Freedom of education is the right for parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious and other views, allowing groups to be able to educate children without being impeded by the nation state.
Freedom of education is a constitutional (legal) concept that has been included in the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 13 and several national constitutions, e.g. the Belgian constitution (former article 17, now article 24) and the Dutch constitution (article 23).
The English liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill was a strong advocate of education without the state. In his essay On Liberty, he wrote:
- There are no libertarian objections to the state making the education of children compulsory. However, there are to the state providing and directing education. I go as far as anyone in deprecating that the whole or any large part of education should be in the hands of government.
- Individual freedom and diversity in people’s characters, opinions, and modes of conduct require freedom and diversity in education – and any general system of state education would be a contrivance for casting people into the same mould and shape. Education would aim to suit the governing power – whether a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation. The more efficient and successful state education was, the greater the despotism the state could establish over the minds and bodies of the people. If societies allow state-schools and universities to operate at all, these institutions should be just one among many competing forms and experiments in education. The government might establish them simply to provide models or examples of how to achieve certain standards of educational excellence.
The European forum for freedom in education was formed in 1989 and has 69 members across 13 countries. Their official demands include a need for autonomy to students and teachers. It also establishes the importance of diversity in education, to allow parents the choice of sending their child to a school that aligns with their views.
In the Netherlands, a political battle raged throughout the nineteenth century over the issue of the state monopoly on tuition-free education. It was opposed under the banner of "Freedom of Education" and the Separation of Church and State. The Dutch called it "De Schoolstrijd" (The Battle of the Schools). The Dutch solution was the separation of school and state by funding all schools equally, both public and private from 1917. The freedom of education resulted in the establishment of many new school types in the total spectrum of education in the Netherlands. New methods of education were introduced inspired by ideals on education (like those of Maria Montesori, Rudolf Steiner, Jenaplan). Schools were also funded based on religion. After the influx of workers from Islamic countries, Islamic schools were introduced. In 2003, in total 35 Islamic schools were in operation. However, a study in 2015 showed that the introduction of new schools for secondary education appeared difficult. Local communities, including existing local schools, resisted the introduction of new schools, for instance by delaying the procedure to find a location for a new school.
Presently, freedom to teach religion in schools is a protected right, both for individuals or groups to teach, and for an individual to learn. While this plainly means children, it can also be interpreted to apply to parents' rights to have their valued beliefs or principles taught to the child.
There have been issues around limiting the abilities of religious schools within the Netherlands. This includes serious threats to orthodox Jewish and Islamic schools' ability to enjoy this freedom. Following a general change in attitudes within the Netherlands there has been controversy surrounding balancing the freedom of education with the other rights of non-discrimination that might be seen, particularly towards women in many conservative Islamic schools.
Most religious schools in the Netherlands have also since stopped acting within their own subset of institutions, thus lessening their power within the education system. Combined with the growth in diversity, and an overriding importance of non-discrimination, the ability for religious groups with conservative views in the Netherlands to educate their children in the manner that they were has been tarnished.
Situation in Europe (2013)
A University of Amsterdam study of 2013 ranked six member states by their parallel education (the ability to voluntary create a religious denomination which can be aided/impeded through funding) to give an indication of the freedom of groups and individuals to instill their religious beliefs through education. The conclusions are listed below.
Denmark achieved a high rating. Denmark’s constitution requires a duty of education, but not one aimed at the school. This creates an option for private education or home-school. Private schools receive a subsidy that covers approximately 3/4 of the costs. Over the last ten years, Denmark has raised its level of supervision of these schools and the obligations on the schools to regulate themselves.
The Netherlands achieved a high rating; religious schools in the Netherlands which are private are funded equally to public schools and are subject to the same regulations. Well over half of the Netherlands' schools are built on the grounds of a religion. The Dutch constitution (article 23) protects freedom of education and means the government must hold private and state schools equally. While private schools need to employ proper teachers, they may select their teachers or pupils based on their spiritual beliefs or values.
