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Schools and Human Rights: A Question of Change

The first in a series of subregional workshops in Asia on human rights education was held in Surabaya, Indonesia from 14-17 May 1998. Organized by HURIGHTS OSAKA, the workshop was called the Southeast Asia Subregional Workshop on Human Rights Education in Schools. HURIGHTS OSAKA co-organized this workshop with the National Commission on Human Rights-Indonesia and Universitas Surabaya.


For the Southeast Asia workshop, representatives of various institutions in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam were invited to share and discuss their experiences. The invitees were composed of school teachers, representatives of teacher training institutes and education department of governments, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations.

Further, although a few decided to withdraw at the last moment due to the political situation in Indonesia, the majority of the invitees were able to attend the workshop. Universitas Surabaya has to be thanked for enabling the workshop to be held and for ensuring the safety of the participants.


The workshop started with a presentation of experiences from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia. The presentations highlighted the basic features of existing human rights education programs in the schools.

The Indonesian report was presented by Dr. Djoehana Oka of the Institut Keguruan dan Ilmu Pendidikan (IKIP Malang). The report from this teacher training institute focused on what is perceived to be the only avenue for teaching human rights in Indonesia - the Pancasila Moral Education and Civics (PMEC). This is a compulsory subject offered in all educational levels. It serves as a means :

  1. to develop and perpetuate the Pancasila's values (belief in God, humanity, unity, democracy and social justice) in everyday life;
  2. to develop in the students an awareness of his/her rights and duties as well as obedience toward laws and regulations, and a noble disposition; and
  3. to develop an awareness and understanding of interrelationships among the family, schools, society and the nation.

At the primary school level, for example, PMEC is taught by discussing 90 topics generally classified into: love, compassion, humanity, care, and the public interest. Around thirty percent of the topics under this classification would directly or closely relate to human rights. These topics take about fifty percent of the time for PMEC. A sufficient amount of time can be given therefore to learning human rights values. This led to a conclusion that no special program for human rights education was necessary.

The PMEC, however, is being criticized for failing to stem the continuing tide of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies (torture, illegal detention, disappearances, unfair trials), by employers (violation of labor rights) and among the general public (religious, ethnic and racial discrimination). The prevalence of common jokes, insults and comments directed at those with physical and mental disabilities demonstrate that PMEC has been deficient in changing thinking and behavior.

The main defect lies in the implementation of the PMEC program. The learning process is mainly based on a required textbook and teachers' lecture. There is little effective employment of other teaching methods (such as role-play, simulation techniques and field visits). Teachers have to contend with inadequate training on appropriate teaching methodologies. This situation will affect the teaching of human rights. Couple this with the fear of having the additional burden of teaching a new material. In order to have a human rights education program in Indonesian schools, it is a pre-requisite to have a proper teacher training concerning human rights education that responds to the teachers' desire to improve their pedagogy without having to do additional work in school. Assistance from the NGO sector may be secured in this regard.

Dr. Saafroedin Bahar, a member of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights, added that human rights education for government officials, including members of the police and the military, had just started a few years ago. However, non-governmental and religious groups have been conducting human rights education activities much earlier. He also said that as far as the education system is concerned, the school curriculum is overly crowded and has no room for a new subject. Nevertheless, human rights can be inserted in the teaching of such subjects as social studies, religion and Pancasila. Human rights can also be promoted by creating the appropriate atmosphere such has having posters, leaflets about human rights in the schools. With the present situation in Indonesia, he believes that human rights education is all the more important than ever.

Ms. Endah Triwijati, a fellow at the Center for Human Rights Studies of Universitas Surabaya, supported Dr. Bahar's statement regarding the overloading of the present school curriculum. She also explained that Pancasila, from the perspective of the government, is important in creating good citizens. However, she added, the study of Pancasila can also include the study of human rights, although this is not the original purpose of the subject. Nevertheless, an objective of the Center for Human Rights Studies is to see how human rights can be inserted in the study of the Pancasila since a separate subject on human rights would be very difficult due to the already overloaded curriculum.

The Vietnamese experience was presented by Dr. Nguyen Duc Quang, Secretary, International Education Project of the National Institute of Educational Science in Hanoi. Dr. Quang explained that the education about the rights and obligations of citizens is at the secondary school level in Vietnam. This program has the following objectives:

  1. to provide systematic knowledge about rights and obligations of citizens in different areas of social life;
  2. to educate students about positive attitudes and feelings toward the realization of these rights and obligations; and
  3. to provide training about proper behavior and habits in the process of realizing the rights and obligations of citizens.

