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Human Rights Education and Society: Relevance and Need

The Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA) held its third and final subregional workshop (South Asia) on human rights education in schools from 15-18 October 1998 in New Delhi, India.

The workshop was co-hosted by the National Human Rights Commission of India and in cooperation with the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science (India).


Representatives of various institutions from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India attended the workshop. Most of the participants belonged to non-governmental organizations, while some are school teachers and representatives of educational institutions.


Mr. Virendra Dayal, member of the National Human Rights Commission of India, chaired the first session. He lauded the convening of people from various South Asian countries on the question of human rights education in schools. He also mentioned the award of Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Amartya Sen for his work on economics and welfare. He said that Mr. Sen worked closely with his Pakistani friend Mahub ul Huq on this area. Mr. Dayal said that Mr. Sen is an economist with the heart of a human rights activist and was now rewarded with a Nobel Peace prize. He asked the question: what does it mean to work for human rights? Above all, it means caring for those who are at the lowest levels of society - the defenseless, the vulnerable people in our societies - in terms not only of civil and political rights but also of economic, social and cultural rights.

He also mentioned the work of the late Mr. Dag Hammarksjold (former UN Secretary-General) as a perfect blend of via activa (the path of action) and the via contemplativa (the path of reflection and contemplation). A blend of a sage and a man of action. He likewise attributed the same characteristics to Mr. Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah.

Mr. Justice Venkatachaliah, in his inaugural address, noted the growing cynicism in society regarding such values as liberty, freedom, and human rights. He said that young people are becoming cynical as they grow up and study in universities. This trend has to be addressed by education. He quoted Chakravati Rajugopalachari who wrote in 1922 that, "Hope lies only in universal education by which right conduct, fear of God, and love will be developed among the citizens from childhood. It is only if we succeed in this that swaraj1 will mean anything." He finds it a challenge to have the right education for the young people at the present time - in view of the economic crisis that beleaguers many countries in Asia and the continuing maldistribution of wealth in the world where so many people receive only a tiny part of the wealth compared to that owned by the 300 billionaires (in US dollar terms) in the world. Education must be able to relate to these realities. It must not simply provide information. Through action in society, wisdom is obtained. In his words, children should have a "sense of discrimination that comes in applying self-introspection of the validity of one's action through the perception of the ideals for which all action is devoted." He therefore advocates an education that will make children obtain the wisdom needed to create a just, kind and caring society.

Mr. Dayal pointed out that when talking of culture and human rights, care has to be taken because cultures/cultural values (whether expressed in religious, social or economic terms) should not be used to either debase the universality of human rights, or provide an alibi for misbehavior to justify the wrongs of societies whether on the civil or political side to suit acts of dictatorship, or fascism or worse, and on the economic, social, and cultural side to suit those who do wrongs in society. In the name of culture, we get a wonderful and dangerous amalgam with politics. In this case, there is no culture anymore, there is instead cultural ideology. This happens in fascism in different forms and societies such as that of the Third Reich in Germany.

As in the previous subregional workshops, country presentations started the sessions (after the opening ceremonies). Presentations from various institutions in the represented countries were made.

The Nepal presentation consists of the Child Education Program of INSEC and the actual experience of a teacher in a secondary school. Mr. Devika Tamilsina explained the INSEC program. He said that it has four objectives, namely:

 a. to disseminate the message of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) through the school children to the community;
 b. to motivate/encourage school children to educate other out-of-school children;
 c. to organize district level seminars/workshops of children on CRC; and
 d. to hold essay/poetry competition among the students.

INSEC held regional workshops to familiarize the teachers on CRC and national laws related to human rights. These workshops also discussed ways of organizing children's groups in the schools and communicating information on human rights to the parents.

Interaction activities were also held to sensitize school headmasters (primary and secondary schools) on the same issues. These activities constitute the first phase of the program.

The second phase consists of dissemination of materials on human rights to school children and holding of speech/essay/poetry competitions in the schools. Child Awareness Groups (CAGs) or Bal Chetana Samuha were formed in each of the 200 schools covered by the program. Each district of the country (40 districts) has an average of 5 schools participating in the program. A CAG coordinates various school programs such as school compound cleaning, organizing of essay/poetry competitions, publication of wall journals, assisting in community programs (such as community inoculation, tree planting, etc.).

Leading students in the schools participate in the district level seminars/workshops on CRC.

Mr. Yagya Bahadur Limbu, a guardian teacher for a CAG in Shree Bhanu Secondary School in northeastern Nepal related an actual experience of the work of a CAG. He said that within the school, the CAG has become a medium through which students express their problems and views about human rights. A monthly magazine published on the school's billboard helps students bring out and exchange ideas about child rights (such as discrimination between sons and daughters). Competitions were also organized between his school and those of nearby schools.

These activities help the students increase their skills and creativity in writing, physical abilities, and skills in leading school activities (such as by taking responsibility for the school prayer, maintaining the discipline among the students, etc.).

CAGs help spread awareness about human rights in the community by putting up posters about human rights, participating in government programs such as provision of medical service, and staging plays during the market days. Members of the community appreciate these activities.

Mr. A.Z.M. Sakhawat Hossain, Senior Area Education Manager of the Non-formal Primary Education Program of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) presented his organization's activities. BRAC has 34,000 schools all over Bangladesh covering a million students. Many of these students are from poor rural families. There are also schools for adolescent girls known as Kishori Schools.

The Non-formal Primary Education program is a 4-year course that covers a 5-year curriculum. Kishori Schools offer a curriculum that is tailor-made to the special needs of the adolescent girls such as health issues. It is a 3-year course covering a 5-year curriculum. This program places emphasis on social studies. Subjects on environment, environmental hazards, and gender equity are covered. The social studies textbook for the 3rd year includes the issue of child rights. To make the understanding of child rights easier, illustrations and poems are used. Right to education, to play, to know, to ask questions, to speak, to have affection, to have shelter, to choose, to be treated equally as far as gender is concerned are covered. The rights of disabled children are also discussed.

Sr. Miriam Perlewitz presented a curriculum developed for the 12 Catholic mission schools in the Archdiocese of Dhaka and 10 schools in other dioceses. The program consists of weekly presentations under the topic 'Education for Life.' The words human rights are left out because they are sensitive terms. One half-hour class per week is held by the 18 Bangladeshi teachers using a dialogue method. There are no lectures. The teachers simply ask questions. This creates an atmosphere of interest among the students since they are allowed to express different answers. The differences in their experiences provide the basis for the different answers. Students then understand why there are different answers. They also feel comfortable about their own answers and begin to dialogue with each other. They understand that life has ups and downs that make people act and think differently. Everyone therefore is in the same situation. The teachers are mere facilitators in this process. Students then teach each other. The teachers do not teach, they are there as learners.

Students are not told that what they do is right or wrong. They are simply asked about their day-to-day experiences. And then they get to know that other students are doing different things. Questions are then asked why this is happening. And when students try to answer the why, they begin to teach one another. Answers that may appear off center are not confronted and instead left as such until students realize what is right. They think about the situation themselves. Students later on express that the classes have made them see a different way of appreciating their lives. Thus the classes are totally student-to-student relationships.

Materials have been developed which use stories and illustrations. A teacher's guide accompanies each material. Three materials are being used for each of the following topics: personal experiences, family relationships; relationships with society and the nation; and communicating with the world. The materials allow the students to make their own stories, and discuss them. They come to the point of realizing that each person has value and that there is something greater than each person.

Training teachers to ask questions rather than give lectures is a problem. It requires a lot of time. The second problem is about time per class per week. A half-hour class means that the teacher has to be aware to complete the session within the limited time. The third problem is about cultural values. This is a very sensitive issue and the challenge is on how to dialogue with the people who have different cultures.

Ms. Nasreen Iqbal of Grammar School Rawalpindi presented the human rights education experience of her school. She said that as educators, we have to play a pivotal role in the personal and social development of children. The school is one of the main places where children's personalities develop and their attitudes get shaped. If a child is educated to accept violence and intolerance as a way of life, he/she will grow up to become an extremely selfish and intolerant human being. But if a child is taught the values of peace, human rights, and universal brotherhood he/she will learn and live to respect and promote such values.

Education is unfortunately considered as only a tool to create a skilled workforce for economic development and in no way does it cater to the growth of the personal development of an individual. It includes no goals of promoting human values or moral principles. This is causing further deterioration of the situation of human rights and contributing to the growth of excessive materialism, self-centeredness and intolerance.

This alarming situation can only be halted through a broad-based education that will serve as a key to survival.

