My Internship with OIDEL

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In spring 2008, while taking part in a guided tour at the Palais des Nations, I was struck by the international environment and the vibrant atmosphere, and I could not help daydreaming what it would be like to be part of such a complex world that strives to defend human rights on a global scale. And yet, exactly 10 years later, I found myself working inside those walls, following meetings, conferences and events for the promotion of equality, peace and tolerance. This was definitely one of the highlights of my internship at OIDEL, which gave me the chance to have first hand experience of international human rights implementation.

Not only the time spent at the Palais, but also life at the office was a valuable experience. Working in the domain of the right to and freedom of education complemented my philosophical background. It also gave me the opportunity to put into practice what I have been studying during my MA in applied ethics, which has a focus on law and global challenges.

At Oidel there is always a lot of work to do and interns are given the most disparate tasks, requiring flexibility and adaptability while gaining a wider range of experiences. What surprised me the most was the familiar and friendly atmosphere that welcomed me at the office everyday, which made the past three months even more enjoyable. I also appreciated the opportunity of practicing Spanish and English as well as the chance of getting a bit more familiar with French.

These three months were not easy for Oidel: when the General Director, Mr Fernandez, passed away at the end of October, it was a hard moment for all, both personally and professionally. Yet everyone’s reaction showed me how inspirational Mr Fernandez had been, devoting not only his work but his entire life to the defence of the right to education, in the firm conviction that the latter is the key to the integral development of personal identity.

In conclusion, I can say that my experience in Geneva definitely lived up to my expectations, so I am saying au revoir to this beautiful city taking with me new skills, new interests and many good memories.


Cecilia Litta Modignani



The implementation of Freedom of education: limits and benefits


Freedom of education has always been an essential part of the right to education, but unfortunately often it has been left aside. However, this right is recognized in many international instruments, therefore, its implementation is as crucial as other dimensions of the right to education. Right to education means the right to have access to quality education, which includes the right to freedom of education.

Nowadays, in order to improve public education systems, policy makers are taking into consideration the importance of autonomy, promoting more and more the importance of self-governing schools, and also the policies that enable parental choice. Nonetheless, when implementing these kind of initiatives, policy makers have to face an important challenge: “the need to protect broad public interests while respecting those of self-governing schools and parents” (Fiske & Ladd, 2017). Indeed, there are many private benefits from education, but public interests are also compelling. Both are important to ensure quality education. Thereby, there are a lot of tensions between private and public interests in systems that favor self-governing schools and parental choice.

Many countries tried to promote this freedom over several years, and Fiske and Ladd (2017) tried to shed some light on the existing experiences, to later reflect the best way to effectively implement this freedom approach to education in the United States of America. In their investigation, these authors analyzed three different countries: Netherlands, New Zealand and England. Each practice has faced some limits to a proper implementation of the concept of freedom of education in their country.

During the 1970s, in the Netherlands, the education system main objective was to promote equal quality education for all. Therefore, with the influxes of migrations, the government introduced the “weighted student funding”, providing more resources to schools with many children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Furthermore, concerning New Zealand, in 1991, the government also promoted the parents’ right to choose for their children’s school, but this reform had some unwanted side effects. Indeed, this right to choose created some competition between schools, which is against the public stake in promoting a quality education for all. The author points the role that inspectors can play to reduce that.

Concerning England, most of the schools operate autonomously, in a system of “academies”. Indeed, in 2016, the government proposed that all schools convert to academy status by 2022, and that they join the Multi-Academy Trust (MATs), to give them external support to function properly, especially for struggling schools. Despite the fact that these academies wanted to dissociate from local authorities, they were not able to, because these latter remain important to ensure a place for every child in every schools.

For Fiske and Ladd (2017), this analysis shows the limits of operational autonomy. One of them arises from the fact that low-performing schools welcoming disadvantaged students cannot be solved only with the combination of self-governing schools and parental choice. The author points the importance of additional resource and support for the schools where there are disadvantaged children in order to favor the whole system. Local authorities are still supposed to guarantee that no children will be left behind.

