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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Education for Human Rights and Democracy in Indian Schools

Arjun Dev

The establishment of a democratic and secular political system and reconstruction and modernization of society based on the principles of egalitarianism and recognition and respect for India's cultural diversity were central to the vision of independent India. The Indian National Congress, which represented the mainstream of the independence movement, adopted the Fundamental Rights and Economic Program in 1931. It also expressed its solidarity with anticolonial struggles, movements of social progress and democracy in other countries, and the victims of fascist aggression. The ideals of the independence movement were reflected in the Constitution, which came into force in 1950 when India became a republic.

The Constitution lays down the basic framework of independent India's goals and the direction of its development as a nation. The Preamble proclaims the resolve of the people to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. It ensures to all its citizens social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity; and fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. Part III deals with the Fundamental Rights and Part IV with the Directive Principles of State Policy. The human rights and fundamental freedoms laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are included in Parts III and IV and various other provisions of the Constitution. Part IV-A on Fundamental Duties, which was added to the Constitution in 1976, lays down as the duty of every citizen to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideas and institutions; to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom; to provide harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India, transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; to protect and improve the natural environment; to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform; to safeguard public property; and to abjure violence.

Framework of Educational Policies

India's educational goals, policies and programs have been spelt out within the framework of the national goals and the principles laid down in the Constitution. India is a Union of States and has a federal structure. The jurisdictions of the union and state governments are clearly defined. However, the two levels of government have always dealt with educational policies as partners.

The Resolution on the National Policy on Education of 1968 laid down a common educational structure throughout the country. The implementation of this structure, generally known as "10+2," is almost complete throughout the country. It provides for 10 years of undifferentiated general education with 5 years of primary, 3 years of upper primary and 2 years of secondary education. The National Curriculum Framework was also developed as part of the new structure. The study of one to three languages at different stages, Science, Mathematics, Social Studies and Social Sciences, besides art education, work experience and health and physical education, are compulsory for every student. At the higher secondary stage (grades 11 to 12), differentiated courses are introduced and the student is initiated into the specialized study of a few subjects of her or his choice along with core courses. The National Policy on Education of 1986 visualized the National Curriculum Framework with a common core as a basis for building the National System of Education.

Framework of Education for Human Rights and Democracy

Over the years, education for human rights and democracy has become an integral goal of education.

The first national curriculum framework, formulated in 1975, stated:

The awakening of social consciousness, the development of democratic values and of a feeling for social justice and national integration are extremely important.... National integration can be achieved only through a proper understanding and appreciation of the different sub-cultures of India and the common bonds that hold them together. Discrimination of any kind based on sex, caste, religion, language or region is to be looked at with aversion because it is irrational, unnatural and harmful to the growth of modern India. All subjects should be taught in such a manner as to foster the spirit of scientific humanism.

The policy has strengthened human rights education by making it an integral part of every subject and at all levels. Most of the common core elements are related to one or another dimension of education for human rights and democracy. The elements are the history of India's freedom movement, Constitutional obligations and national identity. It has been laid down that these elements will cut across subject areas and will be designed to promote values such as India's common cultural heritage, egalitarianism, democracy and secularism, equality of the sexes, protection of the environment, removal of social barriers, observance of the small-family norm and inculcation of the scientific temper. All educational programs will be carried out in strict conformity with secular values.

To promote equality, the policy states,

...it will be necessary to provide for equal opportunity not only in access, but also in the conditions for success. Besides, awareness of the inherent equality of all will be created through the core curriculum. The purpose is to remove prejudices and complexes transmitted through the social environment and the accident of birth.

The policy also lays stress on the "combative role" of education in eliminating obscurantism, religious fanaticism, violence, superstition and fatalism. In Part IV of the policy, Education for Equality, various measures are laid down for education for women's equality, education of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and of other educationally backward sections and areas, of minorities and of the handicapped.

