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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Human Rights Education in India: Needs and Future Actions

Balkrishna Kurvey

Indian textbooks barely mention human rights. Indirect references to human rights are included in the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India and in civics and history textbooks. In Maharashtra, supposedly among the most socially aware states in India, the 9th standard (high school) civics book reproduces the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Most universities do not offer human rights education, although some have three-month to one-year postgraduate courses on human rights.

The Need for Peace Education

The United Nations was created to protect future generations from the curse of war and to reiterate the belief in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human being, and in the equality of men and women. The end of the Cold War leads us to a single global conception of human rights.

The UN's message is: Know your human rights. People who know their rights stand the best chance of realizing them. Knowledge of human rights is the best defense against their violation. Learning about one's rights builds respect for the rights of others and points the way to more tolerant and peaceful societies.

Vast numbers of people are still unaware of their rights. While laws and institutions could in many cases defend them, people must first know where they may turn for help.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms the nations' commitment to the UN Charter on the promotion and protection of human rights. It is now recognized as one of the most important documents in the history of humankind and can be found in the constitutions of countries that became independent after World War II.

The UN General Assembly recommends that the text be distributed in schools. NGOs are asked to bring it to the attention of their members.

How many people have actually read this short, epoch-making declaration? How many know of the International Bill of Human Rights, which consists of the declaration; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

The answer is: very few. NGOs are often the first to bring human rights problems to the attention of the UN and the international community. Schools offer an important means of fashioning a human rights culture, as do research institutions, as they provide in-depth information on specific human rights issues.

Public Campaign

The National Human Rights Commission of India; the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament and Environmental Protection (IIPDEP); and many NGOs have launched a countrywide public information campaign for human rights. It aims to make everyone more conscious of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and better equipped to stand up for them. At the same time, the campaign spreads knowledge of the means which exist at the international and national levels to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

IIPDEP and many NGOs work to make school authorities and the general public aware of civic education. They focus on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to apply fundamental human rights and freedom and, consequently, the nonviolent resolution of conflict.

Campaign activities include the following:

  • production and dissemination of information and reference materials;
  • workshops, seminars and training courses;
  • fellowships and internship;
  • special human rights observance;
  • media and promotional activities.

A school system based on competition, and therefore failure, cannot promote the ideas of equality, tolerance and peace. The principles of civic education are the following:

  • The school exists to serve humanity.
  • The school promotes worldwide mutual understanding.
  • The school teaches respect for life and for human beings.
  • The school teaches tolerance toward attitudes and behavior different from our own.
  • The school develops a sense of mutual responsibility. Greater responsibility carries increased responsibility to others and to the planet.
  • The school teaches children to overcome egoism. It helps them understand that humanity can only progress through personal efforts and active collaboration.

The IIPDEP and many NGOs are expanding their human rights education (HRE) activities by drawing public attention to the role schools should play.

HRE promotes the application of these rights in the classroom and, by extension, in the daily lives of young people. The IIPDEP and NGOs can make government aware of the necessity of HRE and propose changes in the textbooks and programs.


Civic education aims to promote human rights, particularly nonviolent resolution of conflict, and equality and justice. HRE's mission is to encourage personal growth and acceptance of others, and to foster cooperation and peace among individuals and countries. To achieve this, a wide variety of activities in schools and collaboration with teachers and students are essential.

IIPDEP Program on Human Rights Education in Schools

The IIPDEP is a nonpolitical, nonprofit NGO whose activities are mainly research and education of the public. It believes that human rights are a prerequisite for peace, security, development and democracy. If human rights are violated in India, the biggest democracy in the world will be in danger. For the sake of democracy and sustainable development in India, HRE is essential.

The IIPDEP holds seminars and lectures on human rights. It stresses HRE in schools. Materials on human rights using ordinary language are distributed to schools, NGOs and government departments.