Ireland received a high rating. 95% of primary and 57% of secondary Irish schools are denominational, though this number is decreasing. Education is supported predominantly by Catholic but also Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim institutions and trusts. There are also Irish language schools for parents who want to teach their children through the national language, as a vast majority of the population of Ireland speaks English. Compared with the rest of the continent, religious educational groups have had strong levels of freedom, and have been able to establish schools that receive considerable State funding.
Italy received a medium rating. Religious schools in Italy are private, which can request to become treated like public schools. If they achieve this, they will be under the same rules as public schools. They can receive funding, but in most successful instances it was only Catholic schools managed by Catholic groups, the dominant religion in the country.
Spain received a medium rating. In theory Spain's constitution protects the right to create a school based upon a certain belief. However, in practice, establishing schools for minority groups can be problematic mostly due to the availability of resources. Fewer than ten schools in the country actually educate religious minority groups.
Sweden received a high rating. The freedom of Swedish private schools is equal to that of state schools. While religious schools can select their own staff or students, the national regulations clearly state what can and cannot be omitted from teaching, such as gender. Rules surrounding dress or behaviour are allowed provided they comply within the general law. The ability to teach a notably Islamic curriculum is restricted, however, which meant that the rating of Sweden came close to being downgraded to medium.
United States of America
Around 17% of schools in the United States are faith-based. However, America does not offer families any public support to attend such schools routinely.
Public schools are required by certain state laws to educate their students in a secular manner so as not to endorse any specific religion. However, most public schools in the US have become more responsive to a variety of dietary requirements, such as nut-free or vegetarian options, and children are allowed to be exempt from activities that would normally be inconsistent with their religious teachings.
However, despite there being no constitutional pressures on the freedom of parents to choose education, the American society still opposes religious education in some states. Negative news reporting combined with the general attitude of American citizens places pressure upon parents who want to send their children to religious private schools.
Religious freedom of schools is supported through the Constitution of many South American countries. In Chile, funds are provided to both state and private schools at all ages. There is no non-Catholic teaching in most schools within this region, however. While there is still some frequency of religious discrimination in South America, the legal and societal restrictions have been overcome through a combination of influence by the Vatican, the spread of Protestantism and Constitutional change. Freedom of education through a belief outside the Christian faith still remains a contested issue throughout South America.
The South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms section 15 allows for observance of religious observances in State or private schools, provided they are compliant with other laws.
There is legal support for free and open religious education within the Australian public schooling system, but its actual application is very rare. However, there is also support for a "confessional" method of religious education which has been commonplace since the 19th century. This method lets churches visit to give religious lessons in schools. There are also many Islam and Jewish schools throughout the country, with a strong presence in New South Wales and Victoria. The Australian government does provide funding to private schools, over half of which are faith based.
Israel currently offers a growing number of Haredi and Arab schools, as well as special private schools that reflect certain beliefs of parents, or are based around a foreign country curriculum, for example, Jerusalem American International School. Despite this, the success rate of Haredi students at the national level is significantly low. Israel also operates an Arab education system for their minority, including lessons on their own culture and history to support Arab parents. However, there have been allegations of better funding directed towards the Jewish education system. One report suggested that the Israeli government spends $192 per year on each Arab student, compared to $1,100 per Jewish student. A 2001 Human Rights Watch report claimed Arab school students were getting an inferior education from fewer resources and poorly constructed institutions.
Women in the Arab world may still be denied equality of opportunity, although their disempowerment is a critical factor crippling the markets of the Arab nations to return to the first pitch of global leaders in star commerce, teenage learning and pop culture, according to a new United States-sponsored report in 2012. Education in the Arab World has made progress over the past decade. However, the quality of education remains poor, many children still leave primary education prematurely and illiteracy rates are relatively high, according to a new United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report.
- ^Stichting Advisering Bestuursrechtspraak, grondwet artikel 23 (In Dutch)
- ^John Stuart Mill, On Liberty: A Translation into Modern English, ISR/Google Books, 2013, page 123. Ebook ISBN 9780906321638
- ^History of European forum for freedom in education, the European forum for freedom in education official website.
