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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ

The United Nations and Human Rights Education in Schools

Valai na Pombejr

Asia-Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education

Everyone is concerned at the upsurge of intolerance and extremism, the increasing number of manifestations of racial hatred and the way in which discrimination and violence have become everyday occurrences. The reasons for this upsurge are not the same in every place, but everywhere it is the product of a complex association of economic, cultural, political and social factors.

In this world of violence and violation, we have to question ourselves on the role and function assigned to education and school. In this respect, since its creation more than 50 years ago the United Nations' action has been aimed at greater mutual understanding and growing co-operation between nations and individuals on the basis of universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, "...without distinction of race, sex, language or religion...

Education in general, and schools in particular, are not a neutral area and are not remote from these problems. Education, which concerns the family and the media as much as the school, must today more than ever demonstrate its ability to promote the values and behavior necessary for the training of citizens worthy of that name, its ability to encourage the readjustment, and the radical social transformation that is needed.

We talk about peace, human rights and democracy being incorporated into school subjects. But curricula relating to these issues must overcome the discrepancy between rhetoric and reality, theory and practice. We are living in a time of transition and accelerated change which calls for modifications to the traditional style of education. We must therefore not apply the same kinds of curricula as in the past but chart new courses adapted to the present-day social, economic, political and cultural contexts.

Values of peace, mutual respect and democracy must be constantly present in the minds and deeds of individuals and groups. This implies a sustained strength of will in order to develop in daily life, attitudes and behavior founded on the recognition of the dignity and equality of all individuals. It presupposes that every human being has learned to behave as a responsible person, to control himself/herself and to be sufficiently open-minded towards others to understand them, respect them and accept that other people may manifest feelings or display ways of thinking and acting different from his/her own. It is thus essential that education open up for all individuals in the world, and particularly children, the road to mutual understanding and respect.

Education for international understanding, peace and human rights must exert its influence from early childhood onward and through a broad range of disciplines, particularly those that are directly concerned with the perception of other peoples and cultures. History, geography, literature and foreign languages are areas where the impact is greatest. In providing children, young people and adults with the cognitive basis required for a better knowledge of others as well as more thorough understanding of major problems, this education is also called upon to inculcate attitudes of respect for every human being and every culture, together with the realization that each one of us is responsible for the future of all.

Thus, the school has an important role to play in helping children who will become citizens of the future to develop awareness of world issues, in particular peace and human rights issues, and to develop appropriate attitudes from primary school onward.

The UNESCO Associated Schools Project can be an example of how schools can contribute to peace and human rights. This project, launched by UNESCO in 1953, now has a network of 3,800 establishments the world over, of which more than 525 are located in 22 countries of the Asia-Pacific region. The Associated Schools are ordinary schools which, in the normal framework of the activities and curricula established at their respective levels within the existing structures of the countries involved, undertake to promote the UNESCO ideal of "constructing the defenses of peace in the minds of men". Ever since the project was launched, four main fields of study have pertained to education for international understanding and inter-cultural learning: human rights; democracy; environmental issues; and world concerns and the role of the United Nations system. A wide range of activities has been carried out within the framework of these themes, from the level of pre-school education to teacher-training institutions.

In order to prepare young people for their responsibilities in the world of tomorrow, it is important to start from the living realities in the family, in the school and at all levels of society; from their community on to national and international levels. They must be encouraged, through increasing awareness, knowledge and reflection, to acquaint themselves with major world problems; to analyze their nature and origins as well as evaluate their social, economic, political and cultural dimensions; to cultivate a critical understanding of questions concerning their possible manipulation; to form their own judgment, to develop their own positions; and, lastly, to co-operate with others in the search for solutions to these problems.

Humanistic, ethical/moral and cultural values are essential components for enhancing mutual understanding, peace and human rights. It is a high priority to put these values into perspective not only in the area of education but more importantlyin the area of development of the country and the region in general.

In Asia and the Pacific, many countries feel that a major concern facing the region is the fast rate of modernization and urbanization resulting in the rapid pace of economic and technological advancement. This pace has made a dramatic leap over the social and cultural development of the peoples. Education per se has been identified as the tool in creating a more skilled workforce, but unfortunately, it is more often than not to the detriment of the personal development of the individual. The long-term goals of maintaining the human values and moral principles of society are inclined to gradually lose their stronghold on humanity and become less important as they battle against the more dominant global forces of economic trends and market fluctuations.

This has bred a growing concern that the constant deterioration of human rights and dignity is being overshadowed by an ever increasing upsurge of intolerance, discrimination and violence.

Education which has a fundamental role to play in personal and social development has to face up to these problems now more than ever, but it seems that educational systems are indifferent with regard to human and ethical values.

The Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first century chaired by Jacques Delors begins with the following statement: "In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice..." The Commission believes that education is one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war. Apart from its utilitarian purposes, especially in the development of human skills and the advancement of science, the Delors Commission is convinced that "... education is the most powerful instrument for transforming our world and our image of each other, for liberating and harnessing those human energies that can assist in realizing our collective aspirations." This reconfirms the statement made by Federico Mayor, Director- General of UNESCO: "Wars will not cease, either on the ground or people's minds, unless each and every one of us resolutely embarks on the struggle against intolerance and violence by attacking the evil at its roots. Education offers us the means to do this. It also holds the key to development, to receptiveness to others, to population control and to the preservation of the environment."

One of UNESCO's response mechanisms to the concern of the 21st Century and the longing for peace, solidarity and harmony in Asia and the Pacific region is the Asia-Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education (APNIEVE). APNIEVE is also a mechanism of co-operation for sharing information and expertise, exchanging new skills, knowledge and attitudes. It is a network of persons and institutions gathering around common ideals and interests not only for their mutual benefit but also for providing services to the region and the world at large.

The APNIEVE founding members and the APNIEVE experts who are actively promoting International/Values Education believe that this regional network is an instrument of peace, respect for human rights, democracy and development which is human, holistic and sustainable. They are convinced that through their efforts, APNIEVE can help young people to learn to live together in peace and harmony.

Let us teach our children, from their earliest years, to live without violence and to practice tolerance. They need to learn, in the family and at schools, to refuse violence and adopt peaceful means of resolving disagreements and conflict.

Lasting peace is a prerequisite for the exercise of all human rights, not the peace of silence, but the peace of freedom, of happiness, equality and solidarity, in which all citizens count, live together and share.


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