The IIPDEP recently organized a regional seminar for teachers from the primary to university level, who, strangely, were not aware of human rights. However, after the discussions and debates on HRE, the participants concluded that respect for human rights is essential for the individual, society and country. The teachers promised to teach their students about the importance of human rights. They suggested that HRE be included in secondary-school subjects, such as history, geography, social studies, moral and religious education, language and literature, current affairs, economics and civics.

The teachers were unanimous on the following:

  • Human rights should be taught as a special subject or a part of a special subject in civic education.
  • Human rights should be included in all subjects.
  • Extracurricular activities and clubs such as an Amnesty International Groups should be formed in schools.
  • Schools should adopt the following goals:
    • Teachers should apply human rights to school life and the curriculum.
    • Human rights should be the basis of relationships in the classroom.
    • Human rights concepts should be taught systematically.
    • School rules and disciplinary procedures should be based on fair treatment and due process.
    • Schools should promote equality and avoid discrimination on the basis of gender, race or disability.
    • Teachers should be encouraged to develop a global perspective.

Activities in schools should include the following:

  • Pre-school. The idea of human rights can and should be acquired at an early stage. For example, the nonviolent resolution of conflict and respect for other people can be demonstrated in class.
  • Primary and high schools. Human rights provide the values guiding the school community. The teacher should be a role model in teaching children to be receptive to others and to diversity in society. Stories, games, poems, songs (from several cultures); shared meals and food; celebrations and festivals; visits to markets, museums, temples, churches, mosques and other cultural places; and inviting parents to school should be employed in teaching human rights.

HRE should teach children that all are equal before the law and that all should have equal opportunities. It should promote respect for the rights of children and the development of their personalities. It is governed by certain principles such as the following:

  • Every right is matched by a duty toward other individuals and the community as a whole.
  • HRE is not just about teaching rights, but about living them.
  • It is about acquisition of habits and attitudes respectful of human rights.
  • The school administration should be democratic. Excessively hierarchical structures, inflexibility in teaching, and autocratic head teachers are obstacles to HRE.

The process of learning about human rights can have the following elements:

  • Teachers invite students to express their views.
  • Students ask each other questions and exchange views
  • Teachers ask students to consider sympathetically views they do not hold.
  • Teachers and students ask questions which invite further exploration.

At the heart of democratic method is discussion, which is best done in small groups, the results of which are then reported to the class.

The principles for conducting discussions should be:

  • reasonableness;
  • peaceableness and orderliness;
  • truthfulness;
  • freedom;
  • equality; and
  • respect for the person.

Social education based on human rights helps students

  • develop a positive self-image;
  • develop sensitivity to their environment;
  • learn to accept differences while recognizing essential similarities among people;
  • develop skills in resolving and preventing conflicts;
  • combat bullying.

Principles of nonviolent conflict resolution include

  • self-respect and respect for others;
  • communication;
  • assertiveness;
  • open-mindness;
  • cooperation;
  • conflict resolution;
  • taking responsibility.

Even young students learn responsibility through, for example,

  • caring for the animals;
  • watering plants;
  • tidying the book corner;
  • choosing a story.

Older students can help younger students by

  • reading to them or listening to them read;
  • performing plays or providing other entertainment;
  • organizing special celebrations or parties;
  • helping with craft work;
  • working as a responsible member of a group.

The more abstract notions of human rights—philosophical, political and legal concepts—can be introduced in secondary-school subjects such as history, geography, social studies, moral and religious education, language and literature, current affairs, economics and civics.


We noticed that headmasters and teachers very much favor HRE. However, textbooks are produced and printed by the government and it is very difficult to convince government officials to include HRE in the school curriculum. They must be convinced through a public-information campaign, for instance, or by pressure from international organizations such as the UN, UNESCO, etc.

Lack of money is one of the main troubles faced by IIPDEP and other NGOs. It is difficult to get funding from government or the private sector for HRE. It is also difficult to convince high-level government officials and policy makers of the need for HRE as they are cut off from the hardships of the person on the street.

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