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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Human Rights Education in Bangladesh: The Bacha Experience

Miriam F. Perlewitz MM

Joan Westhues, MM

Education is more than the academic curriculum. An important aspect of education is developing human relationships. No one can live or function alone. Human rights and duties thus flow from and are determined by relationships, whether in the family, society or religion.

Young people today have more opportunities and choices than ever before. They are confronted with technological advancement. They are bombarded by advertising on television. The pace of life is so fast that it propels us into the 21st century with little time to reflect on the why and wherefore of the future. We must deal with the changes in our relationships in every arena of life and business as we adjust to our fast-paced lives. One of the aims of the Education for Life Program is to develop an awareness of the difficulties and problems of modern life.

The program provides non-formal education involving self-discovery through reflection on everyday life. Life holds meaning and value in proportion to the quality of our relationships to persons, places and things, making the community and society interrelate and grow together in love, support and encouragement. The program asks us to reflect on our choices and to consider their implications. We hope that the choices will be conscious ones and lead to reasoned-out convictions and not merely emotional reactions to social pressure.

The study of human rights involves understanding the basic human condition, the dignity of each person, the value of human relationships and their supportive role. In countries where religion determines culture and values, the focus of education is based on the development of the person and respect for human life. We cannot change religious belief systems and cultural ramifications. We can change the way people understand and value their own and others' lives. Human rights and responsibilities flow from human relationships.

It is well to introduce these concepts to children at the primary and the high school levels. For this reason, the functional literacy team designed a curriculum for the first book (class 7) based on daily life experiences and the feelings that flow from them, and the recognition of individual needs, desires and rights. Through various teaching techniques involving student participation, the course helps students recognize the value of time and the causes and dangers of anger; develop self-esteem and self-confidence; and, consequently, recognize and accept others.

The second book (class 8) focuses on broadening our relationships with others; becoming aware of verbal, non-verbal, technical and personal forms of communication; learning communication which requires listening and hearing the feelings behind the words; understanding relationships involving strong feelings, either positive or negative; expressing needs and bringing persons into closer relationships; letting go of blocks to communication; resolving hurt feelings; acknowledging change as an essential part of being human, whether one is young or old; enhancing behavior with the help of others; realizing that everything we need to be happy is within ourselves; realizing one's goals.

The third book, for class 9 (still to be completed), touches on relationships that affect the nation and the world; values development; choice, alternatives and consequences; our convictions; our choices; our values and character; the hidden agendas in advertising, technology and easy money; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; freedom, rights, duties, justice, peace and service to others; relationships within our nation and our world; disabled and special people; differences in gender relationships; attitudinal changes; social acceptance; customs and changing times; leadership qualities; ecology and the environment; globalization and its implications.

Problems and Difficulties Faced

  1. Preparing teachers to feel comfortable about using the dialogic method of teaching.
  2. Confronting cultural values of people who have a strong belief in fate and predetermination.
  3. Lack of time for classes.
  4. Overcrowded classrooms.
  5. Lack of materials due to poverty.
  6. Cancellation of classes due to weather conditions, strikes and examination periods.

Social Issues Relevant to Human Rights

  1. Customs. The dowry, for example, and how it affects the poor, and how it can cause disputes even among well-to-do families.
  2. Laws. The right to due process and how it affects women and children in divorce, separation or marriage.
  3. Structures. What is best for economic development and infrastructure.
  4. Policies. Sterilization, for example, which deprives persons of their reproductive freedom.
  5. Institutions. Education, health-care funding which benefits the elite.

Reflections on our Experience

  1. The dialogic method is extremely appealing to students accustomed to the rote method of learning.
  2. Students realize that their responses are different because of their varied backgrounds and experiences.
  3. Family members rarely speak about their feelings and the changes taking place in the lives of their teenagers.
  4. External factors place much pressure on the youth.
  5. Students remark that the Education for Life Program has changed their lives radically.
  6. Relationships with those we love are the source of strong feelings.
  7. Cultural traditions determine the way people think and act.
  8. The program should be integrated into the school system rather than depend on outside funding.

