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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Experiment in Human Rights Education in Schools

Henri Tiphagne

People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, established in December 1995, is the result of a few years of deliberations carried on by human rights activists in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. It has the following goals:

  • to ensure state accountability leading to policy changes in human rights and
  • to promote a culture of human rights through strategic intervention and education.

Human Rights Education in School Programs

People's Watch-Tamil Nadu is engaged in a series of human rights training activities. It held one training activity in November-December 1996, where some of the participants were teachers or headmistresses who expressed their desire to contribute to the growth and development of human rights education (HRE). Immediately after the program, four teachers and a few representatives of People's Watch-Tamil Nadu got together for a preliminary discussion, which led to planning to identify schools willing to participate.

In January 1997, Ravi Nair, executive director of the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi, asked us to test a draft manual for HRE containing five modules in a few schools in Tamil Nadu. We said yes, and decided to test them in the schools willing to participate in an HRE program.

General Program Details

The program was called HRE in Schools-Tamil Nadu (Phase I)-1997. We appointed an honorary coordinator to oversee it on behalf of People's Watch-Tamil Nadu in nine schools in Chennai. From January to April 1997, the honorary coordinator met the school heads, who confirmed their participation in the pilot program. The five modules were then translated into Tamil.

The program was launched on 11 June 1997, with a meeting of the heads of the nine schools which had agreed to participate in the program. At the meeting it was stressed that the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) is ongoing and that the schools shall have the following obligations to:

  • permit every student of 9 Stand (all sections) to undergo HRE;
  • select the required number of competent teachers from its staff to handle the HRE classes;
  • allot a minimum of two classes per week and a total of 60 classes from 15 July to 10 December for the HRE pilot program;
  • send willing teachers to a three-day general orientation on human rights followed by a two-day curriculum training program. The school shall bear the teachers' travel expenses.

People's Watch-Tamil Nadu committed itself to the following:

  • It will appoint an Honorary Co-ordinator (Volunteer) to coordinate with all the schools participating in the program.
  • The Honorary Co-ordinator will deal with the Teachers' Co-ordinator of the schools' programs.
  • People's Watch-Tamil Nadu will bear all training-related expenses, including providing copies of the modules, etc.
  • It will also provide the teachers with sufficient education aid materials.

At the end of the meeting, the participants decided to launch the pilot program as a unique experiment in HRE in schools.

Teacher training

We realized that we had to orient and motivate the teachers for their task. We therefore offered the following programs to them.

General Orientation Course (12-14 June 1997)

The faculty were drawn from People's Watch-Tamil Nadu. The program aimed to provide the teachers with a general understanding of the political forces at work in society, the history of human rights and an introduction to actual violations of human rights in the country, and the different mechanisms that exist, both within and outside the country, for the protection of human rights. The teachers were given a wide array of reading materials and a copy of the curriculum materials to help them prepare for the next curriculum-training program.

Human Rights Education—First Curriculum Training (10-11 July 1997)

The faculty were drawn from the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, and People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, Madurai. The program aimed to train teachers to handle the two modules assigned to them. The session was a participatory one where the faculty confined itself to the content and the teachers critically evaluated the methodology of the presentations. The teachers were requested to start teaching their human rights classes on 14 July. The Teachers' Co-ordinators for each school were chosen.

One-day meeting of teachers of the pilot program with the author of the curriculum

The author of the HRE curriculum, Ava Lee from Hong Kong, visited Chennai on 16 August 1997, upon the request of Ravi Nair, executive director of the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi. One teacher from each of the nine participating schools as well as other experts took part in the one-day meeting, which gave everyone a chance to exchange views and discuss problems encountered in using the book in the classroom.

Second Curriculum Training (1-2 September 1997)

The teachers evaluated the entire program so they could learn from each other. It was the first time they talked about their strengths, weaknesses and progress. The session concentrated on topics such as domestic violence and girls. The teachers started to plan the valedictory program.

School Visits by the Honorary Co-ordinator

The Honorary Co-ordinator visited the schools three times from August to November in order to learn about the teachers' experiences from the teachers themselves and about the students' reactions from student representatives. The Honorary Co-ordinator also asked the headmistresses to encourage the teachers, while assuring them that the program would not disrupt school activities. During these meetings the organizers developed personal relationships with the teachers.

