UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights discusses the role of education in the world’s evolving human rights landscape at the Education City Speaker Series
Human rights and education need to go hand-in-hand for the world to promote and protect basic rights and freedom for all, said a United Nations chief who participated in a global discussion at Qatar Foundation about the future of education and how we can build back better.
“We always upheld education as a fundamental human right in itself, but it's also what we say is an ‘enabling right’ to claim all other human rights, and therefore, it has intrinsic value in its own but it's also hugely important if you want to be able to embody, capture, and realize to harness your potential as a human being,” said Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Al-Nashif recently spoke as one of the panelists at the Education City Speaker Series (ECSS), a Qatar Foundation (QF) platform for global dialogue that brings together experts and thought leaders to discuss key global issues. The ECSS edition titled “Building the Future of Education: How to Prepare Our Youth for a New Normal”, that Al-Nashif participated in, discussed how education needs to be disrupted, protected, and made more accessible and equitable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Al-Nashif, a human-rights based approach to education is a holistic approach that sees all human rights integrated with one another to make education possible, for instance, the health and wellbeing of students outside of school, protection from physical abuse, safeguarding of mental health, freedom of expression, etc.
The impact of COVID-19 on education across the world, Al-Nashif added, has made it obvious that we need to improve both the availability of and accessibility to knowledge and learning resources.
We say that the coronavirus does not discriminate in who it attacks, but actually it has placed a very big light on underlying structural inequalities.
Talking about the present-day landscape of human rights and how it has evolved over the last few decades, Al-Nashif listed both increasing challenges as well as new opportunities, calling it a “very mixed picture.”
“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were unanimously endorsed and are owned by over 193 states of the world, are really heavily anchored in human rights. They promise to leave no one behind, have a vision for social justice, and are now a cornerstone of our accountability as a multilateral system.”
Additionally, Al-Nashif noted, the past few years have seen many new contributors entering the international law and human rights landscape, with the number of organizations working in the field increasing from approximately 20 in the 1990s to more than one hundred today.
However, there have also been many push backs on the rights, liberties, and equality, with the stark increase in economic inequality being a main one.
“The extreme concentration of wealth, which is rising, in the hands of a few — and the richest 1 percent of the global population now controlling as much wealth as the other 99 percent combined — is a violation of rights in many, many ways,” she said.
According to Al-Nashif, the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have also underscored the rising inequalities between who is safe in this world and who isn’t.
“We say that the coronavirus does not discriminate in who it attacks, but actually it has placed a very big light on underlying structural inequalities, because all that has happened shows how inadequate our investments in health and social protection have been, and how the digital divides continues to grow.”
To move forward towards a more just and inclusive world, particularly when it comes to education and learning, we need to bridge the gap between decision-makers and the researchers doing evidence-based work, Al-Nashif said.
The extreme concentration of wealth, which is rising, in the hands of a few is a violation of rights in many, many ways
“We have academic communities sitting on one side and we have the decision-makers on the other. So, a lot of our work across the UN is really trying to make sure that the decision-makers are acting on the basis of scientific evidence,” said Al-Nashif, adding that two parties also need to be embedded within the communities and groups for whom these policies are being created.
“For inclusive and just systems, there has to be participation by the broadest possible group of stakeholders. That includes researchers and the academics, and the government and the decision-makers, but also the think tanks, the communities, and in many cases, the individuals who need to participate,” said Al-Nashif. “So, it’s all about setting up dialogues where these systems of thinking and exploration can really go forward together.”