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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Human Rights Education in Pakistan Ilm Aur Amn Ko Barhana Hai

Nasreen Iqbal

Let us imagine in our mind's eye a scene fairly routine in many parts of the world: an intense young man crouches on the ground trying to protect his body from the savage blows being rained down on him by an aggressor who could be a landlord, an employer, a policeman, a teacher or a parent.

The narrator says (for it is a re-enactment): "Article 5 states: 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment....' and yet all over the world aggressors in many forms, subject people to inhuman destructive treatment."

This is a scene from a presentation by students of Grammar School Rawalpindi (GSR) titled "Threats to Civilization," based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, of which Article 1 states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." The presentation aimed to show how we the inhabitants of planet Earth have violated the sanctity of this declaration.

Our world is being destroyed by an upsurge of intolerance and an imbalance of power. More than ever before, children today urgently need to be sensitized to a culture of tolerance, peace and understanding for the preservation of society.

As educators, we have to play a pivotal role in the personal and social development of children. School is one of the main places where children develop their personalities and shape their attitudes. If a child is educated to accept violence and intolerance as a way of life, he grows up to be selfish and intolerant. But if he is taught the values of peace, human rights and universal brotherhood, he will respect and promote such values.

Unfortunately, education is considered only as a tool to create a skilled workforce for economic development; in no way does it cater to the growth of the individual's personal development. It includes no goals of promoting human values or moral principles and thus contributes to the deterioration of the human rights situation and to the growth of excessive materialism, self-centeredness and intolerance.

This alarming situation can only be halted through broad-based education, which will serve as a key to survival.

As educators, if we can incorporate human rights education (HRE) in our school syllabi, we can help to sow seeds of tolerance, peace and understanding.

The report of UNESCO's International Commission on Education reflects how indispensable education is to achieve the ideals of peace and social justice. The commission believes that education is a principal means for fostering a deeper and more harmonious form of human development.

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.

Federico Mayor, UNESCO director-general, further endorses the role of education by stating: "Wars will not cease, either on the ground or in people's minds unless each and everyone of us resolutely embarks on a 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."

GSR, a private school system, was founded in 1985. One of its basic missions is to uphold and promote ideas of tolerance and peace in the school environment through co-curricular subjects and hands-on, activity-based programs.

Since 1995, when GSR became a member of UNESCO's Associated Schools Project (ASP), special syllabi and classes were introduced, called the Associated Schools Project Classes.

The aim of these classes is to promote tolerance and provide HRE by making the students aware of their own rights and how they must respect the rights of others. "You have the freedom to exercise your rights as far as it does not infringe on the rights of others: when it does, it becomes a wrong and ceases to be a right," reads a mission statement in their classes.

Students are encouraged to develop activities and skills to help them counteract intolerance and discrimination in whatever form they encounter. Activities and action plans are designed to make the students more compassionate and understanding and to accept and respect diversity in races, cultures and religions, to create better lives and better futures than they have inherited.

The main topics covered by the classes for age group 10-16 years are:

  • culture of peace;
  • environmental protection;
  • rights and responsibilities of children;
  • role of women;
  • gender issues;
  • literacy;
  • racial discrimination;
  • population control;
  • cultures and religions of the world.

The approach used is multidimensional. Two basic approaches are used:

* Brainstorming. While introducing the topics, there is a lively interactive lesson. Students question, reason, think, argue and understand the issue under discussion. This continues for at least two sessions when inputs and researched material are presented to the class by the students.

* Written and oral expressions. Students engage in dialogues; make speeches, write articles, stories, poetry, plays; and illustrate their thoughts. They also use drama and puppet theater to give visual form to their individual and collective creative skills.

Action Plan

There are exhibitions of the written work, art exhibitions, live dramatic performances, puppet shows, simulation and speeches on the issues covered. These are performed for their own school, other schools, the local community and invited parents and guests.

The ASP program designed for pupils in the age group 4-9 years caters to the needs of young students. It is basically a hands-on activity program. The topics covered are:

  • awareness of rights and responsibilities of children;
  • developing respectful relationships with people at home, in school and society;
  • developing self-esteem and recognizing personal differences;
  • awareness and respect for those who are disadvantaged or different;
  • developing concepts of caring and sharing;
  • preserving the environment.

From early on, the children are made aware that everything they do has a direct impact on their community, their country and thereby globally. For example, if they keep their room clean, they are keeping a part of their country clean, and Pakistan being a part of the world, they are thereby helping to keep the world clean or green or less noisy (as the case may be). This realization makes them feel most responsible as they are indirectly making an impact on the world.

The following is a description of one topic covered in February 1998.

Topic: Tolerance and empathy
Objectives:

  • To sensitize the students through an action-oriented program to become aware of children from disadvantaged homes and to help them to reach out to them.
  • To develop the concept of caring and sharing with people at home and with the underprivileged around them.
  • To empower students to actively participate and contribute in bringin about changes in society.

The holy month of Ramazan was selected for this activity as Islam stands for a fair and just social order. During this month, the special focus is to think of the others less fortunate. During the brainstorming session, incidents from the Holy Prophet's and the great caliphs' lives were highlighted, such as when they gave up their frugal meals for people in need. The Holy Prophet Mohammed emphasized the rights of one's neighbors and the downtrodden. His last address to his people was nothing less than the first charter of human rights, in which he said: "No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab or a black over a white. They are equal in the eyes of Allah. You shall be judged by your deeds and not by your caste, color or creed."

In the following session, the students wrote poetry and articles on the importance of universal brotherhood in Islam and the rights of our neighbors and fellow beings as a major priority of Islam. Dramatic plays were enacted and an art and story writing exhibition held.

