Dr. Bart Kleine Deters

A quantitative approach to the right to education; Concept, measurement, and effects

Year: 2021

Fons Coomans, Kaj Thomsson, Gustavo Arosemena and Zina Nimeh


The development field moves more and more towards evidence-based interventions. 'Evidence' is usually interpreted narrowly as quantitative evidence: numbers are the name of the game in impact evaluations, cost-benefit analyses, and global goal setting (such as the SDGs). This poses a challenge to the role of human rights in development, as rights are particularly hard to capture in numbers. When rights are quantified the focus is on human rights outcomes, and the underlying legal structure and process are ignored. Unfortunately, it is exactly this legal structure and process that sets a human right apart from an 'ordinary' development outcome.

This dissertation attempts to quantify the right to education, while doing justice to their legal character of human rights. To do so, a right to education index was developed, that measures the extent to which a country's education legislation is in line with the minimum core obligations of the right to education. Using this index, a novel dataset was created of 45 states in Sub-Sahara Africa and Latina America and the Caribbean for the period 1990-2018. While the legal protection of the right to education improved for (almost) all countries in that period, none of them managed to completely fulfill the minimum core. This discovery is an important qualification to the general success story of primary education. While it is true that primary education enrollment and completion have increased drastically in the last 30 years, the lagging increase in legal protection makes this advancement vulnerable to to sudden economic, political, or social shocks.

The second part of the dissertation tests the relationship between law and outcomes. The right to education index was found to be positively and significantly related to primary enrollment and completion rates, albeit only after seven to nine years. It is hypothesized that this is due to implementation delays as well as a 'reservoir' effect, where many older students enroll for the first time after a legislative reform.

The thesis concludes that perfect human rights measurements do not exist. What matters is how the different trade-offs inherent to quantification are resolved. The right-to-education-index stays as close to the internationally recognised legal conception of the right as possible, but is not fault-free – both in its construction and application. It is questionable, finally, if this process of trade-offs does not take away too much of what is valuable and effective about the right.

Selected publications by Bart Kleine Deters