A community of human rights educators working on the formal education system is needed to support the continuing development of school programs on human rights education. This community is largely a communications and activity-based linkage system among teachers, school administrators, government education department officials, NGO workers, education researchers and teachers, and representatives of regional institutions. For Asia, such a community begun to take shape in a regional workshop held recently on human rights education in Asian schools.
What is significant to note in this community is the fact that it has only one qualification for membership: interest in school-based human rights education program. It represents what can be described as an ideal program on human rights education in schools where students, teachers, parents, community institutions, NGO workers, education researchers and teachers, and education officials of government have important roles to play.
This idea of a community of human rights educators takes away the dichotomy between formal and non-formal education system since the students learning of human rights traverses both fields as a matter of necessity. Learning of human rights cannot be confined to a classroom setting, it has to extend to the family and the community. It is likewise practiced in the general affairs of the school.
The regional workshop held in Osaka on November 23-26, 1998 was attended by representatives of 13 countries from South (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), Southeast (Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand) and Northeast Asia (mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, south Korea and Taiwan). The workshop took up the basic task of clarifying the general situation of human rights education programs in schools in the Asian region and the necessary steps to support the existing initiatives. The results of the three subregional workshops held in Surabaya (Indonesia), Seoul (south Korea), and New Delhi (India) were reported and discussed. As a consequence, some understanding of the Asian experiences on human rights education in Asian schools developed. Several key areas of concern have been clarified.
Following are highlights of the discussions in the workshop.
In addition to the vision of human rights education expressed in the South Asia workshop (reported in the South Asia workshop article), the goal of human rights education in schools was clarified.
A basic goal to achieve is the promotion of human rights education at all levels and forms of education aiming at providing knowledge about human rights; fostering attitudes of tolerance, respect, solidarity and responsibility; and developing awareness of the ways and means by which human rights can be translated into social and political reality at both national and international levels.
Process-oriented approach is the most appropriate methodology for effective human rights education. This approach is described as having the following characteristics:
it focuses on the consciousness of the students in the learning process. The students insights and feelings are important elements of the system;
it allows students the space to reflect on experiences and to see how to respond to those that may be violative of human rights;
to assure that students are able to have a meaningful grasp of the learning rather than a superficial intellectual understanding, the methodology must be self-pacing and recursive;
the learning process enables the teacher to determine the level of human rights consciousness of the students by understanding their beliefs, thinking, feelings, attitudes and habits;
the teacher, after drawing out insights from the students, helps them raise their consciousness of human rights to a higher level; and also helps them to think and discuss critically what they have and have not considered;
the learning process itself has human rights meaning, it also determines the human rights content to be learned. Thus the learning process itself needs to be reflected on by the students;
it involves continuing qualitative evaluation of the students improvement and not just quantitative evaluation (examinations). A right mix of the two types of evaluating knowledge learned will have to be adopted.
The methodology should start with the real experiences of the children in the classroom, at home, in the neighborhood, and in the community. Such experiences should be facilitated to come out.
Recognizing the various experiences in the region, the approach of teaching human rights can either be the integration approach or the separate subject approach. The employment of either approaches depends on the situation of the school involved. In the integration approach, human rights can be incorporated in every subject and extra-curricular activity.
The effective implementation of a human rights education program in school is determined by a number of factors. Foremost of these are the following:
teacher training (pre and in-service training) - considering the usual misunderstanding about the meaning of human rights and the need to incorporate human rights principles in learning processes, teacher training is a very important element for a human rights education program;
teaching materials development - a number of schools, NGOs and education institutions in Asia have developed materials for use by teachers. They range from teaching modules to human rights references. But the need for more materials remains. The ultimate user of the materials, the teachers, should be part of the process for developing these materials;
learning methodology - the focus of the learning process has to be on the students who can learn human rights through interaction with their fellow students and their community. Participatory methodology, in various forms, is therefore a requirement;
government support - a common concern among the institutions involved in implementing human rights education programs in schools is the support of the government. Governments attitude on human rights education in schools ranges from one of neglect to display of sufficient interest. Advocacy for government support is thus an important task. Needed support can be in various forms - policy, funding, recognition, among others.
support from institutions outside the school - NGOs and other institutions (social, religious and other types) and individuals in the communities where schools are play a vital support system to human rights education program in schools. They can provide information, materials, assistance in resolving problems, to cite a few, which complement/reinforce the learning process inside the classroom;
human rights issue - human rights need to be seen in its wholistic sense without neglecting specific issues which are related to the ordinary lives of the students and their communities. The integral aspect of human rights mechanisms (within their communities and beyond) also forms a part of the human rights issue.
In order to provide continued support for human rights education program in schools, the workshop participants see the need for greater interaction among the various people involved in this matter. National as well as regional interaction can be in the form of the following:
The activities will mainly be at the national and subregional levels to make them more closely address the needs at these levels.
HURIGHTS OSAKA, which organized the workshop, will support the identified future activities in line with its policy of promoting the UN Decade for Human Rights Education through a specific area of human rights education. Networking with other regional human rights education initiatives such those of the Asian Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education (ARRC) and the Asia-Pacific Network of International Education and Values Education (APNIEVE) are sought to maximize the impact of existing resources in the region.
The series of workshops which culminated in the November regional workshop proves once more the need for greater search for organizations and institutions involved in human rights education in various countries in the region. Many representatives of organizations who participated in the workshops saw the importance of networking with people who have similar programs within and outside their own countries. They felt relief in knowing that there are other groups who are undergoing the same experience of developing programs on human rights education on their own without guidance from experienced institutions, and who confirm and validate the efforts that they are undertaking. These independent experiences, when put together, provide much needed boost to the confidence of people who work on human rights education program in schools. The workshops begun a process of interaction among like-minded people which may eventually create a community for human rights education in Asian schools in the real sense of the word.