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  3. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools
  4. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ
  5. Human Rights Education in a Teacher Training Institution: A Philippine Normal University Experience

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ

Human Rights Education in a Teacher Training Institution: A Philippine Normal University Experience

Felice I. Yeban
Manila, Philippines


The integration of Human Rights Education (HRE) in the Philippine educational system is mandated by the 1987 Philippine Constitution. To give flesh to this constitutional provision, President Corazon C. Aquino issued in 1987 an executive order directing schools to integrate human rights in school curricula at all levels. This paved the way for human rights advocates and practitioners to explore the exciting possibility of finally institutionalizing human rights in Philippine bureaucracy, this time, it is via HRE.

   For the first time, the Philippine Educational System is mandated to overtly and officially teach millions of Filipino students human rights concepts and values. As such, there is a need for teachers competently trained at integrating human rights in the different subject areas at all levels - elementary, secondary, and tertiary. But... who will train the most number of teachers the soonest possible time?

The Philippine Normal University

The Philippine Normal University (PNU) is the Philippines' premier teacher training institution established in 1901. It supplies the Philippine Educational System majority of its teacher needs. High-ranking officials and policy makers of the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) are alumni of this state university for teachers. This makes PNU a strategic partner in training the most number of teachers at the soonest possible time.

   The issue then is how to make PNU assume that role! While the teaching of human rights is constitutionally mandated, it did not automatically make school officials agog over HRE!

A Bottom-Top Approach

In 1990, a group of students and some members of the faculty interested in human rights formed PNU's first-ever human rights organization. The group's peculiar feature is its focused mandate of developing strategies in the teaching of human rights - the students being future teachers. The group had the nature of a student organization. As such it did not have any institutional support to carry out its activities. It even had difficulty making itself accredited as a legitimate student organization because of persistent notion in the campus that it is a communist front or a "radical" organization.

   In order to shed off the "red" label, it had to ally itself with more "acceptable" groups such as the UNESCO club, environment clubs, peace clubs, and women's clubs. The group together with allied student organizations initially organized discussion sessions, exhibits, and lecture fora on human rights. The group capitalized on the issue of teachers' rights, the students being naturally interested on the issue. By making alliances with more "acceptable" groups, the issue of human rights gradually became part of every student activities.

   In 1991, faculty advisers of peace, women's, environment, UNESCO and human rights clubs organized themselves into a study group to focus their interest on what they call non-traditional studies (gender education, human rights education, peace education, and multicultural education. These are now presently identified as Transformative Education)

   In order to make the University officially recognize its existence, the members proposed to convert this group into a unit in the University involved in "non-traditional" or emerging disciplines in the field of education. By packaging it as an academic pursuit rather than as a "social cause", the University officials became interested in these "non-traditional studies". As a result, a Peace, Human Rights and Third World Studies Unit (PHWOSU) was established.

   The human rights group that was formed in 1990 became officially part of the University structure through the PHWOSU. As such, it had more freedom implementing its activities. The group became exempted from some of the constraints levied on student organizations. However, the University to this date has not poured adequate resources to enable the Unit and the groups within the Unit to do substantial work.

PNU Peace, Human Rights and Third World Studies Unit (PHWOSU)

PHWOSU is a loosely organized umbrella unit of three groups: UNESCO club which is focused on global, peace, and multicultural education; URDUJA which is specializing in gender education; and Amnesty International-Education for Freedom (AI-EFF) which is focused on human rights education.

   It has an office that is also being developed as a resource center for transformative education. It is run by volunteers - a Coordinator, 10 faculty members, and students. The University pays for two student assistants who work for the Unit eight hours a day.

   The member-groups organize the activities of PHWOSU either independently or jointly with each other. Each group has its own structure and determines its own activities. Most activities are training activities and public campaign.

   There are two levels in the Unit's training activities. The students, on one hand, conduct workshops in their respective communities on Saturdays or Sundays. These workshops are communicated and coordinated with their respective barangay (community) leaders to involve the community resources in the conduct of the workshops. These activities are also opportunities for the student-members to hone their facilitating skills. Faculty-members, on the other hand, organize seminar-workshops for teachers and school administrators both on and off-campus. This two-pronged approach enables the Unit to integrate formal and non-formal settings.

