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FOCUS December 2005 Volume 42

South Asia Workshop on Human Rights Education in Schools


Curriculum developers and other educators from the Ministries of Education and government education institutes in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka participated in the South Asia Workshop on Human Rights Education in Schools held on 13-15 December 2005 in New Delhi, India.

The workshop reviewed international human rights standards and the experiences in some countries in Asia on integrating human rights education into the school curriculum; and facilitated exercises on improving the integration of human rights education into the school curriculum.

Presentations by resource persons dealt with the international and regional contexts of the workshop, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, experiences on and concept of integrating human rights education into the school curriculum.

Opening ceremonies

Professor Yoshio Kawashima, Director of HURIGHTS OSAKA,[1] in his opening message stressed the importance of sharing ideas and experiences in the workshop. He said that while

this workshop is meant to train the participants, it is also significantly designed to facilitate the exploration of their wisdom and experience. It is therefore our fervent wish that this short three-day gathering would focus on sharing of ideas and experiences, reflecting on them in light of human rights principles, and developing sample curriculums that integrate international human rights standards.

Professor Radha Kumar, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution of Jamia Millia Islamia, lamented the increasing number of human rights violations cases brought about by the "war on terror" as well as the weakening of the international human rights institutions particularly the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She stressed the need for the strengthening of human rights education to counter this situation.

Workshop proceedings

The workshop proper started with the presentation on the international and regional contexts of the workshop. Mr. Jefferson R. Plantilla of HURIGHTS OSAKA presented some of the international developments that support human rights education including the United Nations (UN) Decade for Human Rights Education, the UNESCO conferences and the UN World Programme for Human Rights Education. He pointed out that there are also a number of regional activities such as the annual workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) organized by the national human rights institutions in the region. These two annual regional human rights activities declare support for human rights education. He also stressed that South Asian countries under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have signed 2 major human rights instruments (regarding women and girls)[2] which call for efforts to increase public awareness on human rights. The workshop thus supports all the international, regional and subregional initiatives on human rights or human rights education.

Professor Zenaida Reyes of the Philippine Normal University, facilitated the session on the participants' concerns or issues about human rights. Most participants raised the problem of making human rights a reality. They cite the obstacles toward the realization of human rights in the school, at home, in the community and in the country as a whole. Some participants expressed concern about the lack of understanding of duties in addition to the understanding of human rights. Others expressed the problem emanating from the education system which is getting more competitive and focused on language, mathematics and science and very little on social issues such as human rights. They see this situation as a major obstacle to integrating human rights education into the school curriculum.

Presentations on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Convention on the Rights of the Child followed. The presentation on UDHR by Mr. Plantilla stressed the current context within which this international human rights document should be perceived. He stressed the continuing trend toward greater freedom at various levels (self to country) and the international human rights system that evolved. After a short exercise by the participants on reorganizing the manner by which the provisions of UDHR were written, he presented the principles that support the full realization of human rights such as universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights. Professor Abdulrahim P. Vijapur of Jamia Millia Islamia discussed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). He discussed the concept of rights of the child, and the drafting history of CRC to address some of the objections raised against it, and the particular rights provided for in the instrument. He also explained some problems relating to the implementation of the CRC due to the number of reservations registered by many countries, the delay in submission of country reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, among others.

The experiences of India and the Philippines on integrating human rights education into the school curriculum were presented by Professor Arjun Dev, formerly of the Indian National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Professor Lolita Nava of the Philippine Normal University respectively. Both presentations pointed out specific subject areas that can be used to discuss human rights. They also mentioned briefly the results of a multi-country survey on educational policies and human rights awareness of students.[3]

Ms. Pranati Panda, Reader of the NCERT, made the final presentation, dealing with the concept of integration of human rights education into the school curriculum. She mentioned different integration approaches, the link between integration of human rights education into the school curriculum with its integration into teacher education curriculum, the need to relate to issues affecting students, and the use of participatory teaching/learning processes. A section of her presentation was later used as a guideline for the curriculum review exercise.

Participants' presentations

During the second half of the workshop, the participants reviewed their school curriculums and presented what can be done to improve the integration of human rights education into the school curriculum.

The Nepali participants presented the problem posed by the current internal armed conflict in Nepal which has been causing not only damage to school facilities but death and physical injury to students, teachers and education officials. They proposed to make all schools in Nepal as "Zones of Peace" in addition to supporting students and teachers at the community level. They explained that the current school curriculum includes the teaching of human rights in the form of rights provided for in the Nepali Constitution. In their proposal for integrating human rights education into the school curriculum, they would like to take up issues such as the development of self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of nationalism, and also child abuse and discrimination. They would like to focus on rights that respect people, culture, democratic norms and values, help the needy and resolve conflict. These issues and human rights can be integrated into language, social studies, creative arts, and physical education subjects for primary level. Human rights relating to conflict resolution, privacy, inclusiveness, creation of human rights community (in school) are proposed to be integrated in all subjects in the secondary level curriculum.

