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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Promoting Human Rights Education in Hong Kong Secondary Schools

Angela Lee and Mary Yuen

Before 1997, the Hong Kong colonial government deliberately downplayed political affairs and civic education, which led to the public's political apathy and lack of human rights awareness. However, as the handover approached and Sino-British talks on Hong Kong's future intensified, more people became concerned about social and political affairs. The June 4 Tiananmen Massacre shocked the people of Hong Kong, triggering concern over China's human rights situation as well as human rights protection in Hong Kong after 1997. Although many people are more aware of human rights issues now, they still have misconceptions about them.

Even though Britain is a signatory of the two international human rights covenants, a domestic human rights law did not exist in Hong Kong until 1991. There was no formal human rights education (HRE) in schools.

Reasons to Promote HRE

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese (HKJP) and Amnesty International Hong Kong Section (AIHK) are trying to set up a mechanism to protect human rights and promote human rights consciousness. They cooperate with other NGOs in urging the government to uphold human rights and in exposing injustice and violations of human rights.

They believe that education is important in order to accomplish their goal. People need to understand their basic rights, to know when their rights are being violated and to respect the rights of others, especially minorities, so as to prevent discrimination. Thus, a human rights culture has to be cultivated through different kinds of education or consciousness-raising programs. In short, HRE aims to create awareness of international human rights standards and to implement these standards.

In the early 1990s, the HKJP started to organize human rights activities and carry out HRE in schools, churches and the community, supervised by its human rights committee.

At the same time, AI increased its global efforts to promote HRE. Its aim is to spread information about human rights, to create a climate of opinion promoting respect for human rights, and to defend those rights. Its ultimate goal is to encourage ordinary citizens and government leaders, groups and institutions to safeguard human rights everywhere. AIHK has been part of AI's Teaching for Freedom HRE program since 1995.

Importance of Promoting Human Rights in Schools

Young people are the main target of human rights awareness programs as they accept new ideas and values more readily than their elders. They are also more easily reached than other groups through, for example, existing civic and moral education in schools.

Promoting HRE in Schools

General program and activities

The AIHK and HKJP promote HRE in various ways, sometimes in cooperation with other NGOs. Listed below are their activities, publications and programs in the past few years:

  • Programs. Talks in schools, teachers' seminars and workshops, students' workshops, exhibitions, fun days for human rights.
  • Materials (mostly in Chinese).
  • Educational kits for secondary schools suitable for civic education, moral and religious education, and extracurricular activities, explaining, for example, freedom of speech, personal liberty, freedom from torture and discrimination, right to life, the death penalty, social and economic rights, gender equality.
  • Chinese and English language comprehension materials relating to different rights, for secondary schools.
  • Leaflets and booklets introducing international human rights standards, local mechanisms that protect human rights and the Hong Kong human rights situation.
  • Coloring books introducing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and children's rights to primary school children.
  • Exhibition boards introducing international human rights standards, local mechanisms for human rights protection and the Hong Kong human rights situation.
  • Video tapes introducing students to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Newsletter providing information on HRE in schools, basic concepts of human rights and HRE activities for teachers.
  • Survey. In 1995, the AIHK surveyed secondary school teachers' ideas on HRE and what they saw as obstacles to introducing it into schools. The survey showed that teachers generally supported HRE, but were hindered by a lack of teaching materials, professional training and time.

Armed with the results of the survey, the AIHK lobbied the Department of Education to increase government support for HRE development and to designate HRE as a separate subject.

In 1996, Oxfam Hong Kong and AIHK surveyed secondary school teachers' and student teachers' conception of human rights and global values. The survey showed that while teachers and students generally understood human rights, many teachers valued social stability over people's fundamental rights. And while teachers believed in basic human rights for everyone, most placed their personal interests above other people's rights. This is of some concern since teachers play an important role in developing young people's human rights values. The AIHK lobbied the Hong Kong Institute of Education (a teacher training institute) and the Hong Kong Department of Education to provide HRE in-service training for teachers and to increase HRE in teacher professional training.

Specific Activity Experience
HKJP's human rights course in secondary schools

A Catholic secondary school invited the HKJP to design a four-lesson human rights course for senior form students, which was used for moral and religious lessons. Topics included basic human rights, anti-discrimination, gender equality and freedom of speech and expression. Each lesson spanned two periods or approximately 70 minutes. We used the course in two other Catholic schools from September 1998 to January 1999. Of the three schools, two grouped students from two classes, reaching about 60 students. The third school held classes of about 30 students each. Facilitators came from among the schoolteachers and HKJP staff. The course has since been introduced to other schools.