In their investigation, Fiske and Ladd (2017) concluded that because of the increase of self-governing schools and parental choice, U.S. policy makers have the challenge to also protect the public interests, to find a good balance between public and private benefits.

Nevertheless, freedom of education remains an important right to ensure a quality of education. Indeed, despite the fact that these two authors highlighted some limits, freedom of education, even through competition, still helps to improve the educative system, and thus ensure a better access to education, and to an increasingly qualitative education. Furthermore, freedom of education also respects the cultural identity as well as the inclusion of all members of the community. Indeed, this right can help to build democratic, fair and inclusive societies. Sure enough, freedom of education, as many other rights, has limits, however it cannot be an excuse by public authorities to ban it. The role of public authorities is to enable freedom of education for all and make the necessary arrangement to ensure that nobody is left behind.

As you may know, OIDEL published a study called “Freedom of Education Index: Worldwide Report 2016 on Freedom of Education”, which analyzes the problems and good practices regarding to this right around the world. If you are interested to learn more about this topic, here is the link of the research:

Another study will be published in the following months: “Freedom of Education Index: Correlations with Selected Indicators, 2018”, so stay tuned!


Julie Mendola


Fiske, E. B., & Ladd, H. F. (2017). Self-governing schools, parental choice, and the need to protect the public interest. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(1), 31-36.

Private education in Africa An insight by Professor A. Skelton

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During an interview in occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Professor Ann Skelton was asked her point of view on the benefits and drawbacks of private and public education. As UNESCO Chair in Education Law in Africa and Director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, she is particularly concerned with the African educational landscape.

According to international law, private and public education ought to be provided at least at the same level of quality, however in many cases this is far from reality. Governments may abdicate their responsibilities and leave private education in the hands of low-quality, non-regulated service providers, as it happened in Kenya or Nigeria. Therefore, it is crucial to have an adequate framework to hold states accountable for the provision of private education. With regards to this, a useful lesson can be learned from the Netherlands: here most schools are privately managed but publicly funded, and this combination proved effective for the establishment of an indisputably high-quality educational system.

In order to tackle this shortcoming, Professor Skelton suggests first of all the development of some standards for State’s regulation of private education. Keeping in mind that state control on private education should never become a threat for educational freedom, assigning accountability on governments is essential in order to ensure the quality and effectiveness of private education. There are indeed encouraging signs which show that some progress has already been done. Uganda and Kenya, for instance, have taken a stand line with private service providers, defending the role of the State in the regulation of private education and the establishment of quality and efficiency standards.

Secondly, professor Skelton assigns great importance to the promotion of education law, boosting young generations’ awareness and interest in this domain. Together with a group of doctoral students at the University of Pretoria, she launched a new project aimed at shedding light on the role and the potential of law to ensure the provision of quality education. She highlights that the reports of the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr Kishore Singh, represent an indispensable reference point for the achievement of such objective.

Find out more on this topic here:

Cecilia Litta Modignani

UN Forum on Minority Issues – Statement of the NGO Platform on the Right to Education

1eae3d4e-0a44-432d-bee4-90b2450ed65d.jpg Last week on the 29th and the 30th of November, OIDEL participated in the 11th Session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which focused on the topic of statelessness. You can find the report of the Special Rapporteur in the following link. Here you have the oral statement delivered on behalf of the NGO Platform on the Right to Education within the context of item 2 “Root causes and consequences of statelessness affecting minorities: preventing statelessness through a human rights approach”. The key points of this declaration are lifelong learning as an essential part of the right to education and education as a cultural right.

“Thank you Madame Chair,

The NGO Platform on the Right to Education welcomes the organization of this Forum. We consider it urgent to offer mechanisms to guarantee the realization of the right to education to stateless people.

