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  3. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools
  4. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ
  5. Learnings from the Asian Experience

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ

Learnings from the Asian Experience


The experiences reflected in this collection of papers from the different countries in Asia clearly show commonalities which probably constitute the basic elements of appropriate and effective human rights education programs in schools. They also comprise the major concerns that need to be carefully considered.

   Most of the experiences touch on the following issues:

a. situation of teachers - it has always been mentioned that any human rights education program has to seriously look at the heavy load that teachers carry in terms of responsibility and number of activities in the school. Such a situation precludes initiative much less innovation in teaching. Thus, the introduction of human rights as another matter in the subjects to be taught should not be seen as an additional burden. Instead, it should trigger enthusiasm and creativity in teaching the curriculum with a human rights perspective.

   Support in terms of information, materials and training are therefore essential factors to consider.

b. teacher training - there is near unanimous view that teachers need to be trained on teaching human rights. Such training not only relates to knowing the meaning of human rights but also in having the skill of using appropriate teaching methods.

   Teacher training involves the setting up of continuing programs in teaching training institutes to respond to the increasing need for improving ideas, methodologies and materials in teaching human rights. The role of existing teaching training programs and institutions comes out very significantly in this area.

   This also relates to the need to train school personnel or administrators in order to provide in-school support for the teaching of human rights. This responds to the problem mentioned in some papers regarding the inadequate, and sometimes hostile, response of school administrators to the teaching of human rights introduced either by higher education offices or non-governmental organizations.

   Equally stressed is the need for students in teacher colleges to be given appropriate education on human rights and how it should be taught. This prepares the would-be teachers in the task of teaching human rights without the initial apprehension or reservation so commonly observed in many countries regarding the need, appropriateness and feasibility of teaching human rights in schools. This likewise provides the opportunity for the would-be teachers to explore new teaching methods and materials which can make the teaching of human rights more meaningful and effective in practice. And since schools have better access to materials relating to human rights, they can do research on the concept of human rights and the mechanisms for realizing them. With this initial education on the teaching of human rights, subsequent teacher training on human rights will be appreciated even more.

c. curriculum reformation and additional extra-curricular activities - there are generally two types of teaching human rights in schools - those that work within the existing school curriculum and those that add activities outside of the formal curriculum. The first type uses the integration method of finding spaces within existing curriculum where human rights can be inserted as integral part of the subjects. It can also mean rearranging the existing curriculum (without changing or adding subjects) to better present human rights within the present framework of the curriculum objectives.

   The second type generally uses field activities that allow the students to interact with the communities and create an impact on people outside the school. In the process, the students learn human rights in a more concrete manner. Field activities are, however, not limited to extra-curricular activities as they form part of the methods employed for human rights teaching within the curriculum.

d. school-community relationship - the community has always been seen as an essential element of the learning process in human rights education. It is significant in, at least, two senses. On one hand, the community is important as a way of relating to the concrete realities faced by the students outside the schools (which are actually reflected in the situation inside the schools). The meaning of human rights become clearer by looking at the very context of the students and not just knowing the information provided by the textbooks. On the other hand, the teaching of human rights cannot be left to the sole responsibility of the teachers. The whole community has to reinforce the knowledge, values and skills on human rights gained by the students to assure that they are employed or practiced beyond the confines of the schools as they should be.

   The schools and the community therefore are not separate worlds but closely linked entities that should coordinate and mutually support each other in pursuit of human rights education.

e. participatory approach - human rights education becomes an avenue for the government, the schools and the NGOs to put into actual use the principles of participatory methods of teaching. Most of the papers mention the value of promoting group work which allows students to interact more with each other; field/community visits which provides actual exposure to issues that have human rights implications; stress on analytical skills that enable students to understand not just the violations that occurred but the deeper causes of the violations and the possible steps to remedy the problems and prevent them from occurring again; action-oriented perspective which requires the students to practice the human rights concepts learned through various school and field/community activities.

   The participatory approach also covers the practice of starting the understanding of human rights by looking at the personal situations of the students (at home, in school, and in the larger society). Through analytical exercises, the learning process leads to the understanding of the society itself (and the international community as well) which explains why human rights are violated or respected.

