Universal right to basic education

Acquiring basic knowledge and skills is vital for each individual to make choices, exercise their rights as citizens and participate in society and in professional life. The SDC works to ensure that every individual has access to quality education and can thus exercise their right to education.

Focus of the SDC's activities

The SDC is committed to ensuring that everyone – starting with children and young people – can exercise their right to basic education. Basic education means not only being able read, write and do simple arithmetic but also to understand the world in which one lives. Education furthers personal independence, enhances well-being and promotes citizenship.

The SDC supports the principle of equitable access to education for all, in particular for vulnerable groups such as children and young people who are excluded from the school system, women, and rural or nomadic populations. Ensuring equal opportunities requires developing innovative and effective education systems which are tailored to the needs of children and young people in order to include the largest possible number.

In partnership with national and local authorities, the SDC facilitates the development of decentralised educational systems which are closer to local communities. In several countries, it is improving quality compulsory schooling. It also helps set up educational alternatives to the formal school system (e.g. mobile schools and teaching offered in national languages) and supports bridging programmes that allow students to return to the formal school system at every stage of their education.

Last, the SDC advocates integrating basic education modules into vocational skills development programmes (e.g. literacy classes) or into projects in other sectors (e.g. health, water, agriculture, climate change, protection, governance).

The quality teaching is always of crucial importance because access to education is no guarantee that pupils will actually leave school having learned what was on the curriculum. The SDC therefore works with a wide range of partners to improve the management and performance of education systems.

At the international level, the SDC funds and plays a key role in guiding the activities of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a central platform to secure funding and facilitate dialogue among donors, partner countries, the private sector and civil society, which supports the education systems of some 60 countries around the world.


The education sector faces many challenges. In 2017 some 263 million children and young people worldwide are out of school. Many children do not complete primary school, or the quality of teaching is so poor that they learn next to nothing. Despite the progress made in recent decades, in developing countries one young person in four remains illiterate. In sub-Saharan Africa this figure rises to almost one in every two, and in South Asia to one in three.

Apart from poverty, other disruptive events, such as war, natural disasters or forced displacements, can bring an end to a child’s education.

This underscores the need to improve the education systems of many developing and transition countries, particularly fragile contexts beset by growing inequality. Providing educational and socio-economic opportunities for young people can help reduce the risk of violence.