Universal commitment to the child's right to an education is clearly insufficient for the very large number of children globally who continue to be denied that fundamental right. The right to an education places obligations on states – including donor states – and multilateral agencies within the UN system. An increasing emphasis on the merit of schooling as an effective 'investment' in the child's productive potential repudiates a rights perspective, even as purportedly rights-based UN agencies submit to such a resourcing rationale under the leadership of the World Bank, which (at best) remains silent about education as a right. The linking of access to education resources to the recipient state's submission to Bank and/or IMF budgetary mechanisms is an additional serious qualification on this right of the child. Agencies such as UNICEF must urgently act to ensure an effective rights-based framework in country-level efforts to achieve this fundamental and universal right of the child.