   Also, the participatory approach challenges the teachers and the supporting institutions (teacher training institutes, NGOs) to devise and innovate new methods that will effectively make the understanding and practice of human rights more meaningful.

f. experimentations on HRE - in view of the developing concept of human rights and human rights education, a lot of efforts are being devoted to devising concepts of teaching that take into consideration gender, cultural, ethnic, and religious sensitivities. Methodologies and course contents are therefore made to promote an awareness that human rights should be seen in the context of these issues, which cut across any type of society or situation.

g. HRE as evolving an education system - the teaching of human rights offers an opportunity to reexamine the existing practices in schools. It sometimes questions the very sensitive area of the role of the teachers in relation to the students. The teacher-student dichotomy for example is seen as incorrect since both are sources and recipients of knowledge. No one is an expert in human rights. Human rights is learned by looking at each person's experiences.

   This implies the development of materials and methods that support this perspective. The usual one-way communication of knowledge (teacher to students) becomes less important as it gets translated into one of the components in the learning process rather than the only component.

   Teachers are usually relieved in kowing that human rights education provides variety and innovative approaches to education.

   The impact of human rights education thus extends to the school system itself and the general environment of the school as human rights becomes a principle of conduct and thinking.

   Human rights education also promotes the idea that human rights is not simply about politics or activism or mere assertion of self-centered interests, but a means of examining the different facets of life of a person. Human rights cannot therefore be confined to a specific subject but has to be used as an over-all theme that resonates in the different subjects in the curriculum and in the various activities of the school.

Concept of human rights

It may seem odd that while so many years of human rights education work in the schools have passed, the basic question on the meaning of human rights seems to remain unsettled.

   There is still much debate on whether human rights is truly universal covering all peoples the world over without any distinction. There is still a lingering view that human rights is essentially European or American idea. There is a view that human rights will bring disorder to the lives of people.

   On the other hand, the recognition of human rights is used by States to gain respectability in the eyes of the international community rather than genuinely protect and realize human rights.

   These understanding of human rights are certainly wrong. But what is disturbing is the fact that they are espoused by people in the education field.

   Additionally, the development of the idea of human rights has reached an advanced stage (compared to how it was perceived immediately after the second world war). It is covering many more issues affecting almost every aspect of people's lives at home, in the workplace or field, and in public. The amount of conceptualization at the international level (level of the United Nations and the international non-governmental human rights organizations for example) is itself contributing to some misunderstanding of human rights. There is certainly a need to have a continuing research and study about these developments in order not to contribute to the confusion that arises.

   Understanding the concept of human rights therefore is a basic need for those engaged in human rights education. It requires an understanding that goes beyond what the United Nations documents say and delves into the practical meaning of the idea in the context of society they are in.

Hidden Curriculum

The saying "practice what is preached" creates a challenge to everyone. It reminds people that what we say may not be seen in what we do. Or what we do negates what we say. Human rights education is particularly subject to this reminder as it deals with important human values.

   Schools therefore cannot be simply teaching ideas which they themselves violate. Teaching human rights should not be defeated by violating the human rights of students in the school setting. As expressed in many instances by the papers in this collection, making the schools themselves democratic, or human rights sensitive, is an issue.

   Another component of this issue is the unintended teaching of ideas that contradict human rights principles. This relates to the school environment, to the behavior of teachers and school administrators. This refers to what is said to be the "hidden curriculum."

   "Hidden curriculum" is explained by the following quote from the speech of an incoming President of Miriam College in the Philippines:1

Aside from meeting the challenge of quality, of access and or relevance, our schools have to be laboratories of the very values and behavior we seek in Philippine society. While we attempt to teach desirable values in the school system, we should be aware of the fact that other values may actually be operating informally in the school environment.

This hidden curriculum is the unintended shaping of values and behavior through the psychological processes of reward and punishment and the role modeling or the imitation of significant adults such as teachers and administrators.

For instance, conformity and submissiveness are taught by systematically rewarding politeness, civility and obedience and ignoring or actually punishing curiosity, critical thinking, initiative and assertiveness by using fear, disapproval, and imposition of authority.

One might ask how differences are handled on campus, how schools deal with student, faculty and staff dissent or protest? Do we sincerely respect people's right to speak out and express what they believe in? If we do not, how then can we develop active and responsible citizens who are willing to solve problems and right the wrongs of society?

If through hidden curriculum, our schools teach conformity and submissiveness, how then can we expect the products of our schools to explore the unknown and break new ground in science or entrepreneurship or service or any area of endeavor? How will they dare take the road less traveled by and make a difference?

What does the hidden curriculum in our schools teach about work ethics, standards and accountability? About social responsibility and involvement? How does it develop confidence and self-esteem? What kind of role models are we to the students whose lives we influence?

