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:
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.
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:
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
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 hospitalthe 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.
GSR developed a multimedia package, which includes the following:
GSR faced the following problems and difficulties:
The following reflections and suggestions may be made:
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.