The program is based on the Vietnamese constitutional provision which states that:

"The rights of citizens are not separated from the obligations of citizens. The State ensures the rights of citizens, the citizens must fulfill their obligations towards the society and the State. The rights and obligations of the citizens are defined by the constitution and law." (Article 51)

The teaching of the rights and obligations of citizens is done through civics education. This deals with the issues of ethics, economics, law, and government in relation to citizenship.

Traditional and modern teaching methods are employed to develop active involvement among the students. This includes lectures, dialogues, debates, values clarification, role-play, and situation-based discussions. Extracurricular activities are also carried out in the form of a field survey on the realization of rights and obligations of citizens in their local communities. Other extracurricular activities include: listening to lectures and discussions about rights and obligations while learning how to work, visiting historic sites, appreciating cultural heritage, taking part in the protection of the environment, and organizing contests about the understanding of rights and obligations.

Dr. Quang also pointed out that the employment of the methodologies follows certain requirements. These include: focus on the daily life of students, stress on what the 'students need to learn' rather than on what the 'teachers need to teach', development of critical and imaginative thinking, the use of many subjects in teaching rights and obligations, and requiring students to learn by 'doing' rather than merely listening and reading.

He concluded by saying that the effective teaching of rights and obligations requires that the school administrators be aware of the special importance of learning rights and obligations, that teachers be adequately trained, and that reference materials and teaching aids be developed.

The Philippine experience focused on the human rights education program of the Philippine government being implemented by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS). Ms. Nerissa Lansangan-Losaria of the Human Resource Development Service of DECS explained the program. She mentioned that the program has legal bases in the form of a constitutional provision, an executive order, and a department order. All stress the requirement of teaching human rights in schools. But even before the legal mandate of human rights education came about, human rights was taught through values education.

DECS Values Education Program concentrates on the following core values: global spirituality (religious tolerance, fundamental right to have a religion), truth and tolerance (eradication of prejudices, recognition of group as well as individual differences), love and goodness, nationalism and globalism, sustainable human development (development being allowed as long as it is for the good of humankind), health and harmony with nature, peace and justice (recognition of every human person as a special person).

She mentioned that DECS launched a project to develop teaching exemplars that integrate the teaching of human rights into the existing school curriculum. A separate subject on human rights is not necessary since values related to human rights are already taught in various subjects. Besides, the DECS is trying to deload the curriculum because there are too many subjects that teachers have to teach. A separate human rights subject is therefore not feasible.

Human rights are taught in accordance with the learning competencies developed by DECS for each year level. The learning competencies are skills and knowledge that children must learn in each year level. The teaching exemplars provide examples on how the learning competencies can be satisfied in the teaching of human rights. Thus far 125 teaching exemplars for various subject areas - social studies, values education, communication arts (Filipino and English), science, PEHM, music, arts, technology and home economics - have already been developed and piloted in various parts of the country. These teaching exemplars cover the primary school level (6 years) and the secondary school level (4 years). The tertiary level is under another government education office (Commission on Higher Education). After the pilot testing, a series of workshops were held to critique the teaching exemplars and incorporate findings in the pilot testing. With the final version of the teaching exemplars, 9,000 basic educational institutions (public and private) will be given copies.

The teaching exemplars use the 4As approach (activity, analysis, abstraction and application). In this way, students are actively involved in the learning process. In the activity portion, simple games, picture analysis, song analysis, case analysis, simulation exercises are used. For the analysis part, process questions are used to check on the effects of the experience on children, their insights and learning. In the abstraction part, the students' responses are organized with additional input from the teachers to draw out concepts. The application part consists of an evaluation on how much the children have learned.

The teaching exemplars were developed in partnership with the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR). "Write-shops" were held with the participation of representatives of DECS, the University of the Philippines, Commission on Human Rights, and State colleges and universities in the drafting of the exemplars. Representatives of NGOs also participated in the drafting of the exemplars. Concepts such as equality, peace and justice, unity in diversity, environmental protection, patriotism and nationalism, child rights, and basic human rights were the focus of the workshop.

Teachers, because of lack of orientation, did not use the initial prototype materials on human rights that were developed. They did not welcome the teaching of human rights at this point. They complained of receiving very low salary and yet being asked to do so much work. Thus teaching exemplars were developed that integrated human rights in various subjects and in ready-to-use format.