   A human rights education program cannot help but take the "hidden curriculum" into account.

Cultural Values and Human Rights

In line with the idea of an experiential and contextualized understanding of human rights, culture is a significant area for human rights education. Asia, being known for its rich and ancient cultures, has so much to offer in terms of knowledge and wisdom regarding human behavior and relationships. Human rights, though of modern formulation, nevertheless very much relates to these cultures.

   Cultural values sustained and developed through the years do enrich the idea of human rights. In various countries in Asia, as shown by the papers in the collection, cultural values that positively promote and even strengthen the understanding and acceptance of human rights have been used in human rights education work.

   Three years ago, in a meeting of government and NGO representatives, several principles on the culture-human rights relationship were formulated. They are the following: human rights education in Asia-Pacific countries must

   a. draw on the rich cultural heritage and diversity in this region, including appropriate recognition of family and community values;

   b. integrate principles of ecological sustainability, gender sensitivity and respect for the well-being of indigenous peoples;

   c. affirm not only rights and freedoms but also responsibilities;

   d. promote the well-being of the human person as an individual and as a member of the community;

   e. promote the values and practices of healing, reconciliation and conflict resolution;

   f. cultivate participative values of governance, consensus building and accountability.2

   Many of these principles are not alien to the cultures of Asia-Pacific. Many of them reflect the cultural values that people treasure. The link between human rights and cultural values roots human rights in the very cultures of people and enrich the idea it espouses.

   Also, cultural values that do not promote human rights need to be a main concern in the dialogue with the community - the people who hold these cultural values. Human rights education can promote the idea of examining cultural values and dialoguing with the community to address the problems perceived.

   Human rights education in schools is challenged to see how this linkage between cultural values and human rights contributes to a more meaningful study of human rights.


A recent news appeared in a Japanese newspaper about the creation of a mutual aid fund to help teacher-members fight off the rising number of complaints against them by students. A Japanese television documentary shows a group blaming human rights education as a cause of the recent spate of violence committed by students.

   These two incidents do point to a serious problem facing human rights education. It has been stressed time and again that human rights education should be able to relate to the general society - the people and the problems being faced - to make the understanding of human rights relevant and meaningful.

   But the society itself may have negative perception about human rights and human rights education. In other instances, it may be aloof or uncaring about human rights issues. How then can society be convinced of the value of human rights education? The answer will certainly depend on the efforts of human rights educators. The examples shown in the papers as far as establishing relationship with the society are instructive and need to be given more attention. And human rights education programs in schools have to consider how the society can be influenced much more.

   This also brings up the idea about the role of the school in helping the society deal with human rights problems. Schools can be the place where ideas on resolving human rights problems may be enhanced through the interaction between teachers and students, and teachers and parents (including society leaders). Human rights education can very well look at the condition of the society and sensitively question the situation of people. Schools, in teaching human rights beyond the confines of the classrooms and in interaction with the society as mentioned before, become institutions with a role in societal affairs. If schools need to be relevant, human rights education is an important area to make it a reality.


   Human rights education in schools has progressed relatively well in several Asian countries. Progress is seen in the context of recognition of its necessity and value given to it by the teachers and the school administrators. The promoters of human rights education are growing in number. But the need is to have even greater number of school teachers and administrators who will continue implementing human rights programs in schools.

   The experiences presented in this collection of papers, fortunately, show a positive trend. The initial lack of, or inadequate, support gave way to gradual acceptance and recognition as human rights education programs get implemented over a significant period of time. It is truly the actual encounter with human rights teaching that convince the school teachers and administrators of its value.

   The task of developing effective human rights education in schools is continuing. The experiences show consistent efforts toward more innovations and even experimentations in human rights teaching in the hope that human rights learned in the process will lead to human rights respected and realized outside the walls of the schools.

   Indeed, what is heartening to know from the experiences is the confirmation that human rights education in schools is worth all the efforts and the sacrifices. It should grow and bear more fruits.

End notes

   1. Patricia B. Licuanan, "Challenge in a Season of Celebration and Crisis," address during her investiture as the sixth president of Miriam College, January 31, 1998, Quezon city, Philippines.
   2. "Declaration of the Asian Workshop-Conference on Human Rights Education for Development" (December 13-15, 1995), Batingaw, vol. 2 no. 1, January-February-March 1996, Commission on Human Rights, Pasig City, Philippines.