Since 1995, when GSR became a member of UNESCO's Associated Schools Project, special syllabi and classes were introduced, which are termed as the Associated Schools Project Classes.

The aim of these classes is to promote tolerance and provide human rights education by making the students aware of their own rights and how they must respect the rights of others. Reads a mission statement in their classes: "You have the freedom to exercise your rights as far as it does not infringe on the rights of others: when it does, it ceases to be a right and becomes a wrong."

The students are encouraged to develop activities and skills to help them to counteract intolerance and discrimination in whatever form they encounter it in life. Simultaneously, activities and action plans are designed to make the students more compassionate and understanding and to accept and respect diversity in races, cultures and religions, to create better lives and better futures than they have inherited.

The main topics covered by the ASP classes for age group 10-16 years are:

  • Culture of peace.
  • Environmental protection.
  • Rights and responsibilities of children.
  • Role of women.
  • Gender issues.
  • Literacy.
  • Racial discrimination.
  • Population control.
  • Cultures and religions of the world.

The approach used is multi-dimensional. Two basic approaches are employed:

  1. Brainstorming: While introducing the topics there is a lively interactive lesson of brainstorming. Students question, reason, think, argue and understand the issue under discussion. This continues for at least two sessions when inputs and researched materials are presented to the class by the students.
  2. Written and oral expressions: Students engage in dialogues, make speeches, write articles, stories, poems, plays, and illustrate their thoughts. They also use drama and puppeteering to give visual form to their individual and collective creative skills.

There are exhibitions of the written work, art exhibitions, live dramatic performances, puppet shows, simulation and speeches on the issues covered. These are performed for their own school, for other schools, for the local community and for invited parents and guests.

Materials developed by GSR: Multi media package.

  • Learning modules for teachers to promote the culture of peace.
  • A publication of the students' work entitled "Tolerance is Compassion, Understanding and Empathy."
  • Video films of presentations and annual day dramatic productions.
  • Audio cassettes of songs on social issues.

Problems and difficulties faced:

  • Teachers are not sensitized to feel the need for human rights education in the regular school curriculum;
  • They feel it is a subject to be covered only by teachers of civics and social studies or ASP as in GSR;
  • Teachers are not skilled and trained enough to incorporate human rights education in their disciplines;
  • Inadequate time is a great constraint in an overloaded curriculum;
  • As it is a subject which cannot be examined and graded, the teachers are not enthusiastic about it and give human rights education a low priority;
  • Difficulties are faced in getting motivated teachers who can inspire students for human rights education;
  • Efforts to network with other schools are thwarted due to lack of resources required for networking;
  • Very thought provoking and inspirational projects of human rights education cannot be documented effectively and shared with other schools due to inadequate resources;
  • There is no financial support from any organization to help GSR to network with underprivileged and public sector schools.

The Sri Lankan presentation consisted of the experiences of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) and the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, University of Colombo.

Ms. Nimalka Fernando of MIRJE explained that human rights education in Sri Lanka takes into account the socio-economic and political problems as well as the ethnic conflict in the country. Human rights education in schools has two dimensions: peace as a human rights issue (especially the rights of a minority community in relation to the majority community), and the general human rights violations spawned by the national security ideology of the government. Development of modules and methodology started during the early 1990s. MIRJE embarked on a human rights education program in schools in 1997. It is focused on the human rights and humanitarian laws including the Constitution of Sri Lanka. There is also a Quiz Program organized in schools in several provinces. The whole program has been approved by the Ministry of Education and is being implemented during school hours. The activities are treated as events of the school. Thousands of school children participate in the Quiz Program. They study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the provisions of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Students who have taken university entrance exams and have free time before entering the university participate in the activities. The program is brought to different places. Students in places that have normal conditions and those with problematic conditions (such those in conflict areas) are equally covered.

The issue of human rights is discussed in the context of the political and economic situation in the country. Thus, in places where there are no teachers in the schools, children have to understand that it is not their fault, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. Questions on why there are teachers in one area and few in the other area will have to be answered on the basis of the prevailing political situation. And these are related to the issue of rights. Human rights education deals with a complex situation. It goes beyond human rights laws and constitutional provisions. It goes into the issue of justice and injustice. It goes beyond values and morals because it talks about empowerment. It is hoped that the students will be empowered to become better citizens with rights consciousness, capable of dealing with police brutality and military abuse in their day-to-day lives - empowered to deal with ground level situations. MIRJE plans to have stronger human rights component in the school curricula. It wants to prepare its own curricula before linking up with the Ministry of Education to avoid the latter from merely hijacking the program.

Teachers need training. They need to be empowered to think differently on the ethnic issue. They need to understand that human rights values and standards are important. This is important because teachers, in hearing human rights, think it is something alien, or western as generally propagated by the government. Human rights laws need to be recognized by them as necessary to create international standards.

Students who participated in the 1997 program become facilitators. Those who come from peaceful areas go to conflict zones and act as facilitators in the activities for students. There are therefore student-to-student interactions (the role of students as facilitators becomes necessary also since there are no teachers in some places.)

The lack of full-time staff limits the implementation of the program. Also, materials have to be translated into Singhala and Tamil.

Mr. Ravindra Fernando of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, University of Colombo presented its program. He said that the program was conceived with the grave human rights situation in the country in the early 1990s as the background. He explained that the program has three important factors:

 a. knowledge: the program should enable students to acquire knowledge on the subject of human rights and its local and international legal framework;
 b. attitude: it should provide the necessary experience to facilitate attitude formation in order to develop behavior patterns which promote the protection of human rights; and
 c. social responsibilities: it should also provide opportunities to bring about the realization of people's obligations to protect not only their rights but also those of the others.

Course materials were developed under the following themes:

a. environmental issues and human rights;
b. agricultural economy and human rights;
c. peace-keeping officers and human rights;
d. child rights;
e. women's rights;
f. consumer rights;
g. public service and human rights (human rights in relation to government administrative offices, public health service, etc.).

The program has a number of activities that become the main media for communicating to other students the findings of the research. They are the following:

a. writing an essay for the school's wall newspaper;
b. composing a speech to be made at the meeting of a school society;
c. producing a short play for the school's concert;
d. re-creating human rights related incidents through art or sculpture;
e. reproducing the experiences through songs, poems or short stories.

The competitive nature of education system in Sri Lanka prevents the students from devoting more time to the program.

At present, the program covers 57 school centers that receive practical training. Each center has 60 student-participants (for a total of 3,420 students). Human rights day celebration is being done in one region of the country as a pilot project. There are also 40 community centers. Each center adopts a trainee school that has not been selected before and introduces human rights to Grades 11 and 12 students. 97 schools are targeted for 1998. The centers also commemorate human rights day with their respective trainee school.

Five representatives of different institutions from various parts of India presented the Indian experience. Mr. Henri Tiphagne of People's Watch-Tamil Nadu said that, apart from being involved in human rights education in schools, his organization is also involved in human rights monitoring and making interventions before both national and international human rights institutions. The organization's human rights education program started its first phase in 1997. It covered 9 schools for girls in Chennai city with students between 13 and 14 years of age. Of these, 49% have a family income of less than 1,000 rupees per month.

The following were the obligations required from them:

 a) Each school shall permit every student of 9 Standard (all sections) to undergo the human rights education program.
 b) Each school shall select the required number of competent teachers (from their school) to handle the human rights education classes.
 c) Each school shall allot a minimum of two classes per week and a total of 60 classes between 15 July and 10 December 1997 for this human rights education pilot program.
 d) Each school shall willingly accept to send the selected teachers for a "General Orientation on Human Rights" of 3 days followed by a "Curriculum Training Program" of 2 days. The school shall bear all expenses related to the travel of the teachers for these trainings.

The modules handled during the program were:

a) Human Rights - An Introduction;
b) Discrimination - Caste;
c) Girl Child; and
d) Wife battery.

An assessment was made after the first phase was completed. It was found out that there were some positive results. It affected the families of the girl students who apparently were not quiet when at home. The schools have informed the parents that human rights education will be adopted and they have the freedom to take their children elsewhere if they cannot accept the program. A lot of bridges have been built within the families. Many of the students have to deal with real life problems such as caste or gender discrimination at home.

In response to the Minister of Education's appeal to involve more schools, the second phase of the program was organized. This involved 100 schools in 10 districts with 25,000 students, 350 teachers, and 50 resource team members. A variety of schools were selected - public (45%) and private schools. The program began with students in Standard 8. Another program will involve students in Standard 9. Each involved three hours of classes per week. District education officials were extremely cooperative.