- ^Demands of European forum for freedom in education, European forum for freedom in education demand's on EU policies.
- ^Hooker, Mark (2009). Freedom of Education: The Dutch Political Battle for State Funding of all Schools both Public and Private (1801-1920). p. x. ISBN 1-4404-9342-1.
- ^W.A. Shadid (2003). "Controlling lessons on religion on Islamic schools, based on an article in Vernieuwing. Tijdschrift voor Onderwijs en Opvoeding". Interculturele communicatie (in Dutch). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- ^Kuiper, Rik (29 April 2015). "Establishing a new school virtually impossible". De Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- ^ abcMarcel Maussen & Floris Vermeulen (2015) Liberal equality and toleration for conservative religious minorities. Decreasing opportunities for religious schools in the Netherlands?, Comparative Education, 51:1, 87-104, DOI: 10.1080/03050068.2014.935576
- ^Applying tolerance indicators: assessing tolerance for religious schools, 2013, Marcel Maussen.
- ^Religious Schools in America
- ^Religious education in schools
- ^Education and religious freedom in South America
- ^South African Bill of Rights Article 15.
- ^Finding the balance: Religious education in Australia
- ^Australian funding of private schools.
- ^Israeli schools separate, not equal.
- ^Arab education lags behind world, says UNESCO
Every day, on every continent, teachers are inspiring students and advocating for the resources and support that all students—from kindergarten through college—need and deserve. On World Teachers’ Day, October 5, we celebrate amazing teachers wherever they are for dedicating themselves to our profession—which, in my humble opinion, is the best on the planet.
As NEA president as well as vice president, North America and Caribbean, of Education International, I have the opportunity to visit, learn from, and bring together teachers in many places. Whether in India or Indiana, it’s clear that we share the same “gene” even though our circumstances and cultures vary: We believe with all our hearts in our students, and we are passionate about helping them discover what they are passionate about.
Through my travels, I’ve also learned that we face many of the same challenges, including figuring out how to stretch resources that are often pretty paltry. A new World Bank report calls attention to some of the problems in public education, but it could go further in identifying funding issues as the root cause. We’re also fighting privatization, which pits those of us who know the kids against CEOs who know a profit-making scheme when they see one.
And here is a huge problem: 121 million children and adolescents are not in primary or lower secondary schools worldwide, according to the Global Partnership for Education. That number hasn’t changed for the past decade. In many countries, conflict, violent extremism, and political interference have pushed students out of school. These factors also inhibit educators’ ability to teach as we see fit and even endanger our lives. But wherever we are, we are committed to the success of each and every student.
The theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day is “Teaching in freedom, empowering teachers,” and it underscores two ideas that are essential to providing students with an education that inspires their imaginations and curiosity and instills a lifelong love of learning.
Number one, teachers must have the freedom to teach in ways that engage all students. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to learning, and as the professionals, we have to be equipped—and trusted—to make the best decisions for our students.
Number two, we must be free to advocate for the resources and support that students and our profession need. By coming together in our unions, we can raise our voices and push our communities to invest in the things that we know work, such as class sizes that are small enough for one-on-one interaction, after-school programs, and health care.
This year, World Teachers’ Day also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNSESCO) recommendation on the status of teachers in higher education, which was intended to help improve the working conditions of college and university faculty members throughout the world. The recommendation underscores the necessity of academic freedom and university autonomy to both teaching and research and articulates the rights faculty members should have. It remains an important document in higher education because it explains what constitutes academic freedom; in fact, many organizations use it to help gauge the extent of academic freedom and university autonomy around the world.
These are ideas worth protecting and fighting for, especially at a time of divisiveness in our own nation, and upheaval in many other places. But one thing is certain: Today’s students are tomorrow’s best hope for a better future. And that means educators everywhere have a huge responsibility: to go forth and teach!
Happy World Teachers’ Day.