These principles are sought to be reflected in the subject courses and textbooks prepared at the national and state levels, and in other activities and programs. The basic approach integrates various aspects and dimensions of human rights and democracy into the existing courses and does not treat them as a separate area of study. Issues of human rights and democracy cannot be set apart from issues of secularism, national integration, gender bias, protection of the environment and many others, which are among the major concerns of languages and literature, social sciences, sciences and other subjects. The approach does not preclude activities and projects exclusively focused on human rights and democracy.

Some of the major human rights components included in courses and textbooks are the following:

  • basic features of the Indian political system and constitution, particularly the Preamble, and Parts III, IV and IV-A, which have a direct bearing on human rights;
  • problems and challenges of contemporary life—polity, economy, society, culture—which have a direct or indirect bearing on human rights;
  • diversity and variety of Indian culture, its composite and non-monolithic character;
  • the social system and dynamics of social change;
  • major events in Indian and world history relating to the struggle for political, civil, economic and social rights, and the role played by the common people and outstanding leaders in these struggles;
  • the international human rights situation, particularly with regard to gross violations in the form of colonialism, racism and apartheid;
  • literary works which reflect human rights concerns and the quest for freedom and rights;
  • the biological unity of the human species;
  • major historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc.

Activities and projects relating to human rights concerns are also taken up by schools.

Framework of Education for Human Rights and Democracy

Various issues and dimensions of education for human rights and democracy are reflected in the curricular guidelines, syllabi and textbooks developed at the national level, influencing, in varying degrees, syllabi and textbooks prepared in the states.

Primary Stage (Classes I-V)

The main relevant subjects are Environmental Studies and Language. Environmental Studies aim to promote knowledge and understanding of the natural and physical as well as of the social and cultural environment. Beginning with the child's immediate environment, the subject's scope extends to the district, state, country and world. Stories about men and women important in Indian and world history, India's freedom struggle and certain aspects of the Constitution are included in this course. The human rights dimension of this course focuses on the following:

  • developing knowledge and respect for cultural and ethnic diversity in language, religion, customs and ways of living;
  • developing knowledge about people through the ages who have struggled for justice, brotherhood and equality;
  • developing an understanding of the vision of independent India as it evolved during the struggle for freedom;
  • promoting a general understanding of India's national goals and main features of fundamental rights, directive principles and fundamental duties;
  • promoting concern about deprivation, poverty, disease, illiteracy and inequality; and
  • developing knowledge and concern about the environment and its degradation.

The ideational content of the language courses focuses on, among others, the development of personal qualities of compassion, tolerance and sympathy through stories, poems and other literary forms.

Upper Primary Stage (Classes VI-VIII)

The major subject areas relevant to human rights education are social sciences, science and languages.

Social Sciences. The syllabus guidelines stress appreciation of "diversities in ways of living and interdependence of various regions of India and the world" and emphasize understanding civic and political institutions and contemporary social and economic issues.

The course in history deals mainly with the history of India in the context of world civilization. It stresses developing "an understanding and appreciation of India's cultural heritage and its composite nature, of its richness and variety" and a critical appreciation of the past so that the pupil's personality is free from prejudice and bigotry, parochialism and communalism, and is imbued with a scientific and progressive outlook.

The human rights dimension in this course lies in the following:

  • providing a critical understanding of Indian society through the ages, focusing on the position of women, caste inequalities, barbarous practices through history, and attempts by reformers (including those of the 19th century) to bring about a more humane social order;
  • developing an understanding of Indian culture and promoting respect for variety and diversity;
  • promoting knowledge and understanding of the struggle for freedom and the ideals that it embodied—democracy, secularism and egalitarianism—which are integral to promoting human rights.

The geography course deals with a few countries in each continent to develop an appreciation of different ways of living in India and elsewhere.

The course in civics aims to develop well-informed and intelligent citizens who will participate effectively in community affairs. The values of democracy, secularism, socialism and national integration are sought to be inculcated in the students. The course includes the study of the Constitution with an emphasis on egalitarianism, democracy and secularism. The pupil is introduced to the Constitution's Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles and Fundamental Duties; contemporary problems and issues, including current social and economic problems; and problems relating to the environment, the arms race and human rights.