The program aims to promote human rights education in the whole education system and not just in the 136 schools. Thus members of the legislature, education officials, revenue officials and others are made to know the program to help the government adopt a human rights education program in schools.

We learned a few things from the experience. For one, the organization is convinced that the teaching community is the best suited to take up human rights education in schools. Teachers found out that they become friends of the students and are able to discusss various problems at home and in the community. This is a big change in the student-teacher relationship. Also, students in their classes were more eager to speak out, in other classes where the teachers have different attitudes. The teachers became known as human rights teachers (and also as People's Watch teachers).

Students also participated in another program where they concentrated on a specific theme for a month and made a presentation in a fact-finding report fashion. They were able to show that they have the capability to do the work to the point that it became difficult to find judges who knew more about the themes than the students!

Ms. Jeroo Billimoria of MelJol Hum Bacchon Ka in Mumbai city made the next presentation. She explained the program of pairing schools - elitist private schools and public schools. The students get together and work on some activities. After several sessions, it was realized that gender, or class, or caste discrimination does not exist in the mind of the students. This realization became the basic principle of the group.

MelJol is a field action project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (a social work college). It works in the cities of Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and a few other places. It tries to experiment on rights education and try to build up a theory. But it was found out that due to the heterogeneous character of India, what applies in one place does not necessarily apply to the other. This is the reason why the projects spread out to different areas.

There are three programs based on the three different types of schools in India. They are:

a. Twinning Program - pairing private and public schools;

b. Private School Program - mainly for teachers who are trained at cost. Textbooks for private schools have been developed. The books present rights in the form of games, songs, quizzes and stories in both Indian and global contexts (depending on age group). Teacher training workshops are held to introduce the books.

c. Municipal Schools Program --­ where leadership skills are created among the students. School-level panchayats2 are created for this purpose and various campaigns launched such as on anti-tobacco chewing and on the water supply. Rallies and media exposures were done also. In the rural school program, a rural level approach involving health officials, panchayat people and other people in the community are being involved as part of the school system.

There are many problems in the program, namely:

a. Teachers' involvement. Students have so many things to do that they do not have time for extracurricular activities. Thus activities have to be done between classes. But in the long term, the education system has to allow more time for children to do extracurricular activities.

b. Parents of children in private schools do not want their children to go to slum communities, or interact with rural or urban poor children. The program moves only in schools where the principals are supportive.

c. The media is also a problem. Children are bored by what they see on television. They do not also want to go to the park or go out and explore. This situation is bad because it will produce a generation of 'couch potato' children. This is not just in private schools but also in public ones.

d. The program is not seen as important because it is not a graded subject. Grades become the most important.

e. Funding agencies are not interested in supporting human rights education and thus the program has to proceed using its own means.

f. Difficulty in getting the experiences documented by the teachers. The inadequate documentation results in very little sharing among the schools.

Mr. Arjun Dev, National Coordinator of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) presented the formal position of NCERT on the national system of curriculum. The social science courses (civics, history, economics, and languages) aim at the development of a critical view of past and present society. NCERT would like to provide a framework for the curriculum in which human rights should be an important part. What is suspected to be totally lacking in the curriculum is a sharp focus on human rights issues in the actual classroom transaction. And this is where the role of the groups involved in human rights education in schools becomes extremely important. But whatever the curriculum may state, or whatever the textbooks may mention, it will not register or get internalized unless it is backed up by a proper transaction of the curriculum in the classroom and the kind of activities mentioned by the groups in the workshop.

One of the findings in the surveys of NCERT is the absence of extracurricular activities in all types of education in India. Though one of the main objectives of science education for example is to promote a clear scientific view of nature, extracurricular activities for this purpose are not held. Science education is limited to learning of proper answers needed for examinations. The experimental part of science, its questioning part, does not really become part of the science educational culture.

With regard to the teachers, there is indifference on some of the issues. In some states, some teachers are found to be incompetent and do not really know the subject. On parents, in a survey many children said that their parents would like them to do well in science and mathematics. They do not want the children to get involved in human rights, etc.

Despite all these limitations in the formal education, it is very heartening to know (via a survey) that the understanding of students on the major issues of human rights is perhaps comparable to, if not better than, other countries that participated in the survey. We are particularly happy to know that the students' sense of identity is hardly related to religion. They claim to know certain rights because they learned them in the study of the classics. They also claim to know the International Convention on the Rights of the Child because of the school. Mr. Dev hopes that they are telling the truth.

Mr. Balkrishna Kurvey presented the experience of his organization, the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament and Environmental Protection (IIPDEP). He said that India needs human rights education because human rights is linked to peace, stability, development and democracy. If human rights is dishonored in the country, the biggest democracy in the world will be in danger. He mentioned that he once had a talk with some Naxalite members about their use of terrorism. They said they had to use violence because "their human rights was killed." Without respect for human rights therefore there can be no peace.

Human rights educators are very powerful because they can pressure the government; they can create awareness among the people. In Maharasthra, supposedly the most socially advanced State in India, the school curriculum has few direct references to human rights, most are indirect references. In Standard 9, there are only two pages of direct references to human rights (based mainly on constitutional provisions) in the textbook. How then can the direct references to human rights in the curriculum be increased? A regional seminar for school teachers in the primary, secondary and university levels regarding this matter was organized by IIPDEP. The teachers came to the conclusion that human rights is very much required and should be included in the textbooks. In this way, human rights principles will be learned and become part of their sub-consciousness and ultimately guide them when they assume responsible positions in society.

The participating teachers noted that opportunities to introduce young people to more abstract notions of human rights can occur in the secondary school, in particular in such subjects as history, geography, social studies, moral and religious education, language and literature, current affairs, economics and civics.

It was unanimously decided to include human rights in the curriculum, that is:

  • Human rights as a special subject or as a part of civic education;
  • Human rights be discussed in all subjects; and
  • Human rights as part of extracurricular activities such as in clubs like Amnesty International Groups.

In order to include human rights in the school curriculum, schools will need to adopt the following policy goals:

  • to make teachers understand human rights and the way it can be applied to the life and the curriculum of the school;
  • to get human rights accepted as the basis of relationships in the classroom and the school;
  • to have human rights concepts taught systematically;
  • to have school rules and disciplinary procedures based on principles of fair treatment and due process;
  • to have school policies promote equality and avoid unjust discrimination on the basis of gender, race or disability; and
  • to make teachers develop a global perspective.

These recommendations, among many others, were submitted to the Maharashtra government. The Minister as well as the Director of Education of the Maharashtra government promised to include some of the recommendations directly in the schools (via school textbooks) in primary and secondary levels.

Mr. Kurvey appealed to the non-governmental organizations in South Asia to pressure the governments to include human rights in the formal education system.

Mr. C.H.K. Mishra presented the National Council for Teacher Education's project on human rights. NCTE has the responsibility of overseeing the quality of teacher education and standards. It has succeeded in stopping rampant commercialization of education through correspondence courses that are actually not teacher education courses. At the National Human Rights Commission in 1995, NCTE launched the project on human rights education for teachers. The requirements for the education on human rights of teachers are minimal ­ some are not familiar with legal rights and they do not have any idea about human rights. A preliminary survey was made which shows that very few teachers could name the human rights declaration of 1948. That was the baseline on which the project was started.

An introductory program for teacher educators must be held first. The 'cascade approach' (i.e., training some key resource persons and then letting them train some more resource persons who will in turn train the teachers) has been adopted. The arena for teacher education, although the country is very vast, is very small. Two thousand teacher training institutions exist ­ but this is a finite population. If they can be sensitized somehow, a teacher force of 6 million can be ultimately converted into messengers of human rights education. In 1995, a 9-unit self-instructional course material was developed using the modular approach. Orientation sessions were held for the training of 100 key resource persons. Another resource material is a monograph on human rights and Indian values written by a former Chief Justice of a State High Court. Videos were produced which are being shown on television. But these videos are mainly distributed to teacher training institutions so that they can control the viewing of the videos much better than through the television. Presently, the videos are being distributed to about 400 teacher training institutions for primary education at the district level. There is good feedback thus far.

The translation of the modules into other Indian languages is now beginning though the work is difficult because of the nearly 2,000 mother tongues. Also, it is very difficult to communicate sensitive messages. They should touch the heart.

Further, co-curricular and extracurricular activities have to be organized in the communities to encourage interaction with the teachers. They should not be lectured at. "Let us feel human rights" is the thrust for these activities.