Conduct of HRE Classes

Although the model curriculum contained five modules, the teachers unanimously decided that only four modules would be handled during the program: Human Rights—An Introduction; Discrimination—Caste; The Girl Child; and Wife Battery. The module on genocide would not be used due to lack of time.

Profile of the participating students/teachers

Age group- 13 to 14 years
- 15 years
Medium of instruction- Tamil
- English
Father's Education- Up to 10 Std.
- above
Mother's Education- Up to10th Std.
- Above
Family income of students- Below Rs. 1,000
- Between Rs. 1,000 and 2,000
- Between Rs. 2,000 and 5,000
- Rs. 5,000 and above

All teachers in the program were women; 35.6 percent were below 30 years old while 40 percent were 31 to 40 years old.

Valedictory Function

Over 1,800 students and 50 teachers and headmistresses from the nine schools took part in the Valedictory of Human Rights Education in Schools-Tamil Nadu (Phase I) held in Chennai on 5 December 1997. At the same time, they observed Human Rights Day.

A prize was awarded to the winner of a human rights competition for schools conducted at the state level. Each school took part in the Cultural Fiesta on Human Rights, where various presentations demonstrated the themes handled in the classrooms. In the Human Rights Exhibition, the schools displayed charts and models related to the modules. Guest of honor Justice M. N. Venkatachalliah, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi, was duly impressed; Thiru K. Anbazhagan, Education Minister of Tamil Nadu, offered his full support and guidance to the program.

Assessment of the Program

The participants decided to evaluate the program and plan for Phase II. A questionnaire was given out to 1,756 students. Separate questionnaires were prepared for the 45 participating teachers, 9 school heads, about 90 teachers who had not taught HRE, and about 184 students from three other schools who did not attend the HRE classes. Before the questionnaires were drawn up, the director of the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, visited the schools along with the Honorary Co-ordinator and held detailed discussions with some of the school heads and teachers. After the questionnaires were drawn up and administered, data were tabulated by People's Watch-Tamil Nadu and interpreted by the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, in February 1998. The results were then presented to all school heads, teachers and two student representatives from each school in order to get their feedback. Some of the important results of the assessment follow.

Human Rights Education in Schools-Tamil Nadu (PHASE II), 1998-2000

The second phase of the program for the period of 1998-2000 has the following objectives:

  • to conduct an experimental HRE program in 100 schools in Tamil Nadu;
  • to introduce compulsory HRE in schools before the end of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education;
  • to promote a human rights culture by sensitizing strategic groups.

Perspective of the Program

With the demise of communism, humankind is now confronted with two new opposing perspectives—the free market and human rights. With its emphasis on unrestricted freedom and individual enterprise, the free market promises progress and prosperity. While there is growth, the stark reality of the poor also stares at us and asks two critical questions: Growth for whom? Progress at whose cost? The free market has already begun to hurt the marginalized. This situation is not new: marginalization began earlier. But now the market economy pushes the poor to the precipice through a double process of exclusion and alienation—exclusion from the mainstream of life, and alienation from life itself.

Human rights activists must protect the rights of the marginalized and promote a human rights culture. In contrast to free-market thinking, the human rights perspective stresses that human beings have dignity and rights, that individuals are responsible for each other, that communities form a mosaic of pluralism. In essence, the human rights perspective underlines humanistic pluralism as an antidote to the homogenizing consumerist culture.

United Nations Resolution 49/184 proclaimed a 10-year period (beginning 1 January 1995) the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education with a Plan of Action. It appeals to all governments to help implement the Plan of Action. It also calls upon all NGOs, especially those concerned with women, labor, development and the environment, and social justice groups, human rights advocates, educators, religious organizations and the media to become more involved in HRE.

The "What" of Human Rights Education

The point of departure for anyone engaged in HRE is a basic belief in human dignity. Everyone has within them the seed of human dignity. In the proper environment, this seed sprouts and grows. Even in hostile surroundings, it cannot be stifled. HRE does not propose to create human dignity, but to provide the conditions where dignity can blossom.

