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  5. Human Rights Education in Southeast Asian Schools: A Report from the Surabaya Workshop May 14-17, 1998

 
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FOCUS June 1998 Volume 12

Human Rights Education in Southeast Asian Schools: A Report from the Surabaya Workshop May 14-17, 1998

Human rights education in schools requires reform in many aspects of the formal education system which serves the interest of the teachers and the students in particular and the whole educational system in general. This was the conclusion of the proceedings of the workshop on human rights education in schools held in Surabaya, Indonesia on May 14-17, 1998 during the week when historic developments in the life of the country were taking place.

The workshop reviewed the situations in several Southeast Asian countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines) and discussed the opportunities as well as the obstacles to developing human rights education in school programs. Discussions covered various aspects of the formal education systems that relate to the teaching of human rights.

Broadening the context of human rights education naturally leads the discussions to the basic issues confronting the present formal education system. They raise questions as to whether students are being trained to think critically about their concrete situations or are being conditioned into simply accepting knowledge from the teachers. They also examine ways the teachers' desire to improve the system of learning by employing new teaching methods and approaches can be realized.

The teaching of human rights is seen as an avenue to review and develop existing education programs toward a better environment for learning. It is considered a vehicle to introduce ideas and methodologies which can improve on the existing ones.

Considering the current human rights education programs in Southeast Asia and the need to incorporate new trends in education, the workshop participants discussed three main categories of issues: content of human rights education program, methodology to be employed, and support structures.

The teaching of human rights is seen to be more than understanding the technical definition of human rights as stated in international human rights instruments. It critically examines human rights in the context of the cultural, spiritual, historical, and political conditions of society. It also relates to other societal issues such as peace, gender, development, and the environment. It involves discussing critical issues such as the relationship between rights and responsibilities, the notion of violators, the systems or mechanisms for redressing grievances, and the clarification of myths about human rights. It is also suggested that human rights education should consider healing wounds caused by a human rights violation experience such as in the case of abused children; human rights education should not cause a second trauma to the children as they recall the unfortunate experience.

With this understanding of human rights education, the methodology has to be process-oriented. The objective of this approach is to let students understand human rights by experiencing the learning process. Students are given the space and the time to reflect and actualize the learning. They are allowed to think as individuals and not merely as members of a group. The role of the teacher as facilitator is to find out the level of understanding of human rights by the students and help raise it to a higher level. Human rights consciousness is determined by looking at the students' thinking, beliefs, feelings, habits, and attitudes. This methodology requires a different kind of evaluation system in addition to the usual examination or quantitative system.

Affirmed as appropriate approaches to human rights education in schools are the integration approach (teaching human rights as part of the existing subjects in the curriculum), and the values approach (relating human rights to the existing or prevalent values in the society). In both approaches, the teachers need to have a strong human rights perspective which will guide them in both innovating appropriate teaching methodologies and in facilitating the experiential learning by the students of human rights concepts and mechanisms.

Effective in facilitating students' understanding of the value of human rights, a Cambodian human rights education program illustrates how Buddhist concepts are interpreted in light of human rights principles. It has also been found helpful in encouraging people in government to accept human rights education as an educational tool to revive traditional culture.

Supporting structures for the teaching of human rights includes governmental as well as non-governmental institutions. Governments must have the political will to pursue the teaching of human rights in schools by providing the necessary policy, personnel, budget and other resources. Non-governmental institutions can help pressure governments to support the teaching of human rights in schools, and provide whatever resources are available to help develop government programs. It is also necessary to seek the support of the school administration.

A significant component of the support structure is training for the teachers. Training for teaching human rights requires the review of basic theories and philosophies of education, the development of human rights perspective, the development of various skills (materials development, conflict management, facilitation, networking to gather more resources within and without the government structure), increasing knowledge of human rights, and knowing appropriate teaching strategies within and outside the school.

A system of awarding and recognizing teachers who show exemplary effort in teaching human rights is considered a good support measure that also contributes to the development of a political climate supportive of human rights education in schools.

Different types of materials have been developed in several countries in Southeast Asia for the teaching of human rights such as teaching modules, teaching aids, and simple reference materials. The Cambodian Institute for Human Rights, for example, has developed many such teaching aids and reference materials. Some of them are Cambodian versions of basic human rights publications from the United Nations and other organizations while others are developed by the institute itself to suit the Cambodian situation. The Philippine government's education department has developed more than a hundred teaching modules on various subjects for different year levels.

While there are varying degrees of limitation present in each country in Southeast Asia, the prospect of developing strong human rights education programs in schools is good. And whatever initiatives exist need more support to assure that they do not remain as temporary projects but institutionalized as permanent programs with the proper budgetary and personnel support. Getting government support for continued human rights education in school programs is indeed a most significant concern.

The most desirable support for human rights education in schools is the existence of legal mandates as in the case of the Philippines whose 1987 Constitution requires the teaching of human rights in schools. This constitutional provision is now being implemented through an order issued by the office of the President and followed by another order issued by the government education department requiring the inclusion of the study of human rights in the school curriculum. In the absence of such legal mandates, however, human rights can still be taught by using the existing educational opportunities such as civic education or even in the teaching of national ideology. However, awareness of the limitations in these less direct opportunities is required to be able to assure that the human rights principles are not diluted in the process. A critical approach in the use of these opportunities is therefore necessary.

The workshop was jointly organized by HURIGHTS OSAKA, the National Commission on Human Rights Indonesia, and the Center for Human Rights Studies of the University of Surabaya. These two Indonesian institutions guaranteed a successful workshop in the midst of the problems posed by the rapidly changing political, social and economic scenario in Indonesia.


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