The Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry, from Burkina Faso, took office on 1st August 2016 following her appointment at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council.
UNESCO has asked Dr. Koumbou seven questions about the status of the right to education in today’s world.
- What role does the UN Special Rapporteur play in the field of the right to education?
My job and responsibility are to ensure that the right to education is respected and implemented worldwide, as well as to report violations. I listen to those who are deprived of their right to education, whether they are individuals or people represented by the civil society. My position also allows me to act as an intermediary between the various actors who play a key role in guaranteeing this right, both at the governmental level and within the legal system, as well as at the budgeting and planning stages. It is essential to ensure this right and to monitor it to ensure that it is effectively implemented. My role is not only to monitor progress in implementing the right to education, but also to assist governments in their efforts to improve, innovate and expand the access to quality education for all.
- What is the current status of the right to education?
The truth is that approximately one billion people worldwide do not benefit yet from their right to education, and that the majority of them are women and young people. Although the right to education is improving rapidly around the world, the quality of education still remains as one of the greatest challenges. Are today’s children really learning and acquiring skills? This is something in which we must seriously focus on and continue to follow up in order to build an equitable society. The digital divide is another major challenge. There is a significant risk that millions of people will be excluded. We need to take advantage of innovations and expand them to reach all classrooms and provide equal opportunities for students around the world. We also need to inculcate more values through curricula. Teaching coexistence, tolerance, peace, trust and respect for one another is fundamental to combating fear and hate.
- What have been the key achievements?
We must note the achievements over the years. Some countries in Africa have made more achievements during the last 10 years than in more than 60. From school infrastructures for the literacy and education of the girls to the use of technologies for learning, there are plenty of examples of reached targets. It is essential that civil society is involved in education: UNESCO’s normative role in favor of the right to education is essential and the Organization has greatly contributed to this fundamental right.
- What is the greatest challenge?
The poor governance of the education systems is one of the major challenges we face. When defining and planning a country’s education sector it is important that all partners are present to participate and contribute to the success of education in their own communities and to create a comprehensive vision emphasizing early childhood education, technical and vocational education and training and research. Budgeting and decision-making in education must be decentralized so that it can be adapted to the needs of different areas and specific vulnerable groups such as displaced people, refugees, poor families and people with disabilities. Communities and schools themselves must be able to make decisions that respond to their needs. Local actors such as parents’ associations and NGOs must be involved in these issues. These are the dynamics that we must apply at school level.
- What has been the worst violation of the right to education that you have witnessed?
There are many examples. Disabled children deprived of education because they cannot access school facilities. Pupils and teachers imprisoned and even killed for having demanded respect for their right to education or better working conditions. Pregnant girls expelled from school. There are still many places where these severe violations take place every day and this is unacceptable. There is still much to be done.
- What would you have done differently in your own career?
Having been Minister of Education and Literacy in Burkina Faso, I know that the key decisions taken at the political level affect millions of people as well as their future. I would have liked to become more involved in politics in order to bring about the necessary reforms and changes to my country’s education system.
- Who inspired you?
My grandmother was an important source of inspiration to me when I was a child. She was a woman of a strong, independent and open character. She taught me from a very young age to take my responsibilities seriously. Alice Tiendrebeogo, author and teacher, former Minister of Education of Burkina Faso, is also one of the people who inspired my career. And, of course, like millions of Africans and people around the world, I admire Nelson Mandela. His wisdom and values will continue to stand and light the way for future generations.
Koumbou Boly Barry
Dr. Boly Barry holds a PhD in Economic History from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal. She is the former Minister of Education and Literacy of Burkina Faso and has consulted widely for various governments and international institutions on the right to education. Dr. Boly has been an advocate on gender issues in education. She also has ample knowledge and experience in training and research, a visiting professor at University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, University of Louvain La Neuve Belgium, a lecturer at Ouagadougou University ,Burkina Faso ,Vitoria University, Brazil and Fribourg University, Switzerland. She replaces Mr.Kishore Singh from India.