The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been reporting on the ongoing plight of 800 million students—nearly half of all school-age children worldwide—who have lost at least two-thirds of their school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You would think UNESCO's reports would recognize the positive possibilities homeschooling offers to a world in which children everywhere were sent home from school. But when UNESCO published their Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) for 2020 [1], they gave short shrift to the millions of families worldwide who find homeschooling a practical and rewarding educational option, instead portraying parental choice in education as a threat to “inclusion.”

A box on page 189 of the GEM report, titled “Homeschooling expands but also tests the limits of inclusion,” begins:

Educating children at home is illegal in many countries, especially in Europe. In Germany, a family whose request for exemption from compulsory primary school for religious reasons was rejected by the school supervisory authority appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.[2]

The report quotes the 2006 Konrad decision:[3]

The court sided with the national body on multiple grounds, notably in asserting that the obligation of the state extended beyond the acquisition of knowledge “to the education of responsible citizens who participate in a democratic and pluralistic society. The acquisition of social competence in dealing with other persons who hold different views and in holding an opinion which differed from the views of the majority could only materialize through regular contact with society. . . . Given the general interest of society in the integration of minorities and in avoiding the emergence of parallel societies, the interference with the applicants’ fundamental rights was proportionate and reasonable.”[4]

“The European countries that still allow homeschooling,” the GEM report concludes, “do so under tight restrictions.” The report then grudgingly acknowledges that “some countries are increasingly making the option available under relatively simple conditions.”

This analysis is simply not a good account of the facts. Some European countries, such as Germany and Sweden, treat homeschooling harshly, but in most others, homeschooling is legally permitted or at least tolerated, even as it continues to grow and spark controversy.

Homeschoolers are opposing controversial crackdowns in two countries where they've experienced a large measure of relative freedom. In France, a misguided proposal by President Macron would impose significant new restrictions. In England, where families are not required to notify the government that they are homeschooling, some local education authorities (LEAs) have been aggressively pursuing homeschooling families.[5]

However, in recent years homeschooling has been explicitly recognized by a number of countries such as Lithuania and Ukraine. In Russia, homeschooling is called “family education” and has been allowed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Home education's rapid growth in recent years has prompted no negative reaction from the government—on the contrary, numerous senior Russian officials have spoken favorably of homeschooling. Homeschooling is also explicitly recognized in Italy, Austria, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Belgium, Hungary, and Portugal, although Portugal's recent additional oversight mechanisms have created challenges for some families there.  

In places like Bulgaria, Romania, or the Netherlands, homeschooling may not be recognized or may even be explicitly illegal, but families are still able to educate their children at home without undue intrusion by the state, either under private school laws, or with specific exemptions. Dutch families are able to seek exceptions to the ban with court approval, which is usually granted.

In Spain, the Supreme Court declared that homeschooling needed to be explicitly recognized. The Spanish legislature has never taken this up, but thousands of families homeschool in Spain, with only the occasional case in which a judge must determine whether homeschooling is permitted.

So it is simply not the case that “many” European countries prohibit homeschooling, or only permit it under “tight” restrictions. But besides the misinformation about the legal status of homeschooling in Europe, what is this report really about?

What's really going on?

The GEM report is focused throughout on the concept of “inclusive education” and evaluates different circumstances and approaches to education on the basis of whether they promote “inclusion”—which it struggles to define but eventually glosses as “a process consisting of actions and practices that embrace diversity and build a sense of belonging, rooted in the belief that every person has value and potential and should be respected.”[6]

Early on, the report mentions homeschooling as an intervention which may increase inclusion and improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.[7] Unfortunately, this is not an endorsement of homeschooling. Rather, homeschooling is portrayed as a symptom of a fundamental problem: the lack of inclusion for students with disabilities.

Later, the report highlights negative cultural attitudes in Germany toward children with learning disabilities as a barrier to inclusion because they drive children with disabilities to alternative schooling. Homeschooling, the report continues, “is a test for inclusion.”[8] (In other words, the presence of homeschooling in a country means that that country isn't generally inclusive.) The report shows a clear bias against parental choice whenever the outcomes of parental choices seem to work against its vision of “inclusion.”

