The Right to Education: Form or Substance?

Written by Francesca Gelato 

Everyone has the right to education”. This is what Article 14 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states. Education is the heart of European traditional life, strengthening the countries with freedom, diversity, human rights and social justice. Living on Union’s territory means to have the right not only to a free compulsory education, as the second paragraph of  Article 14 sets out, but most of all the right to a quality education. It should be guaranteed to all without distinctions, as it is stated for minors of asylum applicant parents and minors applicants in Article 14 of the Directive 2013/33, that obliges EU Member states to grant them the access to the education system under the same conditions as their own nationals. But what can we  read from articles and directives is really applied? Or is it just something formal?


Education in the European Union

The European Union has a supportive and coordinating role, in accordance with the decisions at the individual Member States level, since 1992, to “[…]contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organization of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity”, as it is written in Article 165(1) of the Treaty of Maastricht. But, as we already saw, the European Union has stipulated some principles of a common European Educational law that have to be provided by all European countries, for example promoting equity, improving the quality and efficiency of education and training, and opportunities abroad. What we need to understand is how many of these among the states are respected and which is the real perception of the people in Europe. 

Despite the good intentions, after having conducted a survey on the educational system among people from European countries, it emerged that the majority of the interviewers, the 76,5%, aren’t satisfied with it.

The right to education: form or substance? (

For the 58,8% the school system isn’t capable of offering equal opportunities to everyone.

The right to education: form or substance? (

And in the end, asking them how they would change or improve their country’s educational system. The reply to this question shows that the majority of them would improve accessibility, inclusion plans for disabled people and migrants, practise hours during lesson hours, funds for the buildings, the qualification of teachers, and most of all they would have guidance to think about the difficult choice that 14 and 19 years old boys and girls have to make, deciding for their future.

Some examples:

The right to education: form or substance? (

So what?

While the European Union is trying to set the basis of a common educational system, European states still have the decisions in their hands. But what is pretty clear is that even with principles that have to be applied by all the countries, people are not satisfied and think that, most of all regarding the accessibility and the training for the labour market, they are not guaranteed in the majority of the interviewer’s states.

Of course we always have to  remember the role of the European Union and so think about the fact that probably, if people believe there is a problem, it is because of the state’s educational system that doesn’t work and not because of the European laws. The interviewers were from all over Europe: from Italy, Spain, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, France and many others, and they all agreed, even if satisfied about their country’s school system, about the possibility of improvements and the changes. There is a general problem in applying these principles in the right way and the Member states seem not to  care about it. The European Union, playing its role correctly, should make sure of the need to respect its provisions in order to provide all the European Union’s students a better future and the right knowledge. But if even the oldest and the most basic rights are not respected and the Union doesn’t really encourage cooperation and doesn’t support nor implement States’ action, how can we solve it? 

What we surely know about the European Union’s initiatives on education is that, in September 2020, the Commission setted the renewed vision for The European Education Area to work together with the Member states on building more resilient and inclusive education and training systems, that are exactly the critical points underlined by the interviewers. In 2025 there will be a full report showing the results. Let’s see how it goes and hope for improvements. 

Interested in knowing more about the European Education Area? Click here