Methodologies. Teachers used an interactive method employing various activities rather than the traditional one-way teaching method. Activities included debates, watching videos, case studies, role-playing, small-group discussions, etc. They aimed to

  • induce more students to participate and reflect on the issue concerned;
  • allow students to experience the situation;
  • stimulate students to think and be analytical;
  • encourage dialogue among students;
  • capture the students' attention using interesting materials;
  • encourage discussion from different perspectives;
  • encourage students to act outside discussion groups.

Small-group discussions used local case studies to raise participants' awareness of current affairs and the local human rights situation. (See Annex 1 for details of the teaching plan.)

Role of teachers. Since the course was student-oriented, teachers acted as stimulators and facilitators. They prodded students to discuss the issues, answered students' questions, supplied information after small-group discussions and exhorted students to live out the spirit of human rights.

Teaching for freedom-AIHK's HRE camp

In 1996, the AIHK organized the Teaching for Freedom-HRE Camp, which is based on the belief that student teacher training should touch on all aspects of life-including human rights-not just "academic subjects." The camp also encouraged participants to think critically and creatively about human rights issues relevant to them as individuals and as future teachers. (See Annex 2.)

Camp programs


Participants were asked to record their expectations, which would be used later to measure the level of the camp's success and to make a personal evaluation.


* Introduction of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR)
Participants were put through the "human rights squares" exercise in order to introduce them to human rights issues that people face in their daily life, at the workplace, etc. They also received a simplified copy of the UDHR. They were divided into smaller groups and asked which article of the UDHR they found to be the most relevant to their daily life. Each group then presented a three-minute TV advertisement about, for example, problems faced by new Chinese immigrant children or about feminist issues. Both exercises successfully demonstrated human rights principles. Through role-playing, participants were able to place themselves in the shoes of victims of human rights violations.

*Respecting , Protecting and Promoting Human Rights
Participants discussed various human rights issues such as discrimination against women, disabled people and homosexuals, and the equal opportunity bill. Participants were generally very conscious of the need to prevent discrimination of any kind and against any person, regardless of their sexuality, race, religion etc. Some, however, found it difficult to accept and tolerate homosexuals, perhaps because of their religious background.

* Freedom of Expression
The Commission on the Promotion of Civil Education provided the HRE material. All participants agreed on the importance of freedom of expression and press, while stressing that journalists must abide by their professional code of ethics. They also highlighted the importance of having a just and impartial legal system.

Lectures Given by Guest Speakers

* The History of Human Rights: Identifying Common Themes in the International Documents
The lecture introduced the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A video depicted the lives of Mongolian street children, and participants were asked how their basic rights had been curtailed in the context of the two covenants.

* School Life, Educational Attitudes and Human Rights

Participants discussed school children's rights versus their responsibilities. Traditionally, students have few avenues for expressing their views. They should be taught to question and critically analyze information; teachers should respect their opinions.

* Drama-Participatory Theater as an HRE Tool
Participants were introduced to realistic drama using conflict, story-telling and role playing to provoke reactions to images designed to make an instant and sustained impact. Using drama as an HRE tool also develops teachers' constructive criticism. After some initial hesitancy, the participants responded positively. Drama, especially role-playing, is a method little used by Hong Kong teachers, but is one which immediately places the participant in the position of the victim of human rights abuse.

Use of Media Education Materials (photos, videos and newspaper clippings)

Videos shown to participants were on the UDHR, street children in Mongolia (children's rights), human rights and school regulations, Band-5 schools (labeling, discrimination), Vietnamese boat people (discrimination), and the death penalty (The Next Step). Participants analyzed a selection of newspaper clippings and discussed issues of freedom of expression.

Summary of the Three-day Training Program

Most participants agreed that human rights are fundamental to every person. Most learned to become more tolerant of other people's views.

Influencing Policy

The AIHK and HKJP also worked with other concerned groups in examining the structural, legal and policy aspects of civic education, including HRE. We attempted to shape civic education policy by

  • helping draft the Guidelines of Civic Education in Schools in 1996;
  • lobbying the curriculum committee;
  • holding talks with the Hong Kong Institute of Education on the need to strengthen civic education;
  • advocating civic education as an independent subject in all secondary schools.

