Press Release CRC Compulsory Education (18 Nov 2023) – FAQ

Q – Does this mean that children should not go to school?

A – No, it means that children should be supported to have a choice of schools, homeschool, or be able to explore their education in other ways that they and their families prefer.

Q – Are you changing the meaning of the word ‘compulsory’ for education?

A – No, we are asking the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to make it clear what this word has always meant, because in many places in the world there is confusion.

Q – Does this mean my country cannot make laws that force ‘compulsory attendance’ at a school?

A – Countries sometimes do make laws that violate human rights. It is our understanding that ‘Compulsory attendance’ is not supported by the original intent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is not an expression of the child’s right to education.

Q – Does this mean parents can just keep their children at home or just send them to work?

A – No. Parents must support their child to fulfill their right to education, whether this is at home, using a school, or in other ways that the child and family prefer.

Expanded FAQ

The ‘answers’ here are not ‘the answers’, but suggestions and initial responses that can start us really thinking about these questions at a slightly deeper level. To truly figure out how to move education forward in the best interests of the child, many voices need to be heard. That is why we are initiating this conversation. It is our hope that there will be real engagement all around the globe, and that people will lean in to hear each other, support each other, and all grow in understanding together. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions – and  your suggestions for other FAQ topics – if you’d like to send them to

Q – Why is this important, what difference does it make which ‘compulsory’ interpretation is used?

A – When we interpret the word ‘compulsory’ as an obligation for the parent and the state to ensure access to suitable educational resources, then the emphasis is on the best interests of the child, and on the quality and accessibility of the resources provided. We, the adults, are compelled to make sure that all children can genuinely fulfill their right to education that supports their well-being and unfolding of full potential. This incentivises inclusivity, creativity and innovation – young people and communities can be included in co-creating what works best for a variety of families and circumstances.

When instead, ‘compulsory’ is interpreted to mean forcing the parent to force the child to comply with imposed educational demands, regardless of the suitability and quality of educational resources that they are forced to endure, then that focus shifts. The primary commitment then becomes about getting children to go to a specific place every morning during ‘term time’, instead of creating options that can be used in different ways by different children with different circumstances and educational needs. The obligation to ensure sufficient educational options are accessible to all children, recedes into the background. Focusing on the act of controlling the child’s behaviour takes the spotlight off what it is that is provided, how, and why. Well-being, genuinely empowering education and holistic development take second place to cost-effective and efficient administration. There are also social and political effects that will be addressed in a separate question. 

What else can you think of that makes it important whether compulsory means “state forces parents to force children to regularly attend a formal school” or “state includes families and communities in working out how to provide quality educational access for everyone for free.”?

Q – I am worried about sticking out if I support this campaign, people might think I am weird, or I might even get my family or my school into trouble.

A – This is one of several big reasons why it is so important to get this conversation started. When something as expansive and wonderful as education becomes a matter of fear and concealment then something is badly wrong and needs urgent change. In many parts of the world it has even become reminiscent of religious persecution, almost as if forced standardised schooling has become a dominant religion that brands alternatives as heretics and drives them underground. It is as if there is a war going on, with states leveraging propaganda that labels those who don’t like mainstream schools as extremist child abusers. We need to get to a place where we can all work together for the best interests of the child. If you are really truly in real danger then please sit back and just send support from afar. But if you are merely a bit nervous about losing clout on social media, looking foolish to your extended family or upsetting a friend or two, please consider that many realities are getting more oppressive by the day, and that this is a real opportunity to start turning things around before they get worse. 

What do you think would be a good way to keep people safe, and help them feel safe, while supporting this campaign?

Q – If you don’t have forced school attendance how will you prevent children being stuck at home to be abused?

A – Forced attendance doesn’t currently stop children from being abused at home. In far too many cases, it simply prevents children from escaping from being abused by peers and teachers at school. A teacher busy trying to deliver a curriculum to thirty children, (and in the higher grades seeing a succession of different children every hour), is hardly the best person to spot the signs of abuse even in the back row let alone at children’s homes. Occasionally they manage, but relying on teachers to do this is a poor bet and may distract attention from more reliable initiatives such as community education and outreach campaigns that empower neighbours, relatives, and children themselves to report suspected abuse.

What ways can you think of that would make it easier for children, teachers, school friends, neighbours, relatives and community members to prevent and report abuse that takes place in homes, schools, and all of the other settings where children are currently abused?

Q – What if parents manipulate the child to say they don’t want to go to school just because the parent does not want the child to get an education?