Finally, an action plan was chalked out. The students of all GSR branches invited children from disadvantaged schools in their neighborhood for a fun-filled Eid Party. They organized games and entertainment for their guests and gave them Eid gifts. The student executive committee also took Eid gifts to a local school. The expenses for the party were met by the students of GSR, who donated their Eid gift money. A portion of the money was donated to a cancer charity hospital—the Shaukat Khannum Memorial Trust for the children's ward. A poem written for the patients was also sent which spoke about compassion and hope.

Along with these specially designed classes and projects of ASP, GSR organizes regular ongoing activities for HRE.

Activities

  • Morning assembly time is used by the principal to focus on lessons of tolerance and human rights in her discourse/interaction with students.
  • Assembly time/open-day presentations by all classes focus on human rights as a major theme. Some topics covered were Literacy Day, gender roles, environmental conservation, health care, individual differences, self-esteem, effective garbage disposal, diversity of religious beliefs and cultures, etc.
  • Guest speakers are periodically invited to interact with students on important social and human rights issues. P. K. Kasaju, director UNESCO; Naheeda Mehboob Elahi, a human rights lawyer; Nilofer Bakhtiar, a politician; Amera Saeed, senior researcher; and Sister Eileen Daffy, a teacher from Australia, were some of the guest speakers this year.
  • Art exhibitions on different topics were put up.
  • Dramatic presentations on various issues such as violations of human rights in Kashmir and Bosnia were staged.
  • Presentations on the UN and a mock UN Assembly session were held in school.
  • Refugee children from Bosnia were entertained.
  • A stage performance was put up for special school children.
  • A school was visited, trees planted and time shared with the children of the school.
  • Donations by students were sent to charity hospitals.
  • Clothing collected was sent to flood victims.
  • A public picnic was arranged and games organized in a local park.
  • Mock elections were held in school to give an idea of a democratic form of government.
  • Funfairs were arranged to raise money to buy library books.
  • A garbage disposal project, "Apni Madat Aap Karo Apna Mohala Saaf Karo," was initiated.
  • Letters were sent to government officials to help GSR organize the garbage disposal project in the local neighborhood.
  • Field trips were made to cultural heritage sights such as Taxila, Rohta Fort and Lok Virsa Museum to learn about other religions and civilizations of the subcontinent.
  • Annual Day presentations on human races and cultures and violations of human rights through history were staged at a local city theater.
  • The 2nd Worldwide Project Day of Solidarity—50 Years of Universal Declaration of Human Rights was shared with ASP school Laborschule and Oberstufen-Kolleg in Bielefeld, Minden, Germany.

GSR developed a multimedia package, which includes the following:

  • learning modules for teachers to promote the culture of peace;
  • a publication of the students' work titled "Tolerance is Compassion, Understanding and Empathy";
  • video films of presentations and annual day dramatic productions;
  • audio cassettes of songs on social issues.

GSR faced the following problems and difficulties:

  • Teachers do not feel the need for HRE in the regular school curriculum.
  • They feel it should be covered in civics and social studies or ASP.
  • Teachers are not skilled and trained enough to incorporate HRE into their disciplines.
  • Inadequate time is a great constraint in an overloaded curriculum.
  • As it is a subject which cannot be examined and graded, the teachers are not enthusiastic about it and give HRE low priority.
  • Few teachers can inspire students for HRE.
  • Efforts to network with other schools are thwarted due to lack of resources required for networking.
  • Thought-provoking and inspirational projects of HRE cannot be documented effectively and shared with other schools due to inadequate resources.
  • There is no financial support from any organization to help GSR network with underprivileged and public sector schools.

The following reflections and suggestions may be made:

  • The students of GSR showed great enthusiasm for the ASP classes where HRE is the focal theme.
  • Unconventional teaching strategies allowed the students to enjoy and participate in these classes without inhibitions.
  • The creative talents of all the students received a great boost.
  • Low academic achievers discovered new strengths and skills they had never exhibited or had a chance to exhibit before.
  • All students looked forward to the weekly ASP classes and participated most enthusiastically.
  • The value-based activities were most enriching.
  • The teacher should be provided with special training for importing HRE.
  • HRE as a co-curricular subject is easily handled by a specially qualified teacher.
  • The syllabi for these classes should be clearly defined and be made an integral part of the school curriculum.
  • Workshops should be developed to sensitize teachers to HRE. In regular teacher training workshops, the subject of HRE should be made compulsory.
  • An effective system of networking with other schools to exchange materials must be developed.
  • An HRE resources center must be created for the school. It must provide legal education so that students will know their rights.
  • To make the HRE classes effective, the following strategies should be encouraged:
    • Every student should be encouraged to participate and contribute their ideas.
    • Open group discussions should be conducted.
    • Cooperative learning methodology should be used.
    • Conflicts over religious beliefs should be avoided.
    • Decision making should be encouraged. A sense of commitment and responsibility should be promoted.
    • Teaching should be done through simulation, role-play, case study and Social Action Plan.

Key resource persons should be identified with the help of UNESCO. They should develop a standardized national HRE plan, with short-, medium- and long-term goals. The HRE program of GSR (which has proved to be effective) can be taken as a core program, made more comprehensive, and structured and shared with both private and public sector schools.

However, for the successful implementation of HRE, regular follow-up and monitoring by UNESCO or a special cell of a human rights organization is absolutely necessary.

Financial support is requested by GSR from HURIGHTS OSAKA to help recruit effective teachers for HRE and to produce and document multimedia packages to exchange and network with other schools.


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