Education as a meaningful experience requires an endless search for new and better knowledge. It has no boundaries other than the human beings' capacity to be creatively and persistently curious. Human rights education is one such field that requires the same element of endless curiosity in understanding human rights both as an indispensable element in people's lives and as a tool for social change. Hopefully such curiosity will translate into courage to take a step towards realizing human rights in the very concrete realities we are all in.
Initiatives on the teaching of human rights in schools in Asia show such a search for ways and means to make education meaningful not just to people's individual interest but to society as well. They invariably try to link human rights to the actual lives of the students.
In this light, a needed task is the gathering of experiences in the teaching of human rights to students at an early age. Various perspectives on the role of education in societal welfare are applicable to human rights education in schools. New methodologies are being introduced to ensure that the understanding of human rights will affect the students' behavior within and outside the school. Nevertheless, while people involved in this field have somewhat varied practical experiences, they speak of the same basic educational principles and at the same time define common grounds.
HURIGHTS OSAKA has been attempting to capture the rich experiences so far obtained in implementing human rights education programs in schools in Asia. The workshops it had organized during 1998 have resulted in a better understanding of the existing experiences. Many issues affecting human rights education in Asian schools have been identified. Many ideas in support of the development and spread of human rights education in schools have also been discussed. Enough space has been delineated for information, material and expertise exchange among institutions within and among countries.
The idea of having a series of workshops on human rights education was mooted (and adopted) at the September 1997 regional meeting on human rights education held in Bangkok, Thailand. The Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA) organized it in collaboration with the Child Rights Asianet and the Asian Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education.
It was agreed that the workshops would be important means of promoting human rights teaching in schools in Asia. They would also facilitate the gathering of various organizations in the region that are involved in the teaching of human rights in schools, and in exchanging information and experiences between them. The objectives of these workshops were identified to be as follows:
Hoping that a greater understanding of these experiences will create more interest and support for human rights education in schools, the results of the workshops held in Surabaya (Indonesia), Seoul (South Korea), New Delhi (India) and Osaka (Japan) are documented in this publication. Much of the debates and the agreements during the workshops have been included to provide a faithful record of the diversities and commonalities among the views expressed. The idea is not to paint a rosy consensus on every issue but to show that we are still, and should still be, developing the programs for human rights education in schools. The last word on the subject is still far into the future.
Time and again, the idea of supporting the growth of human rights education programs in schools is questioned. The objection is largely based on two considerations:
a. non-formal education on human rights is the most needed form of human rights education because it responds to pressing issues in society. It directly serves the interest of members of society who are disadvantaged or oppressed;
b. schools do not cover many children in countries where poverty is at a significant level. The needs of children who are not in school cannot be served by focusing efforts on schools.
There is no doubt that the objection is valid. Support for non-formal human rights education program has to be sustained, even increased especially in countries that are becoming more open to the discussion of human rights. Non-governmental organizations that are at the forefront in this field need adequate assistance not only on financial terms but in terms of legal and governmental policy and program support.
The focus on schools however does not play down or take away attention from the non-formal human rights education initiatives. Aside from recognizing the already existing programs among schools in several Asian countries, it clarifies the relationship between the formal and non-formal education systems, and how they can interact toward a common goal.
What is significant in human rights education in schools is in the area of school-community dynamics. Human rights education programs in schools are increasingly looking at how classroom knowledge is practiced not only within the limited confines of the school premises but in the community where the school is. Formal education in this sense is not a separate world from that of the community.
Additionally, students who graduate from schools invariably occupy influential positions in government, business and other institutions in society. The level of their human rights consciousness directly affects human rights realization like well as suppression. They therefore need to be given attention just like the human rights education programs directed to the communities of the poor and the disadvantaged who are most vulnerable to human rights violations.
Seen in this light, human rights education in school is not irrelevant to the basic program of non-formal human rights education. Properly linked, it is an important resource that can add support to the efforts to resolve issues in the community.
As will be shown in the discussions below, human rights education in schools is human rights education in and about the community. In the context of human rights education in the formal education system, the school is, or should be, relevant to the community.
Nevertheless, the schools have their limitations. They are not easily adjustable to the changing needs of the community because of the system of administration under which they operate. Governmental educational systems are not in many cases susceptible to influences from the community. They in fact constitute the most common obstacle to having any form of education on human rights in the classroom. Also, in many countries, there are not enough schools to cover many communities.
Schools also represent in many instances resistance to ideas such as human rights. Teachers as well as parents view education as a tool to prepare the children's future role in the political and economic organs of society which hardly concern the betterment of the disadvantaged sectors of society nor the basic human rights problems of children.