Many of the key resource persons have taken their own initiative. They have not asked for money from NCTE. This is a great signal to a government organization that arrives late and is always surprised at things, as the Tamil Nadu experience shows, and had become mere suppliers of coffee and cups of tea. The NCTE has been getting requests for workshops. They want resource persons, not materials, not even the video. Thus our exercise of enthusing and developing initiative on the teachers is perhaps succeeding. This is the NCTE approach.

It is hoped that after one more year of activities, the entire arena of teacher education institutions would have been covered. Along with the 400 teacher training institutions for primary education at the district level, there are also about 200 institutions for advanced studies on education. There are likewise centers for teacher education adopted by the government. They receive grants, they have knowledge and skills but they do not know what to do with new systems. Thus they need to be sensitized so that they will ask for new knowledge. Otherwise the entire effort will be in vain.

Mr. Mishra also pointed out that rights is always projected as asking for something ­ like Oliver Twist’s "Give me, give me. Some more, some more." This should be supplemented by fundamental duties. There must be similar materials on duties. The attitude is not just to receive but also to give. Teacher educators talk about the rights of the child, the rights of the parents. The teachers then ask: What about our rights? The teacher educators do not know what to say. Thus NCTE wants to have another set of materials (modular materials, films and panel discussions) for fundamental duties. This process has already started and may be finished in four months’ time. Mr. Mishra promises that they will be much more impressive than the present materials.

Mr. John Almeida presented the experiences of the Justice and Peace Commission in Mumbai. He said that Justice and Peace Commission is basically an NGO that coordinates community centers. It works with 15 schools and 5 junior colleges. It has human rights courses for students as well as for teachers. Since the courses are not part of the curriculum, there are problems. The courses are at the mercy of the principals who permitted them to be taught in the school. In schools where the principals are open to the idea of human rights, the courses are taught well.

The courses begin with case studies, posters, and other usual teaching aids. There is also a handbook for animators. For the teachers, they are given an orientation. They also help develop materials.

Several problems being faced are the following:

 a. non-inclusion of the human rights courses in the curriculum;
 b. getting the involvement of parents (to support at home what the children learn in schools); and
 c. lack of personnel (especially for monitoring schools, doing follow-up activities, as resource persons).

Children are not only taught about the problems regarding human rights but also about the steps that can be taken to address them. Children are very creative in finding ways of resolving the problems. On the issue of the right to a healthy environment, for example, the children can think of ways of recycling materials. In one case, the children in one school decided to deal with the problem of people in the nearby community using an open public space near the school as a public toilet. Instead of confronting the people to tell them to stop doing it, the children went to the government and asked for the regular clean up of the area, and provide toilets for the people.

The issue of right to health was also taken up. The children studied the food that they eat such as Uncle Chips, Coca Cola, etc. Questions are asked: What is the nutritive content of these foods? Who is promoting them? What are the alternatives to them? On the issue of saving, the questions asked are: What are the things that people throw away? What are the things that you can do away with? In response to these questions children may say they would like to eat more nutritious food and use less plastic bags in buying things. The children, on the issue of saving, would like to save money during the school term and use the bank interest on the savings for their education. On the issue of representatives of children in the school administration, they ask why should the representatives be chosen by the principal. The children and the teachers went to the principal and suggested that the representatives be elected. This also brought out the idea of responsibilities of the representatives and how to make sure that the representatives live up to their responsibilities. This is part of the educational process, part even of the idea of challenging those in authority. And these questions go beyond the schools and onto the government at various levels.

Comments on the Presentations

Based on the presentations, it seems that human rights education is a kind of a package deal which is considered positive, progressive, and ideal vis-a-vis the condition of society as discussed earlier (relating to gender, forms of untouchability, child labor, etc.). But human rights education should also be seen in a critical way and we should not assume that the assumptions of the liberal, global society that have been internalized are necessarily the only way to achieve progress. We have to question the mode of development currently being done in our societies. And relate that to human rights education.

Human rights education is schools is in danger of becoming another program rather than a process. This is a difficult area and there are no easy answers. The structure of education itself is problematic. It is not geared toward discovery; rather it is geared toward packaged answers being imbibed by children. Human rights education should become a process of discovery rather than promote the idea of a "teacher with a big T teaching a child with a small c." For it to become a journey of discovery, the participatory method must necessarily be dominant. All education is transformation. If there is no transformation, it is not education; it is merely information. Human rights education should become an experiential process, a voyage of a discovery, something that transforms rather than be just a packaged syllabus.

It has been emphasized that teacher training is an important aspect in human rights education in schools. Several explanations were given on examples of teacher training in Pakistan (Grammar School Rawalpindi) and India (People's Watch - Tamil Nadu). The teachers' mindset has to be changed. They have to be trained on participatory teaching methodologies.

How do we distinguish between general values education and human rights education? The distinction between the two is important because governments may reduce human rights education into values education and remove the terminology of human rights in the process. In response to this, it is said that all forms of education talk about values. Thus the name values education is a misnomer. There is a distinction between personal, societal and national values. In India, a plural society, the most pertinent issue is about national values ­ that is, a set of values that are secular, democratic, egalitarian, and global in a sense. It is important that national values avoid being confined to caste, creed, and heritage perspectives. These have their own place but they should not encourage conflict and generate differences and hatred. Thus a conscious decision was taken on having human rights and national values program. Human rights education is a means of humanizing education.

How has human rights education responded to the international norm setting that is reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Human rights education in schools cannot be a hodge-podge of things because the whole notion of human rights has a political aspect. The issue of human rights is raised by governments to keep their power, to continue to maintain caste oppression and class barriers, and more recently to tie people to global relations. Thus in human rights education in schools, the question is the content of the rights consciousness that is being brought to the school This is the difference between human rights education and other education. Thus it is important to understand the international standards, to see whether our own countries are keeping up with the standards. The existing problems of caste discrimination and so on should not be repeated in the next generation of people ­ the students of today. Thus a look at global situation is also important.

Government education policies will also need to be questioned as far as giving the poor the opportunity to go to school. The withdrawal of government support to education, as a result of the economic policies of the government, is creating a wider gap between the rich and the poor. This issue should also be covered by human rights education.

Mr. R.V. Pillai, who chaired the afternoon session, pointed out several issues for consideration by those involved in human rights education in schools. He said that human rights issues have to be addressed beyond the teaching curriculum of the schools. Ultimately, human rights education is not teaching human rights by way of books, courses in the syllabus, examinations, etc. Human rights teaching basically means teaching values which students have to respect throughout their lives. Looking at the Indian society, he suggested that human rights education in schools be complemented by human rights education for the illiterates which constitute about 40% of the population (around 400 million people by the turn of the century). This can be true also of other South Asian countries. How can we ensure that children who are imbued with human rights values are able to exert influence on their families? How can such education impact on child labor? Will parents disallow it? These questions are important to consider in discussing the content of human rights education.

Another issue is the milieu within which students have to learn human rights. Education is not just about increasing literacy but making students understand the society in which they live in, and having them develop certain habits. This can be exemplified by the habit of people regarding hygiene especially in public places. Human rights issues that students have to face in their own society must also be taken up.

The third issue relates to the mindset of teachers. When the NHRC started its program on human rights education, it gathered people in New Delhi for a meeting about this program. One school principal said that there is no use teaching human rights to the children unless the teachers are adequately motivated and trained. If the teachers still think in terms of social hierarchy ­ the rights of the rich person's child and the rights of the poor person's child, the children of the higher caste and lower caste, and treat them differently ­ how can we expect the children to grow up in an environment that respects the human rights of everybody? Thus, the first thing to address is the changing of the mindset of the teachers.

The fourth issue is the generation of the required political will and commitment to get the policies and programs on human rights education implemented. Are the political leaders committed to the concept of human rights? Do they display the commitment? The NHRC for example has to communicate with the political parties to set the examples of human rights commitment. They are advised to set up human rights cells and adopt a code of conduct for their public life.

The last issue is about the role of the media in human rights education. He stressed the importance of using the media to educate people about human rights because of its powerful influence on people's behavior. Media has to become more interested in covering human rights issues.

Mr. J.S. Rajput, Chairperson of the National Council for Teacher Education, chaired the session on the summary of country presentations. He mentioned that in one UNESCO meeting on teaching of science and values in Pakistan in 1982 that he attended, the participants from 15 countries listed around 40 roles assigned to the teachers. They realized that the list would require a superhuman being. The list was shortened into 7 items that are still quite fascinating. Way back in 1982, there had already been discussions on focusing on learning and not on teaching. But this has not been realized in the education system because the earlier practice has been so much entrenched in the system that breaking it is very difficult.