   Experiences are culled, discussed and used as basis for materials development.

   At the moment, PHWOSU is dependent on the free time and resources of volunteers themselves. It does not have full-time staff. Neither its groups have institutional support nor resources to use. This arrangement slows down the development of the Unit into a potent force in its field of interest.

Tapping the resources of the NGOs

In 1991, in the absence of substantial institutional support, the then PNU Human Rights Group sought collaboration with Amnesty International-Pilipinas (AIP) that was trying to penetrate the school system via its HRE project called Education for Freedom (EFF) in the same year. The PNU Human Rights Group became AI-EFF, which meant that it became the implementing arm of AIP's HRE program. From 1991- 1996, AI-EFF activities were financed by AIP.

   However, AIP was not able to sustain its project. And the inability of AI-EFF to tap the resources of the University to support the level of program implementation reached by AI-EFF drastically decreased its activities and eventually of PHWOSU.

   Looking back, the author finds it unfortunate that AIP's funder and other funding agencies imposed restrictions on the purchase of equipment. Had these funding agencies allowed such, AI-EFF and PHWOSU would have sustained its level of program implementation. The group and the Unit operated and continue to operate on voluntary basis. There is no administrative cost at all. All it needed is adequate equipment to continue its level of work. At the moment, AI-EFF and PHWOSU have none!

HRE programs and implementation

The implementation of the programs can be classified into four phases: Training of Trainers, Teachers and Administrators; Materials Development; Curriculum and Pedagogy; and Research and Evaluation.

Phase 1 - Training of Trainers, Teachers, and Administrators

Trainers' Pool -

   The most crucial component of phase 1 is the training of teachers. The first AI-EFF HRE trainers were the student-members and faculty members of the group. This pool of trainers went around public and private schools in Manila training teachers not only about human rights but also about integrating human rights in the different subject areas. Such experience was very useful to student-members who numbered close to 100. Upon graduation, they entered the educational system with human rights perspective and skills. Up to this time, these trainers would from time to time visit PHWOSU and AIP office looking for human rights instructional materials.

Training of Teachers -

   Every summer, teachers at all level in both private and public sectors, undergo professional development training organized by their respective schools. The seminar-workshop is organized either by the schools or by PHWOSU. Through this approach, PHWOSU is able to reach out to those who are already in-service.

Training of School Administrators -

   As important as training the teachers is the training of school administrators. This is what we call the Top-Bottom-Bottom-Top approach. By making the school administrators human rights-sensitive, the teachers' efforts on the ground are complemented by creating spaces for HRE at the top. This way, a support group or a mechanism by which teachers doing HRE can freely engage themselves is indirectly created.

   What is crucial in phase 1 is the multiplier effect of the trainings that were conducted. By training the teachers, the students are also trained.

Training Content and Methodology

The content of the seminar-workshops for the teachers and school administrators are similar. Below is an annotated outline:

I. Levelling-Off and Expectation check
- every workshop starts with exploring participants' prior knowledge about human rights and their expectations from the workshop. This is very important to determine at the beginning whether the workshop design is appropriate and will address their expectations. This helps the facilitator use their experiences as take-off point in the discussions. A training needs analysis is very difficult to conduct because organizers do not know who the participants will be because of the "open invitation" system. This process also provides the facilitator a sense of the kind of participants she/he has.

II. Human Rights and Human Dignity
- PHWOSU's school of thought is that human rights is rooted in one's dignity. Participants are provided with an activity which will direct them to think about the link between human rights and human dignity. This module allows the participants to immediately "own" human rights - that is, human rights is not merely what the international instruments say. It is what their humanity says. Participants are also asked about their personal experiences related to human rights.

III. The International Bill of Rights (IBR)
- here the participants are given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the IBR. The approach is not legalistic but processual and experiential. What is important here is to relate the text with their actual experiences and examine what is not in the text that they consider as human rights.