A – It is actually a rare parent who actively does not want their child to learn and grow and have options in life. Can you think of any that you have actually met, or even heard of? More often they simply cannot afford to send their child to a far off school for the whole day, especially when there is official or social pressure on the family to make special purchases of special clothing, stationery, disposable sanitary pads etc – none of which would be absolutely needed in more flexible models of educational provision. In many cases children stay out of school due to bullying, abusive teachers, boredom, or because the style and content of what is offered does not meet their needs. Others simply find school unnecessary as they are able to explore their education in ways that suit them far better. Schools are just one of many ways to pursue education, and there are many, many different variations on school which are possible and suitable for a wide range of different children.

What are some of the ways that families explore education that you don’t know much about yet and currently feel wary of? Are you willing to take a closer look in case there is more value there than meets the eye?

Q – This is all very well for privileged children in the Global North but how will it help the most vulnerable, especially in developing countries?

A – Many of the world’s most vulnerable children already don’t manage regular school attendance, and even more fail to benefit significantly even when they attend. Is the answer really to jail their parents? Growing numbers of them don’t even have parents to jail. Once states focus on providing quality educational access free to all instead of focusing on trying to punitively force poverty stricken families to manage to get their children to formal schools, then more flexible, economic and creative models can be developed to fit specific contexts. Mobile toy library circuits, reading clubs, traveling teachers, ‘Nooks’, ‘Neighbourhood Parliaments’ and many other models can be more easily and effectively adapted for developing and underprivileged contexts than the expensive and inefficient ‘daily-attendance-at-a-built-school-campus’ model of education. These alternative approaches have the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly as well as supporting decolonised forms of education. Offering education where children are, rather than dislodging them from daily community life could support a best-of-both education where there can be effective transmission of sustainable heritage knowledge plus literacy, numeracy and digital literacy, instead of the current cultural epistemicide that results from imposing standardised schooling. 

The recent mobile teachers project for nomadic communities in Kenya is just one example. You are invited to read this article and then answer the question – 

Which among all of the children described in this article would be better served by 

* their government fining and jailing their parents for non-attendance at expensive cookie-cutter formal schools? 

* their government taking seriously the obligation to provide educational resources flexible enough for each and every child to have true educational opportunity?

Q – What are the political consequences of each interpretation of the word ‘compulsory’?

A – One of the concerns raised during the UDHR Drafting committee meetings was that if the word ‘compulsory’ were misinterpreted this could support totalitarianism and another rise of fascism. The UDHR was drafted in part to try to prevent the rise of another Hitler, and the committee were very aware of the role played by forced attendance at Nazi schools. Any environment where young people experience routine educational coercion is more likely to create citizens who accept totalitarianism and authoritarianism as normal, as they have become accustomed during their growing years to environments where their freedom is rigidly controlled. The people who created the UDHR wanted education to be an empowering experience that would enculturate people for freedom, democracy, and peace. As the world has slipped further into misinterpreting the word ‘compulsory’ in education, fascism is indeed once again on the rise. It is time to consider that these circumstances may be causally connected, rather than ironically trying to control the rise of fascism through the use of totalitarian education policy.

What are some of the other social and political consequences you can think of, that could be rooted in the difference between 

* Forcing parents to force children to attend school, and

* Ensuring that quality educational resources are freely available for all?

Q – What about all the school dropouts? If they are not forced to go to school they will just do crime and drugs!

A – Authoritarian approaches are one reason why teens drop out of school. Often these kids would prefer to educate themselves but struggle to cope in coercive spaces where they are bored and cannot learn what matters most to them but must follow a fixed curriculum that feels irrelevant. Schools such as Nuestra Escuela in Puerto Rico have great success with offering educational support to school dropouts who respond very well to being treated with kindness and respect, and being supported to learn what is personally useful to them.

Q – What about children with learning disabilities? They often drop out of school when they need to be there even more, in order to catch up to the rest and get remedial help. Surely they must be forced to attend?

A – There are very, very few children in the world with actual learning disabilities. Most children who have been labeled as disabled are actually only disabled by one-size-fits-all prescriptive systems of education. This can kill their confidence and bring on anxiety, depression and burnout. When supported in more flexible approaches to education many of these children discover that what they have is actually a learning difference rather than a disability, and that is when educational support becomes effective for them.

Q – Surely school as we know it is the best way to do education? Otherwise why is it still the way we do it?

A – Actually, systems can take a long time to change just because it takes effort to change them. While it stays easier for governments to threaten people, they will have no incentive to provide what they are obliged to. That is why this conversation is important. Here are three really interesting links to explore, if you’d like to see a little about what experts believe should change in education.
Sir Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity

159 Quotes from UNESCO Futures of Education

COVID-19 Forces a System Change – Rethinking Schooling towards a ‘Learning Society’ Framework by Dr.Renuka Ramroop and Rachael Jesika Singh