But because the schools will always remain an important institution in molding minds and behavior of young people, they cannot be ignored. Their support for community concerns should instead be enhanced. Human rights education in schools is one way to achieve this end.
HURIGHTS OSAKA's program on human rights education in schools is not therefore limited to the development of resources for the schools. It is aimed at creating a greater role for human rights education in schools in the life of its immediate community and of the country as well.
The least that HURIGHTS OSAKA can do is provide an opportunity for various institutions (non-governmental and governmental) to meet and explore ways of mutually supporting their work.</>
The existence in several Asian countries of a number of activities on human rights education in schools justifies the effort to create a forum for understanding and exchange of ideas and experiences in this area. The people involved find such a forum useful in reaffirming the validity of their decision to influence the schools in teaching human rights. They likewise discover that they basically face the same problems in introducing the teaching of human rights to students in a classroom setting.
In many societies in Asia, education is a primary tool toward a better life. And in the context of modern societies, education is a key to survive in the complex world of politics and economics. Such environment creates an elitist oriented education system. Only those who have received diplomas from well-reputed schools are given the chance to get the best positions in government and private enterprises. The costs of such quality and elite education are thus high. Students should be the brightest in the class or the richest to become eligible for better higher education.
Competitive education is thus the rule. Consequently, those who cannot compete are treated badly. They are second-class students whose future may not be so bright. In many cases, they are discriminated against. Students who are poor and sometimes belonging to certain ethnic groups comprise the majority of the students who cannot compete.
The competitive nature of education is largely created by the emphasis on certain areas of education, such as science and economics. Other areas are deemed not so useful in equipping students with the technical knowledge needed to compete in school and later on in society. Social science seems to be a neglected area of study.
Another important aspect of school life is the authoritarian attitude among teachers and school administrators, which is reflective of the traditional mode of education. Discipline is a very important component of traditional education systems. And it is largely taught by strictly enforcing rules, allowing harsh punishment for misbehaving students, or discouraging students from expressing their opinions on school matters. Such an environment goes against the very values that human rights embody.
Under this condition, can human rights education find a place? Will it be given due importance?
This is a real challenge for human rights educators. The first task is to find the relevance of human rights education in the total education of students. This can only be achieved, however, by promoting an education that goes against the very elements of competitive education such as the need for students to develop their sense of self-worth as human beings just like anyone else. Their development as human beings therefore is not simply determined by their ability to get the highest grade in science and mathematics or to be able to memorize facts and figures, but by their critical thinking, their ability to relate to the community, and their holistic personality and broadmindedness, among other traits.
Human rights education faces an uphill climb in the education system. But current societal conditions especially in light of the Asian economic crisis show that mere technical abilities are not enough to secure the future. And human rights values certainly provide an alternative to the present trend toward egocentrism and consumerism. No one is secured in a system that thrives on competition and greed.
Human rights education grew as a response to problems faced by groups in society who are disadvantaged or discriminated. Human rights education in schools can be traced to the time when schools began to teach the ideas of democracy, social justice, national independence and the right of people to their own (human) dignity and well-being.
But subsequent human rights education programs in schools have to deal with more concrete issues such as the discrimination against the Buraku people in Japan, or the abuses that children suffer in the hands of parents, relatives, family friends, teachers, school heads and strangers. Human rights education eventually has to deal with real issues that students face in school, family and society.
There is a general assumption, however, that the idea of rights is taken up in relation to the usual school subject on national constitutions and laws. This is true in most Asian countries. The Vietnam example of school subjects on citizens' rights and obligations is illustrative of a school curriculum that may include the study of human rights. The appreciation, however, of the subjects on national constitutions as versions of human rights subjects does not appear clear in most cases. There seems to be a lack of conscious linking of these constitution-derived rights to the international concepts of human rights. Human rights education, therefore, as discussed in the workshops presented in this publication refers to the explicit development of subjects in the curricula with the aim of promoting human rights concepts. They may be using various terminologies but they generally aim at developing consciousness among the students on the value of human rights.
Human rights education in schools has steadily grown in the 1990s as both non-governmental organizations and government educational institutions develop more programs. But the number of countries where these initiatives exist are less than half the total number of countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. And the number of programs in each of these countries varies from a program in one school as in Pakistan to a widespread program in various schools as in Japan. One has existed since 1965 while many others started only a few years ago.
The area for development of human rights education in Asian schools therefore remains wide. The experiences so far obtained are valuable bases for review and change. Due to this situation, the workshops held by HURIGHTS OSAKA provided an avenue for discussing the further development of these programs.