Annex I



One family occupies one small room in a crowded, dark area. Five to ten or more people may live in each of the rooms which are lined up in rows. Cooking, eating, sleeping, everything is done in the same room. It is dark. This is Mohammedpur, a slum in Dhaka known as Geneva Camp. All who live here are working people. Heads of the families, the women and children, all do various types of work. Some men have roadside trades, some are barbers and some drive rickshaws or vans. The women sew, collect paper, sell vegetables and take care of household chores.

Shahojada is a little boy of eight. His father works in a motor repair shop near their home. Shahojada wakes up early. Meanwhile, his mother places a pot of rice on the stove. Shahojada, his father and elder brother go out to work each morning. His sisters wash their faces and hands and then sit down to sew. They bring sewing materials from a shop and make clothes by hand.

Shahojada used to lead a free and happy life. His whole day was spent tramping around and playing with friends. He especially liked to collect things from dustbins, roll around on the ground and play marbles.

One day his father put him to work in a garage cleaning car parts for Tk60 a month. The owner of the garage is very strict and bad-tempered, but an expert motor mechanic.

Two or three other children also work there. They are always afraid of their master. If they are not attentive or neglect their work, he scolds or slaps them. Many young children—some four or five years old—work around the Camp.

Shahojada has worked in the garage for the past five months. From the beginning, the master scolded and even beat him several times, but no one defended him. All the working children's families believe that children will learn only if they are strictly disciplined.

One day, the master scolded Shahojada so bitterly that the child quit. His father forced him to return to work. Now Shahojada realizes that even if he is beaten and scolded, he has to work from morning to night.

Asked whether he wants to go to school, Shahojada is silent for a few minutes and then responds, "Yes, but how? We are very poor." From the garage, he watches children his age on their way to school. He sees their beautiful clothes and bags.

Friday is his day off. He enjoys walking around the Camp and playing marbles with his friends. He has heard about the beautiful Children's Park and the Zoo but he has never seen them. On Friday nights he watches television at a club near the Camp. His favorite program is "Arabian Nights" and he also enjoys the Bangla Cinema.

When asked about his future, Shahojada does not answer. He has not yet decided what he will do with his life. His parents want him to be a skilled mechanic. Maybe their dream will come true.

Children of Shahojada's age are supposed to be in school, well dressed and healthy. But he and many children are forced to work. They ask "Why?" Can we answer their question?

Having Read the Story

In your Education for Life (EFL) Note Book, copy the sentence that explains your answer to the following questions:

a) How would you describe the auto mechanic?
b) What is the relationship between the working children and the owner of the machine shop?
c) How do the children feel when they are at work each day? How do they respond?
d) Do the children like their work?
e) Describe Shahojada's life at home.
f) What is his father's response to Shahojada's feelings?
g) Why did Shahojada return to work at the auto mechanic's shop?
h) What would you have done if you were in that situation?
i) What do you think children should do with their feelings?

Write in your EFL Note Book.


Annex II



In addition to the five basic needs, you may find other needs in the words below.
Make two rows in your EFL NOTE BOOK- NEEDS//WANTS.
Choose from the words given below the objects of things that you think everyone NEEDS.
Write these words in your NEEDS row.
Arrange the other things in the WANTS row.

Gold coinTrophyHouseFirst PrizeCrownvCarFood


Did you know that on 20 November 1959, Bangladesh and every country in the United Nations agreed that children should have certain rights?

They drew up a list of those rights.

To become useful members of society and to develop their special talents.
To have a name and a nationality.
To proper housing, enough food and medical care.
To special care, if they are handicapped.
To affection, love and understanding.
To have enough time and space to play.
To be rescued first if a disaster takes place.
To free education.
To grow up believing in peace and treating all people as their brothers and sisters.

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