24 January 2022 marks the fourth International Day of Education since the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the date to celebrate the role of education in charting the course for justice, peace, and respect for human rights. For years, several international legal instruments and covenants have recognized the right to education and academic freedom.
The theme underlying this year’s International Day of Education is “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” In 2021, UNESCO published a new report, Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education, reaffirming the understanding of education as a human right. Notably, the report addresses the significance of education in the modern world, including fostering diversity and redefining our relationship with technology to combat the spread of misinformation and divisiveness in the world.
The right to education must be prioritized in 2022, particularly in Bahrain. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Bahrain ranked as one of the countries where schools were only open for less than five percent of its total instructional days.
Outside of the epidemic, the right to education also suffered due to sectarian discrimination and retaliation against dissidents. The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report found that hundreds of “A Grade” students were limited from university studies by Bahrain’s Ministry of Education. Nearly 20% of students at the top of their classes (whose academic averages range between 95–99%) were denied scholarships and reported that authorities questioned them on their political beliefs and those of their families. Of the 20%, the vast majority of these students were Shia Muslims, suggesting that the right to education in Bahrain suffers from serious sectarian discrimination.
Moreover, as documented by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, the Bidoon—i.e., those without nationality—face significant difficulties accessing education generally in Bahrain due to their status. This is particularly concerning given the Bahraini authorities’ history of revoking nationality in its campaign to silence dissent.
Bahrain’s crackdown on protestors and those affiliated with protestors have severe, direct consequences for children, educators, and the right to education more generally. The case of Firas Al-Saffar is a clear example of this. On 1 June 2014, Al-Saffar—a 15-year-old student—was abducted from his home and interrogated by Bahraini security forces for “filming unauthorized gatherings.” In addition to being reportedly beaten by the authorities, Al-Saffar was not allowed to attend his final exams at school and was detained for over a month-and-a-half pending investigation. This was not the first time Al-Saffar was arrested either. Previously, he and other students were taken from a school bus for participating in pro-democracy protests.
The practice of arresting and detaining children in Bahrain for exercising their freedom of expression is a grave violation of human rights, not least because it has significant consequences on their education. According to Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the former president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, nearly 400 students under 18 were deprived of education due to reports of torture and imprisonment as of 2016. One student, Ali Al-Singace, was executed in 2017; he was under 18 years old at the time of his arrest. Pending more updated data, it is safe to say that Bahrain has yet to halt its practice of arresting and detaining children, resulting in more serious violations of their freedom of expression, assembly, and, crucially, education.
This is but an overview of the issues that Bahrain must overcome in order to tackle the question of education. As demonstrated above, the right to education is inextricably associated with the freedom of expression and opinion. Undoubtedly, Bahrain’s campaign against dissent and its culture of sectarian discrimination does not only affect youth activists and students aspiring for higher education. It also has grave repercussions on, for instance, Shia educators who are underrepresented in the Ministry of Education or scholars exercising their rights to academic freedom.
“Education ought to be a shared endeavor and a public good. If left unresolved and unprioritized, the Bahraini government is compromising not only the future of an entire generation, but peace and development in the country as well. Education is, after all, critical to building more sustainable and prosperous societies in Bahrain and the rest of the world” says Nedal Al Salman, Bahrain Center for Human Rights’ president.
 See, e.g., Article 26 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and Article 16 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
 International Commission on the Futures of Education, Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education (Paris: UNESCO, 2021).
 Global Education Monitoring Report, 2021/22: Non-State Actors in Education: Who Chooses? Who Loses? (Paris: UNESCO, 2021), 227.
 Global Education Monitoring Report, 2019: Migration, Displacement, and Education: Building Bridges, Not Walls (Paris: UNESCO, 2019).
 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bahrain (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, 2019), 15.
 Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (in collaboration with the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Hawiati), Arbitrary Revocation of Nationality in Bahrain: A Tool of Oppression, 25 May 2021, https://salam-dhr.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Arbitrary-Revocation-of-Nationality-in-Bahrain-final-3.pdf.
 Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “15-Year-Old Child Detained and Denied Education,” 4 June 2014, https://bahrainrights.net/?p=6398.
 Mahdi Abu Deeb, Twitter Post, 17 September 2016, 2:45 P.M., https://twitter.com/MahdiAbuDeeb/status/777216984111013889?s=20.