The enabling process develops and fine tunes our sensitivity to human beings as persons with dignity and rights. When people become sensitive to human dignity and rights, they themselves change how they feel, think, speak and write, and how they view the world.

The enabling process is not a one-way affair; it is a dialectical engagement. Sensitivity to the dignity of others is a reflection and recognition of one's own worth and dignity. The more one appreciates one's own worth, the more one respects the dignity of others. In this mutuality one discovers "the solidarity of human existence." Extended to the environment, solidarity becomes that of ecological existence. The enabling process shapes human consciousness and conscience. The promotion of a human rights culture is simply the sum total of dynamic transformative processes.

The Scope of Human Rights Education

Ours is a perspective that emphasizes human dignity and rights.

Children are not merely people who are younger than adults. Women are not defined merely in gender terms in relation to patriarchal male domination. The dalit are not merely defined in relation to non-dalit in the caste hierarchy. Minorities are defined not merely in relation to the majority in a dominance-subservience relationship. Refugees are not simply externally displaced people. They are all valuable human beings who should be able to live life to the full. Nature is not an object to be dominated, exploited and used, but should be shared in the common heritage of life.

Such clarity is essential if we are to drive home the point that children's rights, women's rights, the dalit's rights, refugees' rights are all human rights. Otherwise, we may forget, even negate, this important dimension and engage in fruitless polemics and destructive division.

This does not mean that gender equation, social exclusion, exploitation of the dalit, refugee displacement and so on are not important. An analysis of the structural causes of their discrimination and marginalization, the mechanisms and processes of their exploitation and oppression, are valuable in any discourse on or praxis for social change. But we must ask the following questions about children, women, the dalit, refugees and minorities: Do they live as human beings with dignity? Do they have self-worth? Are they considered valuable as persons? Does society see them as "somebody"?

The "Why" of Choosing Certain Social Groups

It may be asked why we have chosen the above groups as our main concern. The reason is that they, more than others, collectively suffer:

  • the loss of their dignity;
  • the denial of their rights;
  • danger to their lives;
  • a feeling of inferiority to and in the presence of others;
  • humiliation in the company of others;
  • a sense of shame in the presence of others;
  • a lack of joy in living;
  • a lack of a future.

They all share a suffering that is inflicted upon them by society through no fault of their own. They suffer at different levels (physical, psychological, social, economic and political, spiritual and cultural) and in varying degrees depending upon their social situation. They are excluded from the mainstream of life. They are alienated from themselves and from life itself.

The "Why" of Our Interest in HRE

What is the spring bow that commits us to this project?

Is it because it's fashionable? "Good"? An adventure? No. The main, if not the only, motivating force is that we also suffer. We feel shame in the face of violence done to others. We are humiliated when our fellow human beings are humiliated. From the seed of our own dignity sprouts compassion and solidarity with those who suffer. Suffering is not simply an objective reality to be cognitively known and understood, but a subjective experience to be grasped, assimilated and personalized, leading toward transformation of self and environment. In other words, our destiny and that of those who suffer are bonded together.

Target Group

The target group for Phase II of the program is made up of students of the 8 Stand in 1998-1999 and the same students in the 9 Stand in 1999-2000. The students are drawn from 135 schools in 10 districts: Chennai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Karur, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivagangai, Ramanathapuram, Tuticorin and Tirunelveli. Around a third of the schools are girls' schools, another third boys' schools. The nine schools involved in Phase I were invited to join Phase II. All but one accepted. Around 25,000 students and 350 teachers will be involved in Phase II, assisted by 60 resource team members.



  • General orientation program for teachers.
  • First syllabus training for teachers
  • Second syllabus training for teachers.
  • District-level meetings of teachers and resource team members.
  • Meetings of district coordinators.
  • Trainers' training.

Resource Materials

  • Students' manual.
  • Teachers' manual.
  • Video cassettes.
  • Audio cassettes.
  • Slogan strips.
  • Mobile exhibitions.

District-level Programs


  • Advocacy.
  • State-level workshop on HRE.
  • District-level workshop on HRE.
  • Newsletter.
  • Meeting with officials and members of the Legislative Assembly and Council.
  • Posters on HRE.

Assessment and Documentation

  • Assessment
  • Documentation

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