Any document that has been published in India, and perhaps in other countries as well, during the last two decades will always say that focus must be on learning rather than on teaching, teachers are only facilitators, they are only partners. The change however has not taken place at the desired pace and level. But there is change. There are institutions, organizations, and schools where this is taking place. This change is reflected on issues like untouchability. It does exist in India, but the approach and attitude towards resolving the issue have changed tremendously. It is evident in schools, institutions, and working places. And perhaps this is the only way out to get rid of the issue than anything else.

Human rights education should somehow be converted into a movement. There should be a crusade to convert it into a movement. All of us are practically doing it whether we use the same terminology or not. Our intention is to get it internalized into the system so that nobody thinks that human rights is something to be dealt with separately. The NCERT has received a lot of requests to include in the school curriculum about 31 issues ­ traffic education, consumer education, etc. What can NCERT do? Should there be separate chapters and topics for the issues? Take the case of values education. Teacher training institutions would have books with a chapter or two on values education. In the examination, the question is, how values can be inculcated? The content of the chapter will be written as the answer and that is the end of values education. Nobody thinks about what happens during the academic session in the institution on how the school/institutional culture nurtures values or does the reverse.

Certain studies bear out the failure of educational institutions to nurture values. Thus countering teacher bias is a very important. It has to be thought about. If countering this bias has to become a process, other sectors in society have to be called in. It has to be a crusade. It should not become just a mere chapter in the books. And we have to see that the rights of the child, rights of the girl child, and human values can be protected. These days parents force their children to begin their education in any institution which does not use their mother tongue. To me it appears that this is a violation of the rights of the children. A child has right to get basic education in the mother tongue. This applies to children in tribal areas that have their own dialect. They are immediately forced to learn a regional language. Disastrous results come out if there is no slow and systemic transition to a language that is not the mother tongue.

While the concepts of equality, human rights etc, are being discussed as part of education, we should not forget to reach out to the group of illiterates. The human rights movement must go to them also. Maybe the illiterates are more educated about human rights and duties than the educated person. With the program on universal elementary education, human rights education as a movement should give the opportunity for the teachers to rise to the occasion.

Summary of the Country Presentations

As a way of summarizing the country presentations, the participants agreed on the following main commonalities, problems and areas for development of the on-going initiatives in South Asia on human rights education in schools. An additional component on the vision for human rights education was discussed.


Most of the human rights education programs in schools have teacher training programs; produce materials such as textbooks, have participatory exercises, games, audio-visuals; focus on certain social sectors (children, urban poor, women, etc.), and discuss human rights issues such as the rights of the child (universality, indivisibility) and pluralities/diversities (multi-ethnicity, multi-religious/faith, multi-lingual societies).


Several of the problems identified can be classified according to the following:

  a. In relation to the government
  1. bias against human rights education as shown in the national ideology, influence of political party in power;
  2. lack of knowledge on human rights by government personnel;
  3. lack of recognition of problems in schools by the government.
  b. In relation to the schools
  1. tension between the pedagogical process and the human rights education program;
  2. weak motivation as well as biases of the teachers against human rights/human rights education;
  3. large number of students per class, and short class hours;
  4. low pay of school teachers;
  5. lack of resources within the schools;
  6. contradiction between the ideas learned in school and the experiences at home.
  c. In relation to the society
  1. weak motivation of parents in supporting human rights education;
  2. cynicism in society about human rights.

Areas for development

The present experiences in implementing human rights education in schools point to several matters that require more development. They are classified under the following headings:

  a. In relation to the government
  1. advocacy with the government for support for human rights education in schools;
  2. formal recognition of the work of non-governmental organizations by the government by
     - having links with national institutions (national human rights commissions, national education research and training institutions, etc.)
     - collaboration between the non-governmental organizations (participating in the present workshop) and the national institutions; and
     - having better communication with heads of the national institutions
  3. review of the school syllabus using human rights perspective, and incorporation of human rights in the school curricula;
  b. In relation to schools
  1. development of materials for teaching human rights;
  2. development of training methodologies;
  3. employment of modern communication technologies;
  4. documentation and assessment of human rights education programs;
  5. creation of systems to protect teachers who teach human rights;
  6. getting the support of teachers' unions and parents-teachers associations; and
  7. adopting a system of working with the media to promote the need and work on human rights education in schools.

Vision of human rights education

Human rights education is a joyous experience of understanding the issues in society. It is not a neutral education process but based on social analysis. It springs from a perspective of hope with a focus on the testimonies of fellow young people (children and youth) who did something good about local situations. It is built upon the day-to-day experiences of hope.

The learning process therefore is experiential covering the situations of both the personal and societal. It employs process-oriented methods (and thus avoids lectures and emphasizes interaction among the students).

It aims to develop critical thinking, self-criticism, and the skill of problem-solving based on real situations.

The teachers of human rights are also learners. They do not provide pat answers. They are role models.

Presentation on Human Rights and Culture

Mr. Siddharta of Pipal Tree made a presentation on the relationship between human rights and culture. Entitling the presentation "Cultural Renewal and Human Rights," Mr. Siddharta presented the dual facets of the traditional and the modern/global cultures. With the traditional cultures, there are a number of negative dimensions:

  • feudal, hierarchical, authoritarian
  • caste
  • forms of slavery and racism
  • patriarchy
  • fundamentalism/primordial identities
  • local 'imagined' communities

There are likewise positive dimensions:

  - cooperation

  - consensus
  • largely bio-centric (many places are sacred)
  • non-chemical agriculture - no technology for destroying the earth
  • techñe (Raymundo Pannikar's word) - non-accelerated form of system, contrasting with technology which means accelerated system
  • non-accelerated pace of life
  • holistic, with strong reservoir of energy - all traditional worldviews are complete worldviews in the sense that people can feel that there is a purpose to life, that actions are governed by certain values, laws, religious conviction. People are part of a whole. There are a lot of people who believe that it is difficult to live coherently without coherent set of values, without some kind of holism which guide their actions and beliefs.

Modern/global culture has equally dual dimensions. The negative dimensions are as follows:

  • competitive (dog-eat-dog, win-lose) - people all over the world see competition as a value; there is tremendous pressure on the children from the parents to do well; those who cannot do well are humiliated either by the parents or the school system. Cases of psychological problems and suicide among students occur as a result. This is linked to the value given to the economy.
  • class-based - social classes are present though they may not follow the Marxist paradigm.
  • dominance of technology - there is a break in the social pyramid due to technology and capital. With new technology, for example, just 20% of the workforce may be able to produce 80% of the commodities and services. The rate of technological advancement will make many people redundant. But the irony is that making the 80% of the workforce redundant will lessen the number of consumers for the goods and services. This is happening in Europe now where those who are 40-45 years of age who lose their jobs are unlikely to get a new job. For human rights education, it is important to look at the direction to which the world is heading - the major changes that are taking place.
  • labor-capital contradiction is no longer a major issue
  • acceleration (fast lane, fast food, fast sex, instant nirvana) - everything can become a commodity.
  • homogenization (imposed from above)
  • annihilation of choices - a US agricultural company has produced a gene that will limit the capability of a plant to reproduce - it is only for one time use - this is called termination gene. To plant anew, a new seed has to be bought. This is part of globalization. At the same time, needs and choices are created/manipulated through the media. And people take these needs for granted when they may not be really needed.
  • strong state (imagined community) - the media helps people imagine about a state although people do not really know every part of the territory and the people covered. We are emotionally wedded to the notion of the state and we have to defend the state. Most states were created only 50 years ago.
  • global (imagined community) ­ the electronic media is helping create this imagination.
  • anthropocentric - the earth is made for human beings, thus they can change the earth as they wish (in contrast to the traditional view that the earth is the mother who should not be exploited, sold or used. Human beings and the earth are interconnected).
  • fragmented - in post-modernism, anything can be reconstructed, everything is a human construction and nothing more than that.

The positive dimensions however are as follows:

  • win-win - people have little choice if we see what is presently happening in Russia/Indonesia/South Korea etc.; the course of development toward destruction of the earth forces people to think of having a win-win situation.
  • international solidarity - with the help of modern communication, people from different parts can help each other. This can be seen in worldwide campaigns.
  • quick and multiple local-global articulation, interaction, negotiation.
  • global ‘imagined' community - people's horizons are getting wider, people feel that they are part of a global community even if they are in a remote area. This somehow weakens the nation-state. This serves the interest of multi-national and transnational corporations. Financial systems are set to allow money to flow freely from one place to another.
  • multiple identities (rather than only one or two) - e.g., Chinese diaspora - migration is increasingly becoming part of modernity; significant sections of the population are shifting (mass migration). This is not bad but nation-states frown on this.
  • hybrid/creole (because of resistance from the periphery)
  • new notions of community (telephone community, internet community)
  • bio-centric
  • a new holism.