Ethnic and religious minorities are also seen as a problem area. Reflecting on the case of Hindu private schools for Dutch students of Indian ethnicity, the report questions “whether a voluntary and affirmative parental decision to educate children separately is a legitimate response for minorities” and claims that “homeschooling is an example of how parental preference for self-segregation can test the limits of inclusive education.”[9]

The United Nations always has been more about state control of education than about empowering parents or focusing on children’s individual needs. In 2005, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child “remind[ed] States parties of their primary obligation to ensure implementation” of the UN’s philosophy of education, the family, and children’s rights, and argued that “the role of civil society should be complementary to, not a substitute for, the role of the state.”[10]

For me, it’s not so much about looking to the UN for approval of homeschooling, as it is a genuine curiosity (and concern) about whether the world’s largest international government organization, with billions targeted at helping children, can be open-minded or seriously look at (or report on) the fastest growing form of education on the planet.

If the UN were really concerned about children getting an education—especially when so many children are out of school and at home with their parents—wouldn’t it make sense to put more effort into supporting civil society’s (i.e. parents’ and families’) capacity to do this successfully?

Instead, by showcasing Germany’s Konrad decision, the UN lends undue prominence to an extreme view of homeschooling as contrary to the interests of democracy and pluralism. Do they not see the irony? “Let’s showcase a country that outlaws a form of education most countries allow for, persecutes those who do it—and then suggest that is pluralism and democracy!”


The UN Charter calls for education on human rights, but the UN doesn’t seem to understand that homeschooling fits the modern framework of human rights based on its own treaties and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26.3 of the UDHR says that “parents have a prior right to decide the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” While Article 1 does call education a “compulsory right” (one wonders how a right can be compulsory?), the UDHR does not talk about school being compulsory. This is important because many would agree that education can and should happen all the time, not just in schools. Some would even question whether what goes on in some schools is as much education as indoctrination.

A slanted view

One of the biggest complaints I have about the Konrad decision (and subsequent cases that have followed it both in Germany and at the ECHR) is the lack of factual information the decision relied on. The judges in Germany and at the ECHR have refused to look at actual research findings and the laws of other nations that allow for homeschooling while using their own unsupported ideas to make their decisions to uphold a ban on homeschooling. For example, that Konrad court “assumes” that children can only learn how to be tolerant of others in a school setting. And that because children cannot “foresee” the alleged prospective limiting consequences of being educated at home, the state must prevent parents from homeschooling.

Rather than showing any curiosity about the homeschool phenomenon, UNESCO’s GEM report follows in the court's wake. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to uncover that actual scientific research shows that homeschooling is not exclusionary, does not create “parallel societies” and is actually good for kids

For example, Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Joseph Murphy has surveyed all the research showing that homeschooling produces individuals who are at least as well-educated and socialized as their counterparts who attend public or private school. [11]

Some research shows even better results. Dr. Lindsey Burke’s literature review shows that the majority of peer-reviewed studies point to superior academic outcomes for homeschooling.[12]

Regarding socialization, Dr. Brian Ray’s surveys of homeschooled graduates indicate that homeschool grads integrate into society as productive and engaged,[13] while the University of Arkansas’s Dr. Albert Cheng suggests that homeschool graduates are more politically tolerant than their peers.[14]

But maybe the effort was too much for UN bureaucrats.

I agree with the saying that even bad press can be good, and I’m glad that UNESCO mentions homeschooling in their report. They even cited my own article on the growth of homeschooling in the United States and abroad.[15]

But it is troubling that an organization dedicated to human rights—and that purports to be an advocate for children’s rights and education—would write so negatively about an educational choice that so many children have benefited from, and which offers solutions for education when innovation and new ways of thinking are required.

If the UN is really interested in solutions to the educational chaos and problems that schools are having, homeschooling is one of them.