Orientation seminars in different parts of the country were held to introduce the exemplars to teachers, curriculum writers, trainers, principals and supervisors and to initiate a field-testing program (in 60 private and public schools nationwide covering 8,000 students). At these seminars, several topics were covered such as: the foundation of human rights, the need to protect and promote human rights, reason for teaching human rights in schools, the people involved in the teaching of human rights. All in all, 270 school supervisors in values education and social studies have been trained on human rights. They are important players because they were previously hesitant in introducing human rights in the curriculum by not sending teachers to the seminar workshops. They mistakenly thought that human rights education is a way of developing activist teachers.

Seminar workshops are also held on the rights of the child which focused on how to protect these rights, the common violations committed against children (including those committed by the teachers themselves), the punishment for violating the rights, and the agencies which can help children whose rights were violated. These workshops are not only for supervisors but also for teachers because of the violations that have been committed in schools in the form of corporal punishments.

In addition to these seminar-workshops, DECS and the CHR held the Parents, Students and Educators' Forum on Human Rights Education where issues about children and their rights were discussed openly by the participants. In one pilot seminar-workshop in Zamboanga city (south Philippines) the parents and children discussed Filipino family values vis-a-vis human rights, child rights and forms of their violation. The parents in this seminar-workshop accepted the human rights education program in schools. At the end of the forum, the participants drafted an action plan on how to promote human rights in the PTAs, student councils, faculty clubs, school community as a whole, and to their neighbors and community.

Ms. Felice Yeban of the Philippine Normal University (a teacher training institution) pointed out some criticisms on the program. She first noted that the officials of DECS were largely graduates of the Philippine Normal University. The two institutions have in fact been identified as one and the same. She reported that as a teacher training institution, it has a pre-service program on peace and human rights that provides the students with a human rights perspective. In addition, human rights and peace education training for teachers in both public and private schools is being done during vacation periods. A nationwide conference for these teachers is being planned. She believes that in any human rights education program, the key is the teacher.

She also narrated the Philippine experience using the bibingka approach. Bibingka is a rice cake that is cooked by having fire at the bottom and at the top of the clay pot at the same time in order to cook the cake properly. DECS' target of both supervisors and teachers at the same time is a top-bottom approach which will hopefully yield better result. The 'top' level represented by school supervisors and the 'bottom' level represented by the teachers are both subject of the training program so that the teaching of human rights is provided with better support within the schools.

She clarified that human rights education work in the Philippines has a long history. A lot of human rights education work had been done many years before the change of government in 1986. In her university, groups do human rights education work by cloaking it as peace education, moral education, values education, etc. Instead of having human rights organizations, UNESCO club, Boy and Girl Scout clubs are used to avoid restrictions from the school officials. These organizations use non-political terms but in reality their activities are political. These efforts contributed to the spread of awareness on human rights. Thus, when human rights education was adopted by the government, there were already human rights educators who had the experience needed to develop programs. It was not, therefore, an "instant" development of human rights education programs. Also, there are other examples of human rights education in school programs (in addition to that of the government) being implemented by other groups.

But she noted too that what happened in the Philippines as far as the development of human rights education in schools is concerned is mainly due to the supportive legal and administrative systems, and the existing democratic space in the country. Support from the Philippine Constitution, the DECS directives and the Commission on Human Rights helped the programs to develop.

She then provided a critique of the present human rights education program in the schools. She pointed out that the present program is a part of the educational structure of the Philippines that follows a top-down system. Teachers are required to implement set programs determined by higher education officials. There is no room for the teachers (much less for the students) to intervene in the system. It is also observed that there is more emphasis on memorization that hampers real understanding of the subject matter. It is in this setting that human rights education program comes in.

There is an assumption that the teaching of (social science) subjects related to human rights is not problematic. Teaching exemplars, developed by education experts (and later on pilot-tested), are to be used. This is the way integration of human rights is done in the curriculum. But is this the appropriate way? Given the critique of the present system of teaching, how will human rights be taught properly? How can the teachers and the students intervene in the process of learning if everything has been pre-determined? Only by finding out what is going on inside the classroom that ways of teaching human rights can be identified.

If the present system is followed, the teaching of human rights becomes artificial. Human rights is reduced to concepts rather than appreciated as part of actual experience. The government has a set of competencies that it wants the students to learn through the teachers. In the process only the government and the teachers decide on what the students can learn. Where are the students, their experiences? Experiential learning, in this context, refers to the experience of participating in the exercises provided in the teaching exemplars rather than to the understanding of the actual human rights experiences of the students. There is an effort in her group in the university therefore to develop a different pedagogy that they call "transformative pedagogy." She noted that the Philippine experience has reached the stage of "self-critiquing" or assessment of the experience by the people involved in human rights education.