IV. Contextualizing Human Rights
- this is the most crucial part of the process. Here, the participants are introduced to human rights issues and how human rights actually operate and are translated into everyday life of selected marginalized sectors.

   The workshop is usually a four-day training which limits the scope of the content. This module is usually divided into Children and Human Rights; Women's Rights are Human Rights; Human Rights, Development and Globalization; Peace and Human Rights; and Teachers' Rights.

   The topics are discussed using text-context-analysis approach. Initially, activities are organized to elicit participants' prior knowledge and valuation of their experiences related to the above-stated themes. Then input is presented to "objectify", affirm or challenge their points of view. This is done by presenting the related law (text) on the topic, comparing it with the violations of the text (context) and an explanation why these exist and persist (analysis).

V. Human Rights Culture in the School - in this module, activities are designed to identify human rights concepts and values which the participants think must be practiced inside the school. Activities to identify non-human rights sensitive practices in the school are likewise facilitated. What is very glaring in the responses of the participants is the practice of verbal abuse of students by teachers and of teachers by school administrators.

   Accordingly, the Filipino classroom and campus are very hierarchical. Students are taught obedience and respect which oftentimes lead to docility. They are discouraged to argue because it means "talking back". Corporal punishment is discouraged but there are instances that teachers resort to physical punishment. They say even parents especially in the public school would tell the teachers to hit their children if they did not behave.

   Teachers likewise internalize the hierarchical and highly centralized set-up of the system which equally breeds subservience to superiors. Teacher-participants would complain about mechanisms in the school system which disempower and discourage them from becoming innovative. They said that they are often reduced to mere transmitters of the official curriculum. For instance, their performance rating is based on the achievement test performance of students. Tests are often standardized that is why they cannot innovate much because they have to pattern their lessons according to the type of test given by the central office. Teachers feel disempowered in their own classrooms because policies are formulated from the top and little is done to accommodate individual classroom dynamics. Teachers are also barraged with a lot of non-teaching jobs. Their working condition is poor. They do not have a strong faculty union because they are afraid. They do not know much of their rights as teachers, thus, the feeling of alienation and disempowerment. Their own office culture is by itself not human rights sensitive.

VI. Human Rights Pedagogy - the participants are asked to recall the processes used in the workshop. These are then compared to their other experiences in attending workshops and seminars. The objective of this module is to identify the features of human rights pedagogy used in the seminar-workshop and compare it with other methodologies. Human rights pedagogy is process-oriented while subject-area pedagogy is often taught as content-oriented. Paolo Freire's pedagogy is explained as the theoretical and philosophical foundation of the methodology used in the seminar-workshop.

VII. Integrating Human Rights in the School Curriculum - this module is designed to build the participants' skills and capability to integrate human rights in the different subject areas. Human rights concepts and values are developed and entry points in the scope and sequence of their respective subject area are identified.

VIII. Lesson Planning - participants are encouraged to develop sample lessons applying the principles of human rights integration.

IX. Demonstration Teaching and Critiquing - the participants are divided into smaller groups and are asked to demonstrate/teach the lesson they developed. After which the lesson is critiqued by the participants themselves and improvements are made on the lesson.

X. Breaking Barriers - this module tries to elicit some of the problems that might arise by institutionalizing and integrating human rights in the school and to identify ways to overcome these barriers.

XI. Human Rights and Spirituality - the last part of the workshop is designed to reflect on how each one can convert oneself towards human rights education advocacy.

   The methodology used in the seminar-workshop is not the "banking" type of education but the "withdraw" method. Instead of presenting human rights texts and issues as esoteric or experts' knowledge, these are examined in the light of the participants' knowledge and experiences about human rights that have been drawn out in the process. They become active participants and are their own resource persons.

   Did the participants have "conversion" after the process? We would like to think that at the minimum we "confused" them enough to think about their own worldview as teachers and how they deal with their students. They expressed surprise about the fact that they have rights and that their students have rights, too. We did not convert them completely because there were still issues that were not clear to them like the extent of students' rights vis-a-vis students' responsibilities. We believe that our program is only a sensitizing program. HRE is an on-going and continuous process. There is a lot to be unlearned!