Science. The guidelines for the course in science, which is introduced as an undiversified subject, strive to inculcate a rational outlook and thereby help combat "obscurantism and prejudices based on narrow considerations of caste, sex or religion." The guidelines also emphasize understanding "the processes and problems of areas related to agriculture, health and nutrition, environmental protection, energy and material resources and, more importantly, develop[ing] a scientific attitude to live more effectively as a responsible citizen."

Languages. The thematic and ideational content in language courses aims to promote an awareness of human rights, international understanding and other issues of global significance. The readings introduce the pupil to the literary heritage of the language studied as well as the literary and cultural heritage of other languages.

Both aspects—the thematic and ideational content and the literary heritage of languages of various cultures—are major inputs in education for human rights.

Secondary Stage (Classes IX-X)

Social Sciences. The syllabus guidelines for this stage state:

The study of social sciences as a component of general education is of crucial importance in facilitating the child's growth into a well-informed and responsible citizen. It should aim at developing in children an understanding of their physical and social environment, both immediate and remote, in terms of time and space and an appreciation of cultural heritage, both of India and of the world as a whole....

The study of social sciences should aim at deepening students' understanding of contemporary India and its social, economic and political development as an independent nation, and its composite culture.

The study of social sciences should aim at developing in the child a world perspective and an understanding of the problems of the contemporary world, particularly those relating to international peace and human rights and the establishment of a just world order. Above all, the study of social sciences should aim at developing in the child a spirit of enquiry, a scientific and forward-looking outlook and aversion to injustice and bigotry.

History. The course is mainly an introduction to world history with a focus on main stages in the growth of civilization. It also stresses the contribution of different peoples to the common heritage of mankind and thus it promotes appreciation of diversities. By introducing the student to changes in culture, society, economy and polity through the ages the world over, it promotes a critical view of issues which have a bearing on human rights. A major part of the course deals with colonialism and imperialism and the successful struggles for national liberation; movements for popular sovereignty and democracy, and for social equality and justice; and the rise of authoritarian, fascist and racist regimes and their collapse. These components help provide a broad historical perspective for the study of contemporary problems, including human rights issues. The course also introduces the student to some of the significant declarations on human rights, from the Declaration of Independence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Geography. The course stresses issues related to the environment and population.

Civics. Its main focus is to prepare students for their social and political role in democracy. It aims to develop an awareness and critical understanding of the social, economic and political challenges facing the country, respect for diversities in ways of life, and appreciation of the role and contribution of India and of the United Nations in promoting international peace. It specifies the study of Indian minorities and of contemporary world problems, particularly human rights, disarmament and the new international economic order. Projects that students may undertake include the celebration of Human Rights Day.

Economics. The course deals mainly with the study of the Indian economy with emphasis on the twin objectives of economic development and social justice. Among the objectives of this course is the inculcation of "a passion for social justice and an urge to resist exploitation in any form by men or by the State."

Science. The course stresses the development of a scientific temper; the cultivation of social, ethical, moral and aesthetic values; and development of "sensitivity to possible uses and misuses of science and concern for a clean environment and preservation of the ecosystem." It relates science with agriculture, communication, industry, energy and material resources, health, environment and social forestry.

Languages. The course includes literary pieces which promote awareness of and sensitivity to problems of contemporary life, social oppression and inequities.

It is clear that the last stage of general education promotes an understanding of the various aspects and dimensions of human rights.