As a brief response, Ms. Lansangan explained that the teaching exemplars are just supplementary materials. The teachers have to apply their own creativity in using them. They can adapt to the suggested teaching strategies and activities that are being offered.

Questions were raised regarding the sample Philippine teaching exemplar that includes a poem about a child who is being loved by the parents. The questions, in sum, point out the possibility that the poem may make some students feel that they are not being loved which can cause despair and thus aggravate their situation. This relates to the situation of students who not only recognize that they have the right not to be in a bad condition, but also understand the difficulty of attaining the realization of their rights. In response, it was stressed that this is a real problem that is not easy to solve. But the teaching exemplar presented, just like the other teaching exemplars developed, are not meant to be rigidly used. They remain as guides for the teachers. Adjustments can be made to suit the particular situation of students. It was also pointed out that the students' despair may not be caused by the discussion on human rights (which make them see the violation of their human rights) but their existing situation. The teacher as a human rights educator cannot solve the problem faced by the students. But the teacher may be able to lead the students into expressing their problems and thinking of ways to solve them. And this is what human rights education is all about. It is an exercise at examining concrete situations in light of human rights principles to be able to find some answers to the problems.

It was added that teachers could also give advice on how to solve the problems (especially in cases where students think that the solution is for them to get out of school and work). The teachers can talk with the parents to discuss how to solve the problems raised by the students. And they can also try to do something about the problems of the students by presenting them to the government and asking for help. Teachers will realize that they are likewise victims of the system and only by networking among fellow teachers and the students will change in the situation happen.

The Cambodian experience shows that there is also a need to deal with the teachers and the parents in solving the problems faced by the students. Since many teachers are also parents, they can understand how important the responsibility of the parents is. Realizing the rights of the child can thus be done through specific actions on the part of the teachers and the parents.

The political side of human rights education was also commented on. It is said that in Indonesia while human rights education will make people aware of their rights, the seriousness of the economic situation which the government may not be able to solve may lead to frustration on the part of the people. While soldiers, who may now be aware of human rights, may stop firing live bullets at people, the people themselves may vent their anger by resorting to aggressive acts. This may be caused by their refusal to accept things as a matter of destiny but rather as an abuse of their rights that they came to know they possess. This shows the subversive nature of human rights education (and education as a whole). But while the view about "the theory of frustration and aggression" is accepted, it is also asked whether or not governments use this theory to frustrate legitimate questions about their (governments) actions. Governments may use this theory to instill fear of societal instability among the people. Human rights education must therefore make people think more critically about this situation. It is not always true that claiming rights will lead to chaos since other countries in Southeast Asia have successfully changed their situation because people demanded their rights.

At the same time, human rights education should be able to make people think of the limits of the exercise of rights. Having rights does not mean having a license to do anything. This relates to the question of responsibility for one's actions. One view is that human rights already include the idea of responsibility and thus it need not be explicitly mentioned. Another view is that the concept of responsibility has to be stressed in the case of people who are not highly educated, and who subscribe to the idea that violence and stealing are acceptable (as in the case of Cambodia). A third view is that responsibility is required as a counterpart of rights (as in the case of Vietnam's rights and duties program).

Another aspect of this issue is the need to differentiate the responsibility of government and of the people. Governments tend to stress the responsibility of people by using the concept of citizens' duties and responsibilities without being clear about their (governments') duties and responsibilities. Thus a possible way of expressing people's responsibility in relation to human rights is recognition and respect for other people's rights. This is a more positive expression than the word responsibility.

The experience in Cambodia was presented by Ms. MengHo Leang, acting Director of the Cambodian Institute of Human Rights, based in Phnom Penh. She presented the "Human Rights Teaching Methodology" project which was initiated more than three years ago. This project sees the school as the means of restoring values (tolerance, solidarity, love and cooperation) lost in Cambodia during more than two decades of war. The project was implemented with the close cooperation of the Ministry of Education. The initial activity of drafting curricula (which includes human rights as a separate subject as well as integrated with other subjects) led to teacher training problems due to the recruitment of new teachers who have minimal educational background and experience in teaching. CIHR decided to train all of the more than 70,000 teachers in primary and secondary levels. It trains "master trainers" for both school levels who fan out to teach other teachers.

The training includes both information about human rights and practical skills in drawing up lesson plans, and using participatory, student-centered methods.