Today, we would like to highlight two dimensions: lifelong learning as an essential part of the right to education and education as a cultural right.

As the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education pointed out, “right to fundamental education is not limited by age or gender, it extends to children, young people, adults, including older persons”.

Statelessness disproportionately affects vulnerable groups such as women, children, migrants and people on the move, who do not receive appropriate education, either for the lack of identification documents or for not having a stable position. Lifelong learning programs should be made available for those stateless adults without fundamental education. As stated in the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the promotion of education for stateless individuals should happen at all levels.

Secondly, education is also a cultural right. Educational programs for stateless people should focus on the development of personal identity. Alfred Fernandez, who has been the coordinator of the Platform since its foundation, used to say that denying such right means depriving someone of his humanity.

The Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues highlighted that education allows for a better integration of minorities into society and protects their identity. It would be beneficial to take into consideration minorities’ cultures, languages and traditions when drafting school curricula to boost inclusiveness and respect for diversity among younger generations.

We advocate for the eradication of practices that arbitrarily deny people a nationality on the basis of discriminatory parameters such as ethnicity, religion or language and we endorse the implementation of specific stateless determination procedures (SDPs).

We align with the call of this Special Rapporteur to engage all spheres of society for the correct implementation of these rights, with due regard to those of stateless people. The cooperation of national and international human rights institutions, private actors and civil society is essential for the achievement of this goal.”

Julie Mendola


What does the General Comment n° 21 has to tell us concerning education as a cultural right?


In 1966, through Article 15 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Community recognized Cultural rights as follows:

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:

(a) To take part in cultural life”

Years later, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights decided to draft a General Comment in order to provide for better accountability and defence of this right. Finally, in 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) released the General Comment no° 21.

Alfred Fernandez, former director of OIDEL, used to say that education is primarily a cultural right, but which role does education play within the framework of cultural rights according to the CESCR? To clarify this point, let us observe how the Committee has assessed this right.

It is first of all important to recall that according to the CESCR “the right of everyone to take part in cultural life is also intrinsically linked to the right to education, through which individuals and communities pass on their values, religion, customs, language and other cultural references” (par. 2).  In this regard, it must be emphasised that these rights play a crucial role in the protection of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous people (par. 3), however they apply to each “person as an individual, in association with others or within a community or group” (par. 9).

When considering the relation between the right to education and cultural rights, it is important to highlight that the latter present two dimensions. The first one is a freedom approach that concerns the non-interference of the state in the realization of this right. The second one encompasses positive actions that the state has to undertake to ensure the enjoyment, the participation and the promotion of these rights (par. 6). This second sphere ought to include financial measures (par. 52). These two dimensions should not be perceived as separated but rather as interdependent.

Among the three interrelated components of the right “to take part in cultural life”, there are two that relate specifically to the right to education, namely participation and access. “Participation” is understood as “choosing his or her own identity” and “to engage in one’s own cultural practice” (par. 15.a). “Access”, on the other hand, “covers the right of everyone to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and to receive quality education training with due regard for cultural identity” (par.15.b). It is hard to imagine the accomplishment of these two dimensions without a proper realisation of the right to education.

Moreover, cultural rights share and the right to education share four of the five necessary conditions for the full realisation of the latter: availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability (par. 16). With regard to education, it is crucial that the State provides citizens who do not belong to the mainstream culture with the chance to enjoy their cultural rights, extending such opportunities to the following generations as well and promoting the acceptability and adaptability of these rights. In this respect, the General Comment no° 21 recalls Habermas, who encouraged to guarantee « to all citizens to have equal access to cultural contexts, interpersonal relationships and traditions to the extent that it is necessary for their development and the strengthening of personal identity» (J. Habermas, 2003, p. 12)[1]

It is also interesting to observe what the comment has to say about children. “Children play a fundamental role as the bearers and transmitters of cultural values from generation to generation”. In this regard, the General Comment reminds the States that “the fundamental aim of educational development is the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values in which the individual and society find their identity and worth”. In this respect, culturally appropriate education must include human rights and has to “enable children to develop their personality and cultural identity and to learn and understand the cultural values and practices of the communities to which they belong” (par.26).

