Request for Special Protection

To the Secretariat, Human Rights Guiding Principles for State’s Obligations Regarding Private Education

Request that Special Protection for Child-Friendly Private Education be Explicitly Included in the Human Rights Guiding Principles for States’ Obligations Regarding Private Education

There is currently a critical omission in the draft version of the Human Rights Guiding Principles for States’ Obligations Regarding Private Education.

Certain types of private education are peculiarly vulnerable to state regulation precisely because they are MORE child-friendly and better aligned with the full spectrum of children’s rights enshrined in the UNCRC and General Comment 1 on Education, and also more suited to educating children for the digital age, than most public education facilities can currently achieve.

Best-practice child-friendly education is typically characterised by play-oriented, individualised, consent-based and, increasingly, heutagogical practices that actively and necessarily preclude the use of precisely the kinds of pedagogical standardised curricula and assessments that states generally use to operationalise their education norms and standards.

Typically such facilities are small, community-based and not suited to profit-oriented investment. This also means that they lack the necessary power and financial backing to hold their own against well-intentioned but misinformed interference.

Government administrators who do not understand alternative approaches that are more about heutagogy than pedagogy must not be given a mandate, even less, an imperative, to shut down these forms of education simply because their qualitative nature cannot by definition be made to conform with easily administrated quantitative norms and standards that any given state chooses to set for public education.

In many countries these innovative child-friendly alternatives currently have no way to operate legally because limiting state norms and regulations effectively preclude heutagogical approaches to the education of any but adults. For example, in South Africa, there is legislation currently being drafted (The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill) to inter-alia require all private education facilities to adopt the content-heavy state curricular approach (CAPS) which will effectively make even project-based education impossible.

Unless these Guiding Principles explicitly, appropriately and sufficiently address this issue, they could have the unintended effect of obliterating child-friendly best-practice alternative forms of education at precisely the time that the public good requires these approaches be explored, developed and refined.

This would be tragic for the individual children who would experience a retrogression in the enjoyment of their UNCRC-enshrined rights on being forced into mainstream education.

It would also be a great loss to the public good in that, aside from their child-friendly aspect, these forms of education are actively developing at this point in history precisely because of the increasing recognition that a content-oriented teacher-led education is poor preparation for a digital-intensive future, and that a more heutagogical approach emphasising self-direction and life-long learning skills is urgently needed.

Alternative practices often are able to inspire states in adopting more child-friendly and future-proofed approaches in public education structures. One current example from South Africa would be Department of Basic Education’s recent recognition of the potential value of Play-Based Education in the foundation phase. By existing, alternative facilities demonstrate in real life that child-friendly innovative approaches are workable, which reassures policy makers who have no personal experience of anything outside of authoritarian models of pedaqogical education.

In the light of the significant gap between what developing nations are obliged to provide, and what they currently manage, alternative education could also potentially offer valuable input to states on improving the design of informal education programs as recommended by the Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur UN Human Rights Council (2017) Report A/HRC/35/24 of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education: realizing the right to education through non-formal education, advance edited version 2 June 2017.

Due to the high quality of adult-facilitator interaction with children that is required in these forms of education, it could take decades of research, development, and training before such models can be rolled out at a national level. Therefore it is critically important to protect these private initiatives long enough that they can continue to assist in the evolution of child-friendly digital-age public education.

All innovation takes time for society to digest, understand, and accept. Ignorance and prejudice do currently lead to persecution of such innovative educational facilities by states and by misinformed members of the public.

When neutral investigation is carried out, courts have found that there is no justifiable reason for this persecution. Two examples would be OFSTED’s court case with Democratic school Summerhill (UK) in 2000, and a recent educational custody case in New York (USA) where the judge found “evidence that a Self-Directed learning environment is one in which children can flourish and thrive and that the school that the children are currently attending, Agile [], meets the necessary conditions for successful learning.”

In both these instances the child-friendly educational approaches concerned cannot be reconciled with a standardised curriculum and benchmarks, a progression through defined ‘grades’, and standardised testing. This means that these approaches to education would be obliterated by precisely the tools that most states use to define their ‘norms and standards’. This is why such approaches experience suspicion and hostility from conventional thinkers who currently believe that heutagogical approaches can only be effective with mature learners, and why these private education actors need special protection from these Guiding Principles. To subject such facilities to compliance with most current state ‘norms and standards’ is to de-facto shut them down.

The danger here is that, instead of the careful investigation that courts currently use in order to effectively evaluate such environments, courts could in future be called to recognise the authority of these Guiding Principles, which, in their current draft form would mean that the convenience of the state would trump the best interests of the child, as well as the public good.

Proposed Text

In the light of the above, I the undersigned, call upon the Secretariat to ensure the inclusion of the following text or its reworded equivalent, in the Guiding Principles document.

Special Protection for Child-Friendly Private Education

States must recognise that certain forms of private education have approaches that are significantly different to the pedagogical approach that may be currently chosen by the particular state. Where private educational actors adopt child-friendly approaches that align with the rights enshrined in the UNCRC but that do not align with current state norms and standards, these private actors shall be exempted from state regulation.

The practitioners of each defined approach should be encouraged to form their own International, National and Regional guiding bodies, and to clearly articulate and promulgate their own specific best-practice norms and standards. For example, Democratic schools umbrella bodies should be encouraged to define norms and standards for Democratic education, Montessori school bodies to do so for Montessori education, Self-Directed Education bodies for SDE facilities, and so on.

States must also recognise that home-education is only “home-schooling” when parents choose to home-educate a child using norms and standards related to pedagogical tools such as curricula, progression through ‘grades’, and quantifiable assessments. Parents who home-educate using a defined alternative approach must be guided by the best-practice guidelines, norms and standards set by the guiding bodies of their chosen style of education, rather than being compelled to comply with state norms and standards.