Achievements and Problems


Some schools hold HRE programs once a year, during, for example, Human Rights Week, featuring exhibitions, debates and lectures. The increase in schools' requests for human rights information and lectures proves that NGOs' HRE work is becoming respectable. Schools have reacted favorably to all the HRE materials. NGOs lobbied the Department of Education to review the old Guidelines of Civic Education in Schools, which was published in 1995. In 1996, the department published new guidelines.

In 1996-1997, NGOs also lobbied the department to make civic education an independent subject. In September 1998, civic education was established as an independent subject in junior secondary schools (forms 1-3).


The main problem faced by AIHK and HKJP is that human rights are not part of Hong Kong's culture or values system. Minority rights (for example, of the elderly, single parents, homeless people, new immigrants, gay and lesbian groups, etc.), especially, receive little support from the general public.

The curriculum, classroom setting and teaching approaches all pose obstacles to implementing HRE.

The curriculum stresses knowledge-centered education, which is very different from the interactive approach, which allows students to participate and stimulates them to think critically and analytically.

Teachers find it difficult to organize small-group discussions when class size is normally around 35-40 students. They cannot be effective stimulators and facilitators when the student/teacher ratio is that high. Even when teachers are keen on having an HRE program at their school, few receive encouragement or support from the school administration, principal and other teachers.

The lack of HRE resources and professional HRE teachers' training also needs to be addressed, especially since human rights are not part of the culture and because the HRE teaching methodology is so different from traditional methods. HRE is still not compulsory at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

As HRE is not yet a core subject in most schools, textbook publishers do not want to invest money in it. Although NGOs have developed educational teaching materials, they are hindered by their limited resources from doing more.

Reflections and Reviews

Working with schools

A reason schools hesitate to carry out HRE is that the principals and teachers are afraid of losing control over their students. Some think that HRE is solely about rights and that students will ignore their responsibilities and even challenge teachers and school policy. Others feel that human rights are politically sensitive and irrelevant to daily life, and that advocating human rights means protesting against the government.

While it is true that HRE emphasizes individual and political rights, it does more than that. It also stresses the basic principle that everyone is equal, that other people's rights should be respected and that one cannot infringe on another's rights.

Human rights are also social and economic rights, which are relevant to the people's living standard. While it is undeniably true that human rights activists challenge the government, they do so in order to point out injustices. We must make this clear to teachers and principals.

Methodology and teachers' training

HRE stresses group dynamics and interaction between teachers and students and among students themselves, and encourages students to think critically, to raise questions during discussions and even to challenge school policies that violate human rights. However, teachers receive traditional training, which does not touch on human rights. Teachers may therefore not have the confidence to handle HRE.

Teacher training and educational kits are thus important. Teachers can also teach themselves and pay more attention to current affairs. In our experience, some teachers manage the activities very well and involve students in the activities.

Environmental factor

Students have to take action and live out the human rights spirit in school and in daily life, not just in the classroom. But the school must create a democratic and human-rights-friendly environment by, for example, creating channels for students to express their opinions on teaching methods, school policy and student activities, and by encouraging students to organize a student union and student activities. The school itself should aim for holistic education. Teachers should encourage students to pay more attention to social affairs and to express their opinions through proper channels.

Human rights should be promoted not only in schools, but also through family education and mass education at the community level. NGOs must therefore continue to urge the government to provide more resources in civic education.

Civic education policy

Many of the abovementioned problems are related to education and teacher-training policies. NGOs must continue to be concerned about HRE at the policy level and to build up more communication channels with the education institute.

HRE in Hong Kong is a recent development. Government support, however, is not enough, and there is much room for improvement. The teachers we met feel that it is easier for the new generation of teachers to accept and teach human rights in schools. Indeed, many teachers do add human rights to their syllabus and use various methods to bring the message to their students.

Annex 1

The teaching plan of the four-lesson human rights course in schools

Lesson 1: Human Rights Concept


  1. to introduce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two covenants
  2. to discuss the universality of human rights

Targets: Form 6 and 7 students

Time: 70 minutes

Teaching tools:

  1. cards with the names of the human rights instruments
  2. a string for games
  3. guideline for debate
  4. reference materials: UDHR and the two human rights covenants