Traditional societies have, by and large, culture and religion as being central areas while the domain of power/politics and economics being restricted areas. The dominant social influences are cultural and religious in nature. In modern societies, there is a complete reversal of this order.

Culture is not merely a traditional dimension. It is part of the modern society, post-modern society. It has positive and negative dimensions. Human beings cannot live outside of the cultural matrix. Part of human rights education is to find out what are the positive and negative dimensions of culture (traditional, modern, hybrid). In many ways, the people participating in this workshop are creoles because we are using languages which our parents or grandparents do not use. We are communicating with societies all over the world. We are eating food which are different from our usual food. This hybridization is positive hybridization.

Small Group Discussion Reports

The participants were divided into two small groups and discussed strategic issues affecting the implementation of human rights education in schools program. The issues were classified into four, namely: vision for human rights education in schools, program, methodology, and support structure. This format follows the discussions held in the first subregional workshop held in Surabaya, Indonesia.

The session on the presentation of small group discussions was chaired by Mr. Sankar Sen, former Director General (Investigation) of the National Human Rights Commission.

The first group made the following report:

a. Vision of human rights education in schools

The major human rights trends in the countries in South Asia were first identified to become the basis of the vision of human rights education in schools. This vision is seen as a compulsory component of a human rights education in schools program. This vision should look at:

  • the concept of freedom and its development
  • the concept of pluralism (pluralism being a very common element in each country in South Asia coming out in different forms such as ethnic pluralism, religious pluralism, etc.);
  • the concept of democracy;
  • the concept of peace.

Special groups such as religious and ethnic minorities, tribals, dalits, women and children which are also concerns of the participants' institutions should be mentioned. These special groups have to be considered in the human rights education program in schools.

The major issues to be focused on in the program would consist of religious intolerance, effects of globalization, the process of development being undertaken by governments and its impact on the poor, different notions of equality specially with reference to women, peace with special reference to the nuclear issue, and subregional cooperation beyond governmental sector.

The vision of human rights education in schools should consider all these elements.

b. Program

Any program for teaching human rights in schools should be of a 3-year duration (Standards 7,8 and 9) for students of age 11-15 years. These year levels comprise the final years of schooling in the five countries in the subregion and thus important years before students go to the next school levels (Standards 10, 11 and 12) which are devoted more to academic excellence. Schools, however, would not be happy in having human rights education during these two year levels since it will be seen as interference in the academic work of students.

For students in Standards 10, 11 and 12, there are different avenues such as human rights clubs, competitions, etc. through which they can express themselves.

The language of communication for teaching human rights should be the mother tongue or in a language that the students feel at ease with. But there may be students who come from other places and who may be familiar with another language. Another material in an appropriate language may be given to them.

There should be at least three hours (three classes) per week or 75 classes per year for human rights education.

The program has to be incorporated in the formal education system. Activities should be held within and outside campus. The activities start inside the campus and then go out to the community. They are held within school hours and are credited as part of the teachers' hours of teaching.

Ideally, the teaching of human rights should be integrated in all the subjects rather than as separate human rights education class. But there are many very practical difficulties. There are questions about making and approving the class syllabus which, if human rights is to be incorporated in all the subjects, should normally be approved by a national syllabus committee or other processes.

There is an example, however, from Pakistan that can remedy this problem. Pakistan Studies and Islamic Studies (Islamiyat) are compulsory subjects in the Pakistani school system. Pakistan Studies is basically about the history and geography of Pakistan. If the schools are able to work with the education board on Pakistan Studies they may be able to incorporate human rights in the subject.

In the case of India, each department in the government wants the schools to incorporate certain issues that will only increase the contents of the subjects much more. Thus, instead of incorporating human rights in the subjects a better way is to have a separate class.

Alongside this idea, there should a continuous monitoring of the subjects to ensure that they are not taught in conflict with what is being taught in another class on human rights. Likewise, books and other materials for these subjects will have to be reviewed for this purpose.

There are two non-negotiable aspects of a program on human rights education in schools. One is a compulsory general orientation program on human rights for teachers to bring them closer to the vision of human rights education. Unless, the teachers share the vision, it is difficult for them to teach human rights in the classroom, handle the students, and handle the challenges that the students would be bringing forth. Students may, for example, come up with questions or personal experiences that the teacher may not be able to respond to.

Two, there should be a compulsory and very detailed documentation of the entire experience. And a process of continuous assessment of the program should be undertaken to see whether progress on the learnings obtained by the students is taking place.

In the implementation of the program, there is a need to have the involvement of non-governmental organizations to avoid limiting the program to a small area and losing the vision of human rights education in schools.

The content must draw from the identified vision of human rights education in schools. The text has to be in simple, easy to understand language. The following are suggested to be included:

 a. relevant laws and constitutional provisions, international human rights conventions;
 b. current news items;
 c. South Asian subregional context;
 d. experiences and biographical notes from South Asian countries especially of the youth and children (The experiences of the youth and the children should be given particular importance.)
 e. historical events (national and subregional) that are relevant to the subject matter;
 f. work of students - essays, poems, art works dealing with human rights.

All these will reflect on the special groups mentioned in the vision of human rights education.

The first part of the content will deal with the concept of human dignity, and the positive and negative aspects of humanism.

c. Methodology

The methodology must be strongly participatory. In the experiences of the group members, sometimes the students' experiences are so intense that they suddenly become silent while taking part in the participatory process. In this case, silence is in itself a form a communication. The teachers therefore will have to be very sensitive to the silence of students. Being participatory means being sensitive to what the students can and cannot communicate. In the latter case, the task of the teachers is to help them communicate.

The methodology should start with the real experiences of the children in the classroom, at home, in the neighborhood, and in the community. Such experiences should be facilitated to come out.

Role play and theatre presentations should also be used.

Exposures to the community should be included to link the discussions inside the classroom to the realities in the community. Just as discussions about child rights inside the classroom have to extend to the family.

There should not be any examination about the students' learning on human rights. But there is a need for an assessment of the teachers by the students. There should be a minimum set of criteria for the assessment. This is done not on the basis of what the students can reproduce but on certain basic values that are learned by the students. This is more of an assessment by the students of the teachers so the latter can see how much they have been able to accompany the students in the process of learning.

It is not important that the students are able to quote specific articles of the constitution or the law. It is important that the students are able to behave based on certain values. If the students are able to respect non-discrimination then the teachers should be happy. This type of assessment is very important to support the idea of experiential learning and to fulfill the vision of human rights education that has been set.

It is also understood that there are certain attitudes and skills that the teachers have to possess to be able to handle a participatory methodology. Not every teacher can handle human rights education. There are some cases where there are no teachers available to handle the class on human rights so much so that the 'jack of all trade' teachers in the school are given the task.

Thus it is necessary that only teachers who passed through this orientation process, who are open to acquiring special attitudes and skills, and willing to perform special functions, are asked to teach human rights.

d. Support structures

It is necessary that teachers have support from friends outside the school. In one case, these friends are called resource team members. They are organized friends who are competent to support the teachers. They may be academics, lawyers, senior NGO people, former teachers, and people involved in human rights work. A variety of people have to be in this group.

This group can support the teachers who will be confronted with a number of questions that they may not be able to face. Girl students may express cases of sexual harassment. The teachers may not know how to proceed from this situation. A special counselor may be needed. Cases of battering of students' mothers at home that may turn out to be getting worse may be raised. The teachers may go to the school heads who will tell them to shut up. The support group may come in to help the teachers in the process. Without the help from friends outside the school, the teachers as well as the program will collapse. However, it should be stressed that the support group members do not go to the school to supervise or preach. They are the friends of the teachers who will support them in various ways (such as providing information on where assistance can be sought).

Another support structure is the Parents-Teachers Association. This is important because of the need to reach out to the parents and the community to solicit their understanding and support. With the link, parents and the community as a whole will be able to understand why the students are behaving differently, speaking differently, having different concerns. This link is also another form of organized support system that is required in the program.

Other organizations in the community can also be tapped. Those organizations that have specific competencies related to the program will be good support organizations.

Media exposure is needed. The media should be able to propagate human rights education as a different type of education. The more the media (print or broadcast) brings out the concrete experiences happening inside the classroom the more support for the program multiplies.

