Education is important. Everyone agrees on that.
While we will obviously advocate for our "best way", we don't claim that it is the best way for everyone. Instead, we take inspiration from Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara's words1 "the democratic State may have as many kinds of education as there are opinions about education": we believe that there must be multiple educational options available and accessible to families, and that families have the right to choose the approach that works best for them.
Although many people are unaware of it, this right to choose education is recognized by several international covenants:
- Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states
(3) "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children"
(If you would like to know more about the origin of this right, see this paper on Non-State Actors in Education)
- Article 5 of the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) states
(b) "It is essential to respect the liberty of parents and, where applicable, of legal guardians, firstly to choose for their children institutions other than those maintained by the public authorities but conforming to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities and, secondly, to ensure in a manner consistent with the procedures followed in the State for the application of its legislation, the religious and moral education of the children in conformity with their own convictions; and no person or group of persons should be compelled to receive religious instruction inconsistent with his or their conviction;"
- Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) states
(3) "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions", and
(4) "No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph 1 of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State."
- Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) reiterates ICESCR 13 (4)
(2) "No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State."
It expands on the right to choose by firstly emphasizing the right of the child (not just the parents or guardians) to have and express their opinion (not just on education but on all matters affecting them) and have that opinion heard, with Article 12 stating
(1) "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.",
while Article 5 provides for Parents/Guardians to support the child in the exercise of that, and other, rights:
"States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention."
In Sri Lanka, the Gazette on Compulsory Education (2016), issued under the provisions of the Education Ordinance (1939), states in Article 2 that,
"Every parent of a child of not less than five years and more than sixteen years of age (hereinafter referred to as the “age of compulsory education”) shall cause such child to receive an education by regular attendance at a school unless he has otherwise made adequate and suitable provisions for the education of such child."
- The Report of the Special Committee on Education (1943), chaired by Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara and commonly known as the "Kannangara Report", states in Article 4 that
"The totalitarian State trains the young to the image of its leaders. The democratic State may have as many kinds of education as there are opinions about education. We would impose no limitation on educational developments that are consistent with the democratic way of life."