CIHR is aiming to have teacher training on human rights become part of the regular training for the teachers program of the government. This assures the sustainability of the program, as well as education about human rights for the Cambodian school children.

Materials in Khmer language such as teachers' manual and Teachers' Magazine, have been produced by CIHR in support of the program. Translation of human rights literature from the UN and other institutions have been published and distributed to various schools.

There are also measures aimed at reinforcing the information obtained by the teachers in the CIHR training. These include well-publicized contests on human rights for teachers, school level activities such as Children' Day celebration (culture of peace flower poster making), radio and television programs on human rights (using public service spots, songs and mini-dramas). Refresher courses for master trainers will also be completed soon.

Post-training evaluation activities are being organized to determine how much knowledge about human rights/human rights education has been gained. It has been found that teachers generally use the integrated approach. It has also been found that the students' behavior has changed (e.g., more respect for fellow students, for teachers and the school).

But the major question refers to the future of the program. With funding and other restrictions, there is no guarantee that the government will continue the program after CIHR has finished its task.

A question was raised regarding the methodology being used in the context of a society that has been traumatized by war and violence. Is there a human rights education methodology being employed that address psycho-social trauma? Ms. Leang said that this matter is being addressed by encouraging the teachers to express their ideas and opinions freely and without fear, by encouraging good relationship between teachers and students, by emphasizing tolerance, understanding, solidarity and compassion in the methodology, and by making teachers maintain good relationship with the parents so that the ideas being taught are passed on to them and to the society ultimately. In sum, they do not teach about human rights, they teach for human rights.

It was also mentioned that Indonesia has the same situation as Cambodia in teaching human rights values through the existing socio-cultural institutions. A seminar on the roots of human rights held in Malang, Indonesia three years ago resulted in a conclusion that human rights values were already taught by religious leaders thousands of years ago. But a more modern understanding of human rights values and instruments of human rights has to be developed.

The situation in Malaysia was presented by Mr. Jerald Joseph of PUSAT KOMAS, a non-governmental organization working with grassroots communities. He said that the Malaysian government does not yet approve of the teaching of human rights in schools. The education ministry controls the school curriculum. However, some private schools may allow some form of teaching of human rights as an extracurricular activity. The Malaysian education system at the moment teaches values and civics to mould behavior toward becoming good neighbors, being nice to fellow human beings, creating a society composed of people who tend to listen more and are willing to make contributions and sacrifices to the society. Schools are training students to become good engineers in the factory. Religious subjects (especially on Islam and Asian religions) are taught but not to the level of linking them to human rights. He also mentioned that most of the schools in Malaysia at present are operated by the government.

A second Malaysian participant, Dr. Nik Aziz Nik Pa, who was not able to attend the workshop, sent in a prepared paper on the teaching of human rights in Malaysian schools. His paper (included in Human Rights Education in Asian Schools, 1999) discussed human rights education in Malaysian schools in terms of teaching values related to human rights (or what he calls "values education for human rights").

Discussions followed the individual country presentations. Commonalities, problems and areas for development were brought up. The participants pointed out the general commonalities among the national experiences as follows:

a. Approaches to the teaching of human rights. The various experiences seem to point to the approach of using values or morals as starting points for discussing principles similar to human rights. The Indonesian experience uses the moral approach based on the national philosophy of Pancasila while the Cambodian experience uses the traditional cultural values approach (Buddhism-based values) which relates to concepts of life of the Cambodians.

Also mentioned as commonalities are the integration and process-oriented approaches. Each program presented in the workshop integrates the teaching of human rights into existing subjects ranging from civics to language subjects. And there are attempts at employing new teaching methods that give importance to the active role of the students in the learning process.

It is noted that while the moral approach is listed as a common approach in Southeast Asia, this does not mean that this is the best approach. Experience shows that governments can abuse this approach to control the mind of the people or to indoctrinate them.

b. Materials developed. There is a certain amount of materials developed that directly supports human rights education in the schools in Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam. They are in various forms such as teaching modules, teaching aids, and reference materials.

c. Cooperation between government education agencies and NGOs. In the case of Cambodia and the Philippines, the cooperation between the education agency of the government and NGOs involved in human rights education has been found to be a crucial element in the development of human rights education in school programs.

d. Official mandate. Most of the countries (with the exception of Malaysia) have official authorization for the teaching of human rights (or equivalent programs) in schools. In the case of Vietnam and Indonesia, human rights education is considered part of the program for teaching citizen's rights and duties.

e. Existence of oppression as basic justification for human rights education programs. The oppression suffered by people under martial rule in the Philippines and the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia has become a major reason for the teaching of human rights in the schools. The desire to attain justice, peace and prosperity in society, borne out of the oppressive situation experienced by people, is a major consideration in the human rights education programs in schools.