The Sri Lankan participants separately presented the integration of human rights education into primary and secondary curriculums. As a background, it was mentioned that a few years ago teachers were protesting the teaching of human rights in schools due to alleged rise of indiscipline among the students, and likely also due to fear that they are liable to be sued for their actions to discipline students. The government however continued to support human rights education in Sri Lankan schools. It was proposed that human rights education could be integrated into the primary curriculum through environment-related activities as well as subjects such as geography, civic education, science, esthetic education, and physical education. Environment-related activities can be used to learn human rights principles such as non-discrimination and equality, freedom of expression, right to culture, right to work, right to property, and equality before the law. In addition to teaching human rights within the subjects, they can also be taught through ways of teaching, and special projects (such as inclusive education, and education on other languages - Tamil for Singhalese students or Singhala for Tamil students). For the secondary level, the inclusion of human rights into the civics and governance subjects will be strengthened. Under the proposed civics and governance subjects, there is a specific topic on human rights and duties, as well as inclusion of human rights in other topics regarding government, law, the economic system and international relations.

The Pakistani participants explained that human rights could be taught in social studies subject (which includes history, civics, and geography) and in Islamic studies subject. They also presented the experiences of one private school[4] specifically about the lesson plans on human rights for Urdu language subject. They emphasized the need for human rights mindset and teacher training. They listed ideas (values) related to human rights that can be emphasized in several subjects (language, mathematics, science and social studies) covering Grades 1 to 10.

The Indian participants explained the democratic process (through consultation with various sectors) of developing the Indian school curriculum and the need to have human rights education integrated both in the school curriculum and in the teacher education curriculum. A study on the experience on values education in a private school was also presented. The workshop was indeed an exercise on sharing ideas and experiences. It also helped stress the importance of having explicit, if not comprehensive, inclusion of human rights into the school subjects.

Some issues

Discussions during the workshop revealed a number of important issues relevant to the content, process of development and support system for the integration of human rights education into the school curriculum. In the context of South Asia, the concept of fulfilling one's duty as a primary concern is a major issue on human rights discussions. Mahatma Gandhi's 1947 letter to UNESCO[5] commenting on the draft Universal Declaration of Human Rights is often cited as an endorsement of the duty-first concept. The workshop discussions however showed a change of perspective. One questioned the fairness of this concept as applied to the Dalits, who are relegated to serving upper castes. And a new view was explained saying that one's duty cannot be performed well unless one's human rights are respected. The discussions on the duty-first concept are important in talking about human rights contextualized in the South Asian socio-cultural terrain.

The current trend among the countries in South Asia, as in other countries in Asia as a whole, is to emphasize language and computer technology in the school curriculum. Parents demand that their children learn English in school as early as possible, and that they also learn communication and information technology in order to equip their children with skills useful for their work in the future. While learning English is important, the question is when should it start? English-language teaching at the primary level may go against the view that learning is more effectively acquired through mother-tongue instruction. These discussions relate to the role of school in learning about human rights. Can school curriculum accommodate human rights education in the context of the demand for greater emphasis on language and communications technology education? Or will issues such as human rights fit into a curriculum that emphasizes learning for future work?

Increasing human rights awareness of students is not a monopoly of schools. This was revealed in a survey done in the Philippines and India. The family remains to be a major source of such awareness. The survey likewise shows that children who go to public schools in areas where human rights violations are rampant have higher human rights awareness. This supports the notion that those who suffer from human rights violations are likely to have higher human rights awareness. From this perspective, harnessing the human rights awareness of students and steering it towards a more complete and meaningful understanding and practice of human rights within the school and beyond is a challenge to be faced.

In support of the proper and effective implementation of school curriculum that integrates human rights education, the teacher education curriculum must likewise have human rights education. Those who are training to become teachers should have the proper knowledge, attitude and skills required for human rights education. Thus a parallel effort at integrating human rights education into the teacher education curriculum is needed to ensure that teachers can facilitate human rights learning.

HURIGHTS OSAKA organized the workshop in partership with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution of the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, India. South Asia workshop is the second workshop organized by HURIGHTS OSAKA in 2005 with the support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The first workshop, Southeast Asia Orientation-cum-Training Workshop on Human Rights Lesson Plans, was held in Manila on 5-7 April 2005.[6]

For further information please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


1. Professor Yoshio Kawashima was not able to go to Delhi due to other commitments. A staff of HURIGHTS OSAKA read the opening message on his behalf.

2. The 2 instruments are the following: South Asian Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution (January 2002), and the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia (January 2002).

3. This survey involves 4 countries (India, Japan, Philippines and Sri Lanka) which are assumed to have considerable experience in implementing human rights education programs in schools.

4. Grammar School Rawalpindi, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

5. Letter of Mahatma Gandhi to Dr. Julian Huxley, then Director General of UNESCO.

6. See FOCUS Asia-Pacific newsletter volume 40 for a report on this workshop, or visit