From the varied experiences in the region, certain commonalities are found to exist. They provide a basis for greater regional collaboration in terms of exchange of information on related experiences as well as proof that human rights education in schools develop in parallel ways despite differences in situations of schools and society in general. Some of these commonalities can be stated as follows:
a. Approaches to the teaching of human rights - Existing experiences seem to point out the approach of using values or morals as starting points for discussing principles similar to human rights. The Indian National Council for Education, Research and Training's national values and human rights program, and Indonesia's Pancasila Moral Education and Civics are examples of these programs. In a more general sense, the values education program adopted in several countries with the support of UNESCO is likewise of the same mould. There are however new initiatives which try to integrate human rights in more subjects in the existing curriculum as shown by the program of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports of the Philippines with its teaching exemplars for several year levels and various subjects.
b. Integration and Separation approaches. There is no consensus on what constitutes a better approach to including human rights in the school curriculum. Government institutions are more likely to adopt the integration approach by developing teaching modules and materials. This can be seen in the cases of India, Philippines and Indonesia. But many programs being implemented by non-governmental organizations tend to advocate either a separate subject on human rights or as an extracurricular subject. In either case, the main consideration is the feasibility of introducing the subject without causing additional burden on the teachers. Most non-governmental organizations do not generally have influence in the schools as much as government education agencies do. They can generally only persuade schools to agree on having either a separate human rights subject or as extracurricular activities.
c. Materials developed. Materials such as sample lesson plans, teaching guides, reference materials, textbooks, audio-visuals, training modules and other school-related materials have been produced in various ways by most groups involved in human rights education in schools. The dissemination of these materials however is not always widespread. Government education agencies have existing distribution channels such as the teacher training institutes and the regular school communication systems. Non-governmental organizations however have normally limited resources and facilities for printing and distributing materials. And only with the support of the national education agencies can they truly disseminate materials to schools widely.
d. Cooperation between government education agencies and NGOs. Many of the programs have the joint participation of government education agencies, schools and non-governmental organizations. This collaboration points to a recognition among these important institutions about the need for their respective inputs in developing human rights education programs. In the past, these institutions have not been working with each other especially in areas relating to human rights. The experience in some countries on these collaborative efforts indicate a common aim at making human rights education a regular part of the school curriculum.
e. Governmental mandate. Many countries have official, governmental authorization for the teaching of human rights (or equivalent programs) in schools. The national human rights institutions in Indonesia, Philippines and India have a clear mandate to promote human rights and they have been actively involved in the programs on human rights education in schools. In other countries, the teaching of morals and civics provide the official, governmental authorization for the teaching of human rights (or related principles).
f. Teacher training program. One of the key elements identified as indispensable for an effective implementation of human rights education program in schools is the training of teachers on the knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant to the teaching of human rights. Both government education agencies and non-governmental organizations implement teacher training programs on human rights. Cambodia, Philippines and India have programs that try to reach as many teachers as possible. Pilot training programs can be found in Indonesia and Thailand.
g. Human rights issues. A more common human rights topic is the rights of the child. There is likewise a stress on the basic characteristics of human rights such as universality and indivisibility; and its nature. In several programs, issues relating to plurality and diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion/faith, and language are discussed.
The problems encountered by most institutions involved can be categorized into three areas - government, schools, society. Following are the problems presented according to each category:
a. In relation to the government
b. In relation to the schools
c. In relation to the society in general
In view of the problems, limitations and other difficulties faced as well as the potential growth of the programs on human rights education in schools, a number of areas have been identified which require further development. They are classified under the following headings:
a. In relation to the government
b. In relation to schools
c. In relation to negative environment in society
The discussions in the workshops identified important components that ideally should constitute a national program on teaching human rights in schools. These ideas combine both the experiences so far obtained and the plans that the institutions involved have been trying to adopt. A full human rights education program in school should have the following components:
Human rights education is a joyous experience of understanding societal issues. 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.
A basic goal to achieve is the promotion of human rights education at all levels and forms of education aiming at providing knowledge about human rights. This includes fostering attitudes of tolerance, respect, solidarity and responsibility. And developing awareness of the ways and means by which human rights can be translated into social and political reality at both national and international levels.
A human rights education program in schools should contain the following:
The introduction of each topic will be adjusted to the level of the students as well as the subject in the curriculum in which human rights is being taken up. These topics are therefore to be covered during a students whole school life.
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 emerge.
