaluation of all education agreements if new ones are too readily adopted ahead of significant progress in implementing earlier ones.


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