  1. Make students interested (2 mins).
  2. Introduce the three human rights documents (3 mins).
  3. Game: Distinguish civil and political rights from economic rights (10 mins)
    • Divide the classroom into two areas:
    •   a. Civil and political rights and
    •   b. Economic rights.
    • Divide students into groups of seven to eight persons.
    • Teachers read out different rights and each group has to decide which kind of right it is. Then the whole group goes to the chosen area.
    • Teachers explain to students how to distinguish the two kinds of rights.
  4. Conclusion (10 mins)
    • Introduce the origins and background of the three documents.
    • Explain the interdependence of the two covenants.
    • Explain the difference between the declaration and covenants.
  5. Debate (10 mins for preparation, 15 mins for debate)
      Title: To implement human rights according to cultural differences.
    • Students are divided into six to eight groups. Half take the affirmative side and the rest take the opposite side. Each group discusses the theme and one member speaks for the group.
    • Teachers supplement information and clarify the points raised by students.
    • Conclusion

Annex 2

"Teaching for Freedom"
Human Rights Education Camp

Date of the Function: 18-21 July 1996 (4 days and 3 nights)
Location: Hong Kong Chinese University Shaw College
Target Group: Student Teachers and University Students
No. of Participants: 35

Training of student teachers should be broad in range and not limited to academic subjects. The future educators of our children need to understand modern-day issues that affect our lives, such as human rights.

An aim of the Teaching for Freedom-HRE Camp is to introduce and improve knowledge of human rights, and to develop student teachers' understanding, attitudes and ability to use critical judgment and creative thinking regarding human rights issues.

Other aims

* Introduce "how to teach human rights"; learn to develop teaching skills; and learn to use teaching material kits supplied by the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education, Amnesty International and other NGOs.

* Implement the Education Department's Guidelines on Civic Education in Schools. Improve on education in 10 years.


* Publicity poster and application form to be sent to all universities, colleges and the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
* Camp Programs. (Student teachers are expected to participate.)
* Workshops: "What is Human Rights" and "How to Teach Human Rights"
* Guest speakers (active human rights campaigners and educators)
* Performance by a local drama group.
* Use of media education materials (pictures/photos, films and videos)
* Use of role-playing and thought-provoking images designed to make instant and sustaining impact. Develop constructive criticism among teachers.
* Video taping of workshops, performances by a local drama group and speeches by guest speakers.
* Production of a professionally edited video to evaluate the camp and for future reference.
* Summary of the three-day training through "Art for Freedom" performances (drama, music, poster presentation, etc.).
* Distribution of human rights teaching materials to all participants.
* Distribution of certificates to all participants.

"Teaching for Freedom"

Human Rights Education Camp

Thursday, 18 July 1996

14:30 - 15:30 Registration and Check-in (Shaw College)

16:00 - 16:30 Introduction of the Participants (Shaw College - Rm. 2)

  • Angela Lee, Human Rights Education Officer (AIHK)
  • Shirley So, Secondary School Teacher
  • Leung Yan Wing, Lecturer, Hong Kong Institute of Education
  • Lau Kit Fai, Primary School Teacher

16:30 - 18:00 Workshop on the Right to Education: Identifying Common Themes across the International Documents

* Facilitator: Angela Lee

18:30 Dinner (Shaw College)

20:00 - 22:00 Human Rights Game

* Facilitator: Angela Lee
(Shaw College - Rm. 1)

Video Show

* Angela Lee

Friday, 19 July 1996

08:30 Breakfast (Shaw College)

09:30 - 11:30 Workshop: Respecting, Protecting and Promoting Human Rights

* Facilitator: Lau Kit Fai
(United College - C210)

12:30 Lunch (Shaw College)

14:00 - 17:00 Workshop on Freedom of Expression

* Facilitator: Shirley So
(Shaw College - Rm. 2)

18:30 Dinner (Shaw College)

20:00 - 22:00 The History of Human Rights

-Legal Concepts and Approaches Concerning Human Rights
* Anthony Chiu, Vice-Chairperson of Amnesty International H.K. (Shaw College - Rm. 2)

Saturday, 20 July 1996

08:30 Breakfast (Shaw College)

09:30 - 12:00 School Life, Educational Attitude and Human Rights

-Analysis of Civic Education Syllabuses
* Leung Yan Wing
(Shaw College - Rm. 2)

12:30 Lunch (Shaw College)

14:00 - 17:00 Intercultural Workshop: Using Drama

* Facilitator: James Tan
(Shaw College - Rm. 2)

18:30 Dinner (Shaw College)

After Dinner Free Sunday, 21 July 1996

08:30 Breakfast (Shaw College)

09:30 - 11:30 Talents Show by Participants

Evaluation Feedback
Distribution of Certificates
(United College - C210)

12:00 Check-out

12:30 Lunch (Shaw College)

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