Teachers' unions are powerful bodies to work with. If teachers are unionized, they are closer to human rights. It is easier to work with them to make other teachers accept the need for human rights education. And if human rights education will become compulsory in all levels of education then the support of teachers' unions will go a long way to make the government support the program.

Groups, institutions and research centers working on children's issues should be open to the teachers so that they get materials (charts, videos, etc.) appropriate for the classroom.

It is important to have a definite advocacy program with the government for the adoption of policy in support of human rights education. The experiences on human rights education in schools should not be seen as isolated experiences that governments could be proud of and then leave them as they are. These experiences have to be translated into a policy on human rights education - a government policy, say in the case of India, that the NHRC, NCTE and NCRT will support. These experiences should not be bracketed as good experiences, with good words being spoken about them and left like that. But they should seen as programs that the governments in the sub-region will closely monitor, offer suggestions to and finally lead to a government policy. In the case of India, there is a national children science congress. It is suggested that perhaps it is time that national institutions think of a national children's human rights congress which will convene a few hundred children who have passed through human rights education. This can be transformed into a South Asian congress that will make children build South Asian solidarity.

Exposures of human rights teachers to other experiences. This will help teachers feel solidarity with other teachers who have the same experience. The teachers will be exposed to the fact that they are not isolated in their experiences. Teachers from different countries visiting other teachers, having dialogues with them will allow the sharing of experiences.

Comments on the Presentation

Mr. Sankar Sen raised certain concerns that should be considered by the participants:

a. South Asian identity - instead of viewing the problem from the narrow context of India, or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, we have to think in the sub-regional context. This is an excellent idea because South Asia today is one of the most backward regions of the world. As far as literacy is concerned, people in South Asia are deprived of education on a staggering scale. Any human rights education program should keep this in mind and see what can be done to resolve this problem.

b. question of duties - in devising human rights education syllabus for South Asian countries, the question of duties should also be included. What kind of duties do the students and the teachers have to perform? Mahatma Gandhi used to say that "I learned from my illiterate but wise mother that every right accrues from a corresponding duty well done." Duty consciousness also should form in any human rights training program or syllabus. Only if you are conscious of your duties can you learn to respect the rights of others.

c. problem of teachers - in most places there is a lack of good teachers. Less qualified teachers carry the wrong message to the students. Sometimes training institutions become the dumping grounds of people who are not able to find jobs elsewhere. The success or failure of any program will very much depend on the quality of the teachers and their exposure and commitment to the cause of human rights. In a discussion in NCRT, it was pointed out that the teachers did not want school children to know the rights of the child because they may cause indiscipline in the schools. The existence of this kind of ambience has to be kept in mind.

d. practical experiences - there is a need to present in the workshop what exactly are the problems being faced, what kind of instruction is being imparted, and what kind of roadblock is there. This is necessary to have practical difficulties and experiences as bases for making suggestions that have a pragmatic touch. Experience sharing is more useful than just general ideas.

The second group made the following report:

a. Vision of human rights education

The vision of human rights education needs to be presented in the context of a larger framework. The concepts mentioned by the first group have also been discussed but they are seen as fragments of a larger vision.

  Two concepts are being proposed:
  1. universalization of human beings - this means moving away from the human-centric perspective to one that views human beings as part of a larger whole - a minor component of the larger universe. In this sense, egocentrism is downplayed.
  2. universalization of human rights - though human beings constitute a minor component of the larger whole, we have to do what can be done best within our framework of understanding as human beings. We need to spread the concept of human rights in every way possible. Under this concept, the idea of democracy, participation and freedom of expression, and human worth and dignity would be subsumed.

b. Program

The contents of a human rights education program in schools must be tailored according to the cultural needs of the people. What is culturally specific to one country or region of a country might not be culturally specific to another country or region of that country. Any program should also be age-group specific, tailored according to the level of the students.

The content of the program should cover the following issues:

  1. ethnic conflict - every region in the South Asian countries has a lot of ethnic conflicts;
  2. conflicts based on religion - politicians set two groups of people against each other in the name of religion. In human rights education, all religions should be accepted as different ways of life, and to be able to live with each other every person should be able to practice religion according to his/her own belief;
  3. problem of caste system;
  4. gender discrimination including discrimination against the girl child should be given a lot of consideration. Girl children are the ones deprived of education and other opportunities. Thus programs should ensure the participation of girl children. The rights of the girl child under the Convention on the Rights of the Child therefore have to be included;
  5. child labor, which on the long term has to be abolished, has to be discussed;
  6. exploitation in the name of tradition;
  7. housing/habitat problem - including the environment;
  8. problems of disabled people;
  9. dignity of labor;
  10. refugees and the internally displaced (including those who migrate from rural to urban areas);
  11. deprivation of land rights of a large number of people in the region;
  12. abuses of police such as custodial deaths and torture;
  13. massive illiteracy.

These issues reflect the problems that are existing in South Asia as a whole.

c. Methodology

Though there is a tendency to introduce a separate human rights subject, there is likewise a tendency to include the issues listed above to the existing textbooks. This later tendency however has the practical problem of getting the proper textbooks printed. Thus, wherever possible, the teachers may include human rights in their respective subjects. But on the whole, there is need to have a separate subject because the focus then becomes much clearer.

It is also suggested that examinations will not be required in the study of human rights.

Informal system of education (folk media, songs, dances, dramas, videos) will have to be used also. Emerging information technology can also be added.

d. Support structures

1. government structures

The involvement of the Ministry of Education is important not just to get some resources but also to facilitate the introduction of programs or changes in the curriculum.

Through South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), initiatives can be undertaken in support of human rights education. This support is important because many human rights educators do not get support from the government because of the non-acceptance of the idea of human rights. (Sometimes the mere mention of the words human rights create a problem for human rights educators.)

In many countries, it is always difficult to get the Ministry of Education to act. But there should be continuous effort to get support and involvement from the government agencies.

Support from the national human rights institutions should also be sought. They are at least more receptive to this program and can make some support available.

Teacher training is important to change attitudes and to increase motivation and enthusiasm of the teachers. In human rights education, the teachers are the ones who make the difference. Recognition of the work of the teachers would, in itself, give them a big boost. Projection in the media about the work of the teachers is one way of giving recognition.

Development of materials and community outreach activities are also important. Joint program with the communities—such as garbage disposal activities, awareness campaign for a clean environment—are examples of community outreach activities.

Support from elected representatives in the government should be sought. They can form a pressure group in the government that can definitely provide more recognition to human rights education in schools.

2. non-governmental structures

Support from the following can be sought:

  1. local NGOs - their help can range from moral support to materials sharing.
  2. foreign NGOs - they are interested in promoting human rights and would like to have local NGOs as partners. Their support should be considered as expression of international solidarity. They can help in having exchange programs in South Asia and other capacity-building programs.
  3. religious institutions - since religion plays an important role in society especially for the disadvantaged people, it is a support system for these people.
  4. Parents-Teachers Associations and the community.
  5. trade unions (and not just teachers' unions)
  6. business houses.

Exchange programs within and outside the country can be developed. Funding support is needed for this program.

Research, evaluation and follow-up are needed to further develop the existing programs.

Support from the United Nations agencies that deal with human rights education is crucial.

There is a need for a South Asian vision of human rights education. Ten years ago, SAARC adopted a policy on child development. In this context, problems can be tackled together. A common agenda on human rights education program is thus very important for a sub-regional effort.

National governments can be compelled to adopt an agenda on human rights education based on the SAARC policy declaration on child development. The role of NGOs in making this happen is required.

Support for human rights education can be done at three levels:

  1. government;
  2. NGO level;
  3. government-NGO.

Each sector (government and NGO) will be focusing on their respective areas. Governments, for example, would not be good in teaching about human rights relating to torture and custodial deaths. But NGOs would be in a much stronger position in taking them up.

Training at all levels for NGO workers, teachers, bureaucrats, policymakers, and elected representatives is important. Those in government especially need training since the mere mention of human rights is considered to be an anti-national act.

The panchayat system in South Asia is also important in delivering human rights education programs.

Comments on the Presentation

By and large, resources are not a problem. The problem is the presence of committed people. If there are people committed to a particular cause, resources come. Instead of thinking of funding and resources, we should try to create better human resources for the purpose of promoting human rights.

Cultural institutions should be looked at intelligently and imaginatively to be able to become effective support for human rights education. There are examples of actual use of culture to be able to promote the interest of disadvantaged people (e.g. the case of Nadars in Tamil Nadu in India who created a new myth of origin—making them descendants of the sun god—to help them raise their status in society.) The issue of caste, for example, can be seen in light of human rights principles. Instead of saying it is bad or dangerous, caste can be questioned on whether it is hostile to other communities, or hierarchical. Or, whether untouchability is practiced by caste. Caste is undergoing a change in India. From being a hierarchical, interdependent system, it is moving into a situation where each caste is functioning like ethnic communities. Each caste competes with the other castes which is not in the old system. The dalits, for example, are now organized and compete with the other castes.

Values that are within the community can be used to deal with the present problems. Human rights education can bring out the fact that people in the community have values which people such as technicians who develop industries do not have. And these latter people can learn much from the former such as in protecting the environment.

Festivals can be given new meaning. Diwali, for example, is a symbol of the victory of light over darkness. For children, can Diwali be seen as something more than merely lighting firecrackers or as victory of light over darkness?

In human rights education, we cannot just talk about laws and principles. In practice we have to embody these principles. In doing so, we have to work at the cultural level, we have to create new myths, new interpretations. Only then will embodiment is possible.

Anti-human rights propaganda, whether from caste, patriarchal, or government sectors, have to be critically examined.

The issue of revision of school syllabi and textbooks, in relation to culture, becomes important since there are many materials with wrong and anti-human rights content. Revision of the materials is necessary.

But an experience in India shows that education agencies do not want to support new ideas (such as discussing human rights from the cultural perspective) coming from non-governmental organizations since the system is already set. There are designated curriculum and textbook writers and thus there is resistance. The system is so entrenched that breaking into it is difficult.

A look at the human development report on South Asia by the late Mahub ul Huq will show the human rights problems in the sub-region. South Asia has the most number of illiterates in the world, and the problem of gender is serious.

As to women's rights, there is a big battle to face. The patriarchal system in South Asia is still very much in the society. Thus there will be problems for women in South Asia in using culture to promote human rights. While at the philosophical level there are ways of getting support for human rights, there are problems at the practical level. The practical level should be considered therefore as a problem area.

One of the objectives of human rights education is to debunk these historical-cultural practices which are against human rights. Those practices that are supportive of human rights should be used. There are strong cultural programs that have to be brought into human rights education. Culture should not be seen as something to be afraid of. In fact, in the West, a lot of good things during the last 200 years of its history have come out from the cultural domain. The principle of 'selective resistance, selective assimilation' by Gandhi should be employed in the process.

Human rights education should make boys and men discuss the problem of culture in relation to women. They have to discuss this issue in the context of the impact of culture on the humanity of men. The patriarchal culture also victimizes men. A man may be good but he may not be able to accept women who work. He is not being dishonest. He is being honest to his cultural conditioning. The question of women is not only a question of liberation of women but of liberation of men too. (But there is a comment that men who are well-read and travelled have no excuse for not knowing about the patriarchal culture.)

In Sri Lanka, a review of the school syllabi was made a few years back to take away contents based on religion and culture that are promoting intolerance. In social studies subjects, issues regarding environment and broader social justice have been included. But this is not to say that the revision has been complete.

In Pakistan, while there is no formal education in schools called human rights education, there are subjects called Islamiyat (religious study) and social studies which take up principles like diversity, tolerance, accepting difference, living together, caring and sharing, looking after the disadvantaged, etc. But the government has not formally adopted a human rights education program.

The ambience built up in the schools and the message of cultural tolerance, respect for traditions of each religion has to be considered.

A SAARC framework on human rights education is good but it should avoid promoting cultural specificity in appreciating human rights. One way is to refer to existing UN documents on the subject.

In India, values education is made compulsory at the national level. But there are no proper syllabus and listed activities. The teachers do not know what to do. Often, the class is then given as a free period, or the students are asked to recite Sanskrit slogans or to sing songs. Thus a 'backdoor' entry (where activities in school are held without naming them as human rights education activities) is taken where teachers are trained on how to teach human rights. But this system has its own limitation. (Based on an experience in Bangladesh it is asked whether discussing human values is a backdoor way to human rights education, and whether using the words human rights will make much difference.)

Also, there is a question about the biases of the people in the education institutions. The NCTE booklet on 'Indian Values' for example do not represent the varied cultures in India. It mainly relies on Hindu culture.

Teachers, being bogged down with so many things to do, have no clear agenda. Teacher training may provide them with guiding principles. Giving modules to work on is not effective since teachers would complain that they do not have enough time to prepare for their classes. Thus teachers should be given manuals, teaching materials, list of activities, and resource materials.

There is a great need at the ground level for legitimizing the existing initiatives on human rights education. Teachers need to be constantly reminded that they are doing legitimate activities. Officially, national education institutes should legitimize these initiatives. Without legitimizing these initiatives, there cannot be cooperation between governments and non-governmental organizations.

Education researchers should be involved in human rights education programs in schools. They can help in documenting the initiatives at grassroots level in such a way that the national education institutes will recognize them. Research is valuable in advocacy work and in making the initiatives more widely known. Documentation of the students' and teachers' reactions is important.

Advocacy is very important and non-governmental organizations have a large role to play in this. Advocacy on human rights education in schools cannot be left to the national institutions alone. Advocacy work can be done at the local level - with the local legislators, as well as with the other levels of decision-making. Any decision by the government to make human rights education compulsory should be matched by support from the other levels of decision-making up to the local level. There is a comment however that state level advocacy, in the case of India, is more important since state governments prescribe and print the textbooks. Education is under the responsibility of state governments.

Next steps

The workshop participants agreed to continue the process started in the workshop by doing the following activities:

(i) Documentation and research on current curricula from the perspective of human rights education;

(ii) Coordination with other non-governmental organizations and other institutions working in this field;

(iii) National level meetings in 1999 to discuss curriculum change from the perspective of human rights education. Two meetings can be held - one for teachers and another for students respectively. A national level workshop can also be held for organizations involved in human rights education in schools prior to the meetings for teachers and students. A national team will have to be formed to coordinate the meetings;

(iv) Advocacy for curriculum change by 2001. Prior to this, a study on which approach to take - human rights incorporated in the existing subjects or as separate subjects - have to be undertaken. This study will also contain the experiences collected through national level studies. This will then become the basis for a sub-regional advocacy.

It has also been agreed to have South Asian level activities. It is proposed that a South Asian meeting be held after six months from the time of the workshop. There is an idea to have a training activity for the sub-region. A committee can be formed to gather the various experiences in South Asian countries and prepare for a teacher training. The collective experiences can be put in one material that can be lobbied with governments in the region.

A Network of South Asian Educators in Schools can also be formed. This network can facilitate interaction between groups and countries.

The following groups have been identified as key organizations for the national activities:

 a. Pakistan - Human Rights Commission of Pakistan;
 b. Nepal - Informal Service Sector;
 c. Sri Lanka - Centre for the Study of Human Rights, University of Colombo and the Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality;
 d. India - Centre of Concern for Child Labor;
 e. Bangladesh - Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee/Justice and Peace Commission.

Resources needed for the follow-up activities can be taken from whichever source such as the SAARC institutions, United Nations special agencies and programs, and private funding agencies. HURIGHTS OSAKA can help by providing information about possible sources of funds. The Alliance for a Responsible and United World has some resources that can support regional meetings. It is interested in supporting a South Asia meeting by the year 2000.

National level meetings can be held to prepare for the implementation of the ideas presented. And an immediate follow-up meeting will be held on November 23-26, 1998 in Osaka, Japan that will discuss the more concrete follow-up activities.

Closing Session

The workshop was formally closed with a final presentation by Dr. B.N. Chattoraj of the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science (NICFS) where the workshop was held. He mentioned that NICFS has been teaching human rights to members of the police who come to the institute for training. He was followed by Dr. Kamal Kumar, the Director of NICFS, who expressed appreciation to the participants and HURIGHTS OSAKA for holding the workshop in the institute despite its limited experience in hosting regional workshops. He cited the fact that the people's consciousness on human rights, whose concepts are actually found in the centuries-old scriptures and teachings in the Asian region, is on the increase. He sees this situation as a good sign of the development of society. All agencies of government have to observe human rights and the school particularly is a good cradle for nurturing human rights consciousness among the children. Human rights education is therefore very important.

Dr. Dong-hoon Kim, Director of HURIGHTS OSAKA, expressed thanks to the participants for the successful holding of the workshop. He looked forward to having more activities as next steps.

Ms. Najm-ul-Sahr Atta-ullah of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed in turn the appreciation of the participants for being part of the workshop.


1. Swaraj is defined as self-rule or independence.
2. Panchayat means community council. In the context of schools, it is equivalent to student council.