Higher Secondary Stage (Classes XI-XII)

Students are initiated into the specialized study of subjects of their choice. Aspects and dimensions of human rights relevant to the subjects are included.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recommends a core course in General Studies, compulsory for all students. This course is particularly relevant to education for human rights and democracy. Besides themes such as "Science, Technology and Society," "Environment, Society and Development," "Global Issues of Human Survival," this course recommends the study of the following:

  • human rights in historical perspective; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; human rights conventions; the state of human rights, racism and apartheid and struggle against them; unequal international economic relations; and problems of world economic development;

  • social structure and social justice, dealing mainly with the basic components of Indian society, social and economic inequalities, economic exploitation and atrocities against the weaker sectors, child labor, the status of women in Indian society and dynamics of the quest for equality;

  • national unity and the challenges to it the from communalism, revivalism, casteism and various kinds of chauvinism; and the importance of recognizing and respecting diversity as a basic factor in India's national unity.

This course also recommends identifying local problems within the broad framework of these themes. It attempts to facilitate the study of human rights issues in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

Other subjects deal with specific dimensions and aspects of human rights. The course in Contemporary World History touches on world problems and includes the study of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Political Science courses focus on the study of the problems of Indian democracy and various contemporary world problems, including human rights, racism, terrorism, etc.

Sociology helps promote an understanding of social problems, including inequality and the quest for equality. It provides broad human rights and cultural perspectives for the understanding of interactive processes in society; the pluralist nature of most modern societies; the problems and rights of ethnic and religious minorities; and problems of castes, tribes, women and other depressed classes.

Science courses expose the unscientific nature of racist views and theories and stress the following theme: all humans are members of the same species and are derived from common ancestors. Man as a species is the product of the same biological and psycho-social evolution, which, in turn, is part of the same process of universal change. All humans, irrespective of color or race, have the same biological organization, the same anatomy and physiology, the same gene pool, the same mechanism of biological inheritance and the same blood groups.

Co-curricular Programs and Textbook Evaluation

The curricula and textbooks suggest a variety of activities and projects that have a bearing on education for human rights and democracy. They may cut across subject areas and may involve the whole school, such as the observance of Human Rights Day and United Nations Day, organizing a school parliament, debates, and essay and poster competitions on major historical events (such as the bicentenary of the French Revolution) or anniversaries of great social reformers (such as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar), and activities relating to specific issues such as the environment, population, apartheid, literacy, etc. Sometimes they are organized at the state and national levels with large numbers of students participating.

A major NCERT program is the evaluation of textbooks to ensure that they are authentic and free from prejudice against any religion, community, ethnic and linguistic group or region.

Major Weaknesses

While education for human rights and democracy is not grossly inadequate or unsatisfactory at the level of policy, its implementation varies from state to state and from school to school, and is usually far from satisfactory. There are some common weaknesses in the situation.

  • The content of courses and textbooks vary from state to state. While the courses and textbooks at the national level are generally satisfactory, others inadequately cover human rights issues. The textbook evaluation program has exposed the fact that many textbooks negate basic concepts of human rights and democracy. Many contain blatantly communal distortions and biases of every kind; some are purposely designed to foster bigotry.

  • Even when human rights and democracy are promoted in courses, they lack conceptual clarity and focus because the issues and concerns are dispersed over many different subjects and are presented in isolation rather than in relation to secular polity, gender equality, the environment, development, etc. Students do not discuss concrete cases of violation or observance of human rights or how human rights are indivisible. In spite of the stress laid on interactive and participatory modes of learning, they have not become part of actual classroom pedagogy. The result is that much of the educational component on human rights and democracy is confined to a formal or theoretical instruction without a sharp focus, resulting in little sensitization.

  • Co-curricular, extracurricular, out-of-class and out-of-school activities and programs are grossly inadequate and in most cases completely absent. Such activities and programs are crucial to developing not only awareness of, but more particularly, sensitivity to human rights issues, which is essential to motivate students to play a legitimate interventionist role in certain situations. There is a lack of suitable materials, except for textbooks, within easy reach of most schools. Even the Universal Declaration is difficult to access.

  • These weaknesses are not peculiar to human rights education; they are common to all courses.

  • Another major weakness is teacher preparation. There are few efforts to sensitize teachers to human rights issues. (Some teachers are reluctant to make the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child available to students on the ground that it would create disciplinary problems.)

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