Process-oriented approach is the most appropriate methodology for effective human rights education. This approach is described as having the following characteristics:
The methodology may comprise of the following:
e. Teacher training
Teacher training has been identified as a prerequisite to any effective implementation of a human rights education program in schools. Not all teachers can be assumed to be prepared to handle human rights education in view of the desired knowledge, attitudes and skills required. Training on human rights education for teachers should include the following components:
Teachers can also be taught about support mechanisms, such as:
- Networking/experience exchange among teachers, non-governmental organizations, and government institutions;
- Use of media facilities (for communication and popularization of human rights using multi-media, theater and arts);
- Collaboration with other social institutions (religious or traditional institutions);
- Cooperation with parents and the community which can include funding support, and involvement of young people in their capacity as real parents; and
- Award/merit system to improve the political climate supportive of human rights education in schools.
Human rights education program in schools should not exist in isolation from the very institutions that promote it and provide support for its continuation and development. Judging from the experiences in several countries in Asia, there is a need for support structures which should be composed as much as possible by school administrators, school related organizations (such as Parents-Teachers Associations) government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other institutions in society. These support structures can provide a range of measures regarding the adoption and implementation of human rights education programs in schools.
Governments should have the determination to support human rights education by:
a. Making human rights education a priority of government leaders;
b. Providing for appropriate policy, personnel, budgetary and administrative support;
c. Creating governmental inter-agency system which includes national human rights institutions if there are any;
d. Providing legal mandates that require the teaching of human rights in schools.
Continuing pressure on the government to pursue human rights education is needed. Help from the non-governmental organization sector is necessary in this regard. Broad networking between government and non-governmental institutions can facilitate support for human rights education in schools. It can also bring together supporters of human rights education in schools from within the government.
To create a better political climate, the following are suggested:
Support from schools may consist of the following:
Support from the non-governmental organizations can be the following:
Support can also be sought from other organizations such as:
In each of the sub-regional workshops, participants expressed the need for more exchange of information, materials and ideas. The workshops provided the opportunity for many of the representatives of institutions involved in human rights education in schools to meet and gather information on similar programs within their own country or outside.
Equally distinctive is the almost similar proposition of developing sub-regional activities such as research and training that can help existing programs. Thus the call for an ASEAN information exchange system and for a Network of South Asian Educators in Schools concretely represent this yearning for more collaboration in the future.
These networking plans, if fully implemented, will help existing programs develop in line with the ideas expressed on what constitute a human rights education program in schools. At the moment, linking up with all institutions in the region doing related activities is a big step.
On another plane, the need to debate and further study the effect of existing cultural values on the understanding of human rights is clear. There are many who agree on facing the issue squarely since it impinges on the rights of children, especially girls. There is a view that reinterpreting established traditions and philosophies in the region is necessary due to the changed context of society. Confucianism, for example, has to be reexamined in consideration of the modern societies in Northeast Asia. Hinduism, Buddhism and other traditional beliefs in South Asia have to be reviewed since the issue of Hinduism's role in Indian society is being debated. This process of re-examining and reinterpreting existing cultural values in Asian societies will positively contribute to a proper appreciation of human rights.
The foregoing presentation on the main highlights of the series of workshops on human rights education in Asian schools clearly explain the complexity of institutionalized programming of teaching human rights in schools. But these ideas are not meant to be adopted within a short period of time knowing the difficulties faced by institutions already involved in this field. They are goals to be worked on over time. But as emphasized in the workshops, human rights education in schools will not succeed unless various elements of the support structure in a specific area take part in the program in one way or the other.
In short, the burden of human rights education should not be left to the teachers or schools alone. There are many stakeholders in the society who should be involved.
It may be good to set as an ideal the development of students as human rights advocates who will be able to act within their own world (family, school and community). Human rights education must therefore project the idea that human rights is as normal as any human attribute is. But human rights needs explicit expressions of support in view of the many obstacles it faces in translating it into reality.
For the institutions involved in human rights education in schools, one other goal is to spread these experiences to other Asian schools. National and regional level activities will play a big role in this regard. In another way of applying bibingka* approach, national level activities will complement regional activities in a mutually reinforcing manner.
At the end of the day, the question foremost in the minds of those who are involved in this field is: Are all these efforts worthwhile? Let it be repeated that education, especially on human rights, may have its most significant impact on students long after they have left the school when they are very much immersed in the daily grind of life. Human rights education, just like any educational endeavor, is partly a matter of faith. It requires a certain level of trust on the students and the teachers that their human rights education experience (intellectual and practical) will guide their lives afterward. A planted seed bears fruit after it has grown. But the nourishing of a seed for it to grow healthy is in itself an experience that benefits the surrounding environment and the planter.