Problems encountered have been generally classified as follows:

a. Political situation. Although governments officially accept human rights education, it still suffers from restrictive political situations that prevent full development of the programs as far as content and methodology are concerned.

And despite legal sanction for human rights education, the absence of political will hinders the full implementation of these programs. International support, or pressure, is needed before governments assure continuation and further development of the programs;

b. Negative image of human rights and human rights education. Despite years of United Nations' campaigns on human rights, many people in society and government view human rights and human rights education in an unfavorable light. There is a mistaken notion about the purpose of human rights education, especially in relation to the role of citizens in the society. The lack of awareness about human rights by many government officials actually contributes to its negative image;

c. Inadequate resources. Human rights education in schools suffers due to shortage of materials (e.g. teaching modules, teaching aids, reference materials, funding) and teachers who have appropriate training to teach human rights. This relates to the inadequate support from the government to implement these programs;

d. Different definitions of human rights/human rights education. There seems to be an absence of a generally agreed upon concept of human rights and human rights education in terms of the definitions, aims, priorities (violations/violators, social entitlement), in relation to government, society and education as a whole.

Related to the unclear understanding of human rights is the issue of human rights violations. Most people perceive that only government representatives violate human rights. But there are cases where representatives of non-governmental institutions cause human rights violations. This in turn leads to the issue of accountability. When government representatives violate human rights, forgiveness occurs (policy of mercy) but when non-governmental persons cause the violations of human rights severe punishment is meted out. While both the government and the society in general are obligated to respect the rights of people (principle of social entitlement), only those in government are accorded mercy in cases of violations;

e. Education paradigm. The use of the positivist paradigm of teaching in schools weakens the teaching of human rights since critical thinking becomes less important in the learning process. The teachers are bound to follow specific requirements to be able to assure that students learn the courses. They are not allowed to experiment on learning processes. Thus the conflict between process-oriented human rights education and the exam-oriented positivist paradigm arises. Teachers' performance is gauged by the results of the examinations administered to the students which does not fit the process-oriented approach of human rights education; and

f. Teaching load. The most common complaint from teachers is the overloading of teaching tasks which prevents the introduction of new subjects or other activities in the school. The teaching of human rights is seen therefore as an additional burden, which cannot anymore be accommodated within the existing school curriculum.

In light of the current situation of schools in general and human rights education programs in particular, several areas have been identified that need to be developed:

a. Teaching methodology. Both process and experience-oriented methodologies are needed to be developed in the context of teaching human rights.

b. Material development. New materials that can help teachers in the classroom teach human rights have to be created.

c. Approaches to HRE. In addition to the values-approach, other approaches to human rights education should be explored.

d. Popularization of human rights concepts. Efforts have to be taken to make human rights principles and standards understood in ordinary language (rather than in the United Nations human rights language) and using simpler approaches. This also means that human rights education should discuss concrete human rights violations or problems in society and in people's daily lives.

e. Teacher empowerment. Through teacher training and other means, teachers need to be empowered to be able to have the capacity for teaching innovation, as well as better teaching environments. Their empowerment must deal with ways in which they can better relate to the education bureaucracy and contribute to their sense of fulfillment in teaching. This also includes giving professional credit for completing teacher training programs on human rights education; and providing incentives in teaching human rights.

f. Content of human rights education. Human rights education needs to widen its scope to include such matters as the political concept of the State, and the inter-connection of peace, development, environment, gender, ethnicity and other issues with human rights as a broad umbrella (payong concept).

The positivist paradigm of learning means that there is an established body of knowledge that students will simply have to learn (or memorize). The students receive this knowledge from the teachers. Thus there is a predetermined curriculum that is followed in the learning process. This is countered by the critical paradigm that emphasizes the role of the students in understanding a set of information in the context of their experiences and the realities of their society (such as power relationships). The experience of the students is an important element in this process. The positive paradigm is based on a theoretical standpoint that there is only one correct perspective while the critical paradigm is open to various views about reality. History can therefore either be seen only from the perspective of the so-called experts or from the various perspectives of different people in society.

Critical paradigm necessarily promotes critical thinking among students. They arrive at the truth through their own probing rather than just by being told of what the truth is.

As a means of having a clearer understanding of the ways of improving existing human rights education programs, the participants discussed in greater depth the commonