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FOCUS December 1998 Volume 14

Learning Among Students

Experience shows that students learn effectively from their fellow students. Ideas and expressions of life experiences are found to be much more meaningful when they come from their own peers. In this age of growing popularity of the so-called participatory pedagogies, learning by students through fellow students should be a major approach.

In a workshop on human rights education in South Asian schools, several examples of students learning from fellow students were presented. In Bangladesh, under the auspices of Bacha - Education for Life Centre, a program called O`Education for LifeO' allows the students to think about their own experiences and those of their fellow students. Questions are asked which do not necessarily have similar answers. Students are made to discover by themselves why answers are different by listening and talking to their fellow students. They begin to realize that answers are different because the situations of students are different, that there are causes for the differences.

In India, the MelJol Hum Bacchon Ka brings together students of private and public schools. Through joint activities, students from both schools begin to understand their fellow students who belong to either the middle-class or the poor sectors of society. Biases against each other are corrected in the process. This is the Twinning Program where one private school (with mainly middle class students) is paired with a public school (with mainly poor students). Another group, People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, invites to the classroom young people who have done something good in their own communities to share their experiences. They talk to students who are almost of the same age. Belonging to the same generation, they can communicate much more with each other. Students get to know that realizing human rights is not just the work of adults but of young people as well.

These examples bring the study of human rights closer to day-to-day experiences. They create a realization among the students that human rights affect every aspect of their lives in school, at home and in the community. They provide concrete bases for understanding human rights principles.

The South Asian workshop raised many issues which are significant elements in developing human rights education program in schools. The discussion on participatory methodology, for example, has become more concrete as actual experiences are presented and in many cases concurred in by other participants as similar to their own experience. The people who participated in the workshop found consolation in discovering the fact that there are efforts to teach human rights in schools despite the problems that are generally present in the formal education system.

The workshop participants formulated a vision for human rights education in the following manner:

Human rights education is a joyous experience of understanding the issues in society. It is not a neutral education process but based on social analysis. It springs from a perspective of hope with a focus on the testimonies of fellow young people (children and youth) who did something good about local situations. It is built upon the day-to-day experiences of hope.

The learning process therefore is experiential covering the situations of both the personal and societal. It employs process-oriented methods (and thus avoids lectures and emphasizes interaction among the students).

It aims to develop critical thinking, self-criticism, and the skill of problem-solving based on real situations.

The teachers of human rights are also learners. They do not provide pat answers. They are role models.

One can observe in this formulation the importance given to testimonies of fellow young people on their concrete experiences and the interaction among students. One will also note the description of learning human rights as a joyous experience. This is based on the observation in many cases of students becoming more active and showing much interest in participating in human rights education activities - a behavior not seen in other subjects in the school. The view that human rights education is a joyous experience finds consonance with the need to allay the fears of parents and teachers about the effect of knowing human rights. It directs attention to the fact that human rights education is an essential part of the educational needs of the students that will certainly benefit them and the society in the long run.

The participants who come from various schools, non-governmental organizations and education institutes in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and India identified commonalities among their programs. It was noted that most of the human rights education programs in schools have

  • teacher training program;

  • produce materials such as textbooks, participatory exercises, games, audio-visuals;

  • focus on certain social sectors (children, urban poor, women, etc.), and

  • discuss human rights issues relating to the rights of the child; universality and indivisibility principles of human rights; and pluralities, diversities, multi-ethnicity, multi-religious/faith, multi-lingual societies.

These commonalities reflect the similarity of conditions obtaining in the different schools in South Asia. The need, for example, for the training of teachers was raised by most participants in order to assure effective implementation of their respective programs.

They also identified several problems such as follows:

· in relation to the government

  1. bias against human rights education as shown in the national ideology, influence of political party in power;

  2. lack of knowledge on human rights by government personnel;

  3. lack of recognition of problems in schools by the government.

· in relation to the schools

  1. tension between the pedagogical process and the human rights education program;

  2. weak motivation as well as biases of the teachers against human rights/human rights education;

  3. large number of students per class, and short class hours;

  4. low pay of school teachers;

  5. lack of resources within the schools;

  6. contradiction between the ideas learned in school and the experiences at home.

· in relation to the society

  1. weak motivation of parents in supporting human rights education;

  2. cynicism in society about human rights.

As a way of responding to the problems being faced, the participants identified areas that require more work. They are classified under the following headings:

· in relation to the government

  1. advocacy with the government for support for human rights education in schools;

  2. formal recognition of the work of non-governmental organizations by the government by

  3. - having links with national institutions (national human rights commissions, national education research and training institutions, etc.)

    - collaboration between the non-governmental organizations (participating in the present workshop) and the national institutions;

    - having better communication with heads of the national institutions

  4. review of the school syllabus using human rights perspective, and incorporation of human rights in the school curricula;

· in relation to schools

  1. development of materials for teaching human rights;

  2. development of training methodologies;

  3. employment of modern communication technologies;

  4. documentation and assessment of human rights education programs;

  5. creation of systems to protect teachers who teach human rights;

  6. getting the support of teachers' unions and parents-teachers associations;

  7. adopting a system of working with the media to promote the need and work on human rights education in schools.

The discussions in the workshop undoubtedly echo the views expressed in the other subregional workshops (Southeast and Northeast Asia) which situate human rights education in schools within the larger societal context. They repeatedly stress the importance of discussing real life situations in school, at home and in the community. They also stress the necessity of getting support from the government in terms of policy, material and financial support for the human rights education programs in schools that will set aside the usual fear among teachers and school administrators about the sensitive nature of human rights teaching.

And since experiential learning process leads in many cases to expositions of actual human rights violations, the teachers and the schools need the support from various sectors in society which may provide assistance in resolving the problems exposed by the students. In the same way, support from the different institutions in society is important in enriching the human rights education programs by providing information and materials for discussion.

Needless to say, the support of the parents is vital. The experiences presented in the workshop include the efforts to educate the parents about human rights through the students. This is meant to provide a system of reinforcing whatever is learned in school through the support of the parents at home.

As part of the regular agenda of the subregional workshops, a discussion on the relationship between cultures and human rights was held. It was emphasized that culture is both traditional and modern, and it is not static. It has positive as well as negative dimensions. In this sense, cultures can both support and contradict human rights principles. With regard to the negative dimensions of culture, such must be confronted rather than neglected. But more study is needed in seeking the positive elements in cultures that support human rights.

The workshop participants agreed to continue the process started in the workshop by doing the following activities:

  1. Documentation and research on current curricula from the perspective of human rights education;

  2. Coordination with other non-governmental organizations and other institutions working in this field;

  3. National level meetings (one for teachers and another for students respectively) in 1999 to discuss curriculum change from the perspective of human rights education;

  4. Advocacy for curriculum change by 2001.

South Asian level activities have also been agreed. It is proposed that a South Asian meeting be held after six months from the time of the workshop. There is an idea to have a training activity for the subregion.

A Network of South Asian Educators in Schools can also be formed. This network can facilitate interaction between groups and countries.

The following groups have been proposed as key organizations for the national activities:

  1. Pakistan - Human Rights Commission of Pakistan;

  2. Nepal - Informal Service Sector;

  3. Sri Lanka - Centre for the Study of Human Rights, University of Colombo and the Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality;

  4. India - Centre of Concern for Child Labor;

  5. Bangladesh - Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee/Justice and Peace Commission.

The South Asian workshop was held in partnership with the National Human Rights Commission of India. The Chairperson of the Commission, Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah and Commission Member Mr. Virendra Dayal were present at the opening session of the workshop. The Chairperson of the National Council for Teachers' Education - India (Mr. J.S. Rajput) and the Head of the Department of Education in Social Sciences and Humanities of the National Council of Education, Research and Training - India (Mr. Arjun Dev) were also present. The workshop was held in the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science in New Delhi.


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