In addition to this, the document also mentions and clarifies the different obligations that non-state actors and international organisations have within the domain o education.

To conclude, states’ duties in the field of education can be summarized in two core obligations. First of all, to ensure that public educational systems are respectful and non-discriminatory towards the different cultures. Secondly, “to respect and protect the right of everyone to engage in their own cultural practices, while respecting human rights which entails (…) freedom to choose and set up education establishments” (par. 55.c).

Ignasi Grau

[1] J. Habermas (2003) De la tolerancia religiosa a los derechos culturales, in Claves de la Razón Práctica, n. 129, Madrid.

The contribution of Muslim education to the American society: a study by Charles L. Glenn

Between 2014 and 2016, within the project Case Studies in Character and Citizenship Education, Professor Charles L. Glenn from Boston University conducted a study in seven Islamic secondary schools to clarify their role in the development of moral sensibility and public virtue and to investigate which aspects of education are mostly significant for citizenship formation. This resulted into the publication of Muslim Educators in American Communities (2018).

An essential part of any immigration process is the creation of educational institutions to help children deal with the new surroundings and their challenges. The successes achieved over time by Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran and Dutch Reformed schools in the United States are well known, but the same cannot be said about the recent establishment of Islamic institutions. Being the creation of Islamic schools in the US quite a recent and heterogeneous phenomenon, the study does not allow for long-term predictions on their contribution to the American society, therefore the results should not be overgeneralized. Nevertheless, to counter the spreading unfounded and distorted concerns about Muslim presence in the US, it is worth mentioning that a common aspiration in these schools is to foster Islamic identity while guiding the students towards successful integration into American life.

Most Muslim immigrants in the US have an interest in settling down and becoming fully-fledged members of the American society. Therefore, Islamic schools have the crucial task to help students find a balance between the assimilation into the host society and the maintenance of their identity. Just like Christians and Jews before them, some Muslims experience a tension between certain dominant features of the American culture and their religious convictions. This explains why, according to the study, the choice of an Islamic school is often the result of scepticism towards popular American youth culture and of the aspiration to have continuity of worldview between house and school. As a matter of fact, moral coherence among staff, students and parents represents a key element to achieve promising results, and the fact that faith-based schools can choose teachers according to their commitment to a specific religious or moral framework makes it easier to deliver a consistent and comprehensive moral understanding to students.

Even though all the schools included in the study are based on an explicitly Islamic moral framework, part of their mission is to differentiate between Islam’s cultural norms and its transcultural requirements, in order to bring to the surface the compatibility between being a good Muslim and a good American citizen. As a matter of fact, the educational target of these schools is not limited to measurable performance results but it also involves the development of personal and civic virtues. In order to provide the basis for critical thinking and active societal engagement, many school leaders encourage discussions on the way in which the practice of Islam could and should affect students’ future as citizens and participants of the American society. The pursuit of this goal should not be discouraged by the distortive and negative rhetoric about Muslims that is currently taking hold, both in the US and internationally, and that students are determined to counter.

A recurrent educational dilemma is that, while improving academic quality, Islamic schools also need to help students develop a sense of rootedness within an ever-changing culture, a common challenge for many faith-based institutions. This explains why the schools under consideration prioritize character formation over specific academic goals and aim at cultivating civic virtues and students’ active participation in the American society, encouraging them to see beyond the binary opposition believers-non believers.

Interestingly enough, confronted with the choice between their parents’ Islam and American popular culture, most of the interviewed students opted for a third option, shaping an Islam adapted to American norms and expressing their sense of belonging to a new, multi-ethnic Muslim American generation. In some notable cases, interviewees perceived their being Muslim as a distinctiveness that made them unique and they had learned to take advantage from it, instead of seeing it as a barrier to integration.

Even though the nature of the study does not allow for a definitive conclusion on the success of Islamic schools in forming engaged American citizens, it is possible to highlight their common aspiration to foster both private and public virtue. Islamic students reported that they almost never perceive their religious beliefs as an obstacle to active American citizenship; on the contrary, they believe that it is precisely through their faith, and not in spite of it, that they can become active members of the society and fully integrate into their new community. In conclusion, based on the outcomes of the study, Islamic schools do not seem to threat American society but they rather provide positive contributions to public life and civic values, shaping a pluralistic educational system as well as a truly pluralistic society.


Cecilia Litta Modignani

Fallecimiento de Alfred Fernández, Director General de la Organización Internacional para el Derecho a la Educación y Libertad de Enseñanza (OIDEL) y fundador del Colegio Universitario Henry Dunant (CUHD)

Desde nuestra más profunda tristeza quisiéramos informarles del fallecimiento de Alfred Fernández, Director General de la Organización Internacional para el Derecho a la Educación y Libertad de Enseñanza (OIDEL) y fundador del Colegio Universitario Henry Dunant (CUHD). Alfred falleció el lunes 29 de octubre a las 13:05h debido a un tumor cerebral que se desarrolló rápida y violentamente en pocos meses.

Alfred Fernández fue miembro de la Cátedra UNESCO de la Universidad de Rioja (España) y de la Universidad de Bérgamo (Italia); profesor de Educación comparada en la Universidad de Ginebra y director de la Oficina de la UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, España) en Suiza. Ejerció diversos cargos en Organizaciones No Gubernamentales, entre las que destacan la Plataforma de ONG por el Derecho a la Educación y la Plataforma de ONG por la Diversidad y los Derechos Culturales.

Durante toda su vida, se dedicó tanto en lo profesional como en lo personal, a la promoción y protección de los derechos humanos. Trabajó especialmente por la promoción del derecho a la educación y la libertad de enseñanza como derecho humano fundamental para el desarrollo de la persona. En este sentido, Alfred participó como experto o representante de la sociedad civil en cientos de reuniones internacionales relativas al derecho a la educación, así como a los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales en Naciones Unidas, UNESCO, Consejo de la Europa, Unión Europea, Comisión de Derechos Humanos, entre otros foros internacionales. A lo largo de su carrera organizó más de veinte programas de capacitación en derechos humanos y formó a más de 2.000 participantes de más de 110 países diferentes.

Todos aquellos que tuvimos el inmenso honor de trabajar o colaborar con él, le recordaremos como una persona humilde, alegre y de gran apertura de espíritu. Dotado de un intelecto extraordinario, bondad natural y educación exquisita, Alfred fue muy respetado y querido por todos nosotros. Su amabilidad y magnanimidad dieron aliento a muchos corazones inquietos.

Su optimismo y buen humor nos harán mucha falta en estos momentos difíciles. A pesar de la tristeza, el equipo de OIDEL mantendrá ese empuje que siempre nos inculcó para llevar a cabo las actividades propias de nuestra entidad, tal y como le hubiera gustado y continuar así, con su legado.

El funeral se celebrará el próximo viernes 2 de noviembre a las 14,00h en la parroquia de Sainte Thérèse (Avenue Peschier 12, CH-1206, Ginebra). Asimismo, se podrá velar el cuerpo de Alfred a partir de esta misma tarde en la capilla funeraria Murith (Boulevard de la Cluse, n°89 CH-1205, Ginebra)

Vuestra presencia servirá para rendir el homenaje que merece este gran hombre.

El equipo de OIDEL

“Muy bien, servidor bueno y honrado; ya que has sido fiel en lo poco, yo te voy a confiar mucho más. Ven a compartir la alegría de tu patrón.” (Mateo, 25, 21)