Phase 2 - Materials Development

The experiences that were generated in training the clientele identified above were culled and resulted in the publication of a book entitled, "Shopping List of Techniques in Teaching Human Rights." Student-members of the trainers' pool and their faculty adviser wrote this book.

   The book is a collection of strategies on how human rights concepts and values may be taught not by depositing these into the students' minds but by drawing out students' experiences related to these human rights concepts and values. The pedagogical principle behind is that students should view human rights by examining their lives and naming these experiences from a human rights perspective.

   The book shows not much about extraordinary activities. Its main strength is the use of activities and process questions to force students to think about what they think in the light of human rights principles. Strategies contained in the book are premised on the belief that teaching is not about "saying something" it is about asking questions! The less the teacher talks the better.

   To this date, the Unit is developing other materials on integrating human rights in the school curriculum. Pending publication, discussion is not appropriate at this instance.

Phase 3 - Curriculum and Pedagogy

As a result of the many activities of the Unit, the University has acknowledged that HRE is indeed one of the trends in education. In 1995, HRE became an elective subject in the PNU curriculum for social science majors in the undergraduate and for all academic programs in the graduate level.

   Come June 1998, HRE will become a required course for social science majors and will be integrated in the study of the Constitution for all other academic degrees.

   In the next revision of the curriculum, HRE will be offered as a degree course in the undergraduate.

   Aside from the inclusion in the curricular programs of HRE, the University has already acknowledged the celebration of Human Rights Week in December.

   As crucial as official inclusion of HRE in the PNU curriculum is the development of appropriate pedagogy. The practice of Freirian pedagogy is a tradition in the non-formal sector. But in the academe or formal sector, Freirian practitioners are only a handful. HRE in the curriculum also provided the impetus for exploration and experimentation on the appropriateness of Freire's educational philosophy in a structured setting such as the school. To date, there are experimentations along this line being conducted by the Unit in the hope of developing an human rights pedagogy suited for integrating human rights in different subject areas.

   By successfully integrating and institutionalizing human rights into the PNU curriculum, those wanting to be teachers are reached during their pre-service training and will enter the educational system armed with human rights-sensitive pedagogy and educational expertise.

Phase 4 - Research and Evaluation

The PNU Peace, Human Rights and Third World Studies Unit is changing gear at this point. The Department of Education, Culture, and Sports has already put in place an HRE program for teachers in the field. The educational system has now developed a mechanism that will continuously and sustainably train teachers year in and year out. This means that our trainers' pool (very much burnt-out) can gradually phase itself out and embark on research, evaluation and even monitoring.

   There is a need for HRE researches to direct the development of HRE not only as a development work but also as a serious academic discipline. To date, there are theses and dissertations on HRE being conducted in the PNU Graduate School. Faculty researches on the teaching of human rights through Mathematics, Statistics, and Sciences are also underway. HRE theorizing is needed at this point to organize the body of knowledge that has been generated since 1987. An impact assessment is also necessary to identify what we are doing right or wrong. This is what the PNU Peace, Human Rights and Third World Studies Unit will do from hereon.

Some Insights

HRE in teacher training can be approached from institutional or disciplinal point of view. Institutionally, the role of teacher training institutions in HRE work cannot be overlooked. They are the most efficient multiplier agents. NGOs can come and go and their workers drop dead of burn-out because of the enormous task they are trying to carry by themselves. The only way for HRE to succeed is to go institutional and access government human and material resources. However, when institutionalization is already achieved as in the case of PNU where HRE has already been integrated into the curriculum, practitioners should start to look at HRE as a discipline.

   It is not enough that HRE is included in the curriculum or that a mechanism is put in place. What is more substantive is to systematically study how HRE processes are actually carried out on the ground. More than anything, HRE is a teaching-learning process using human rights as content. As such it has a defined context within the educational processes of the educational system. It is not merely another structure within the system. It is an alternative epistemology and an educational paradigm. It is another discipline separate from human rights and others.

   The body of knowledge generated doing HRE work must be organized and systematized. Otherwise, we will just be repeating and doing more of the same thing - training... more training.... materials development ....and more materials......