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: http://www.oidel.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/FEI_complet2.pdf
Another study will be published in the following months: “Freedom of Education Index: Correlations with Selected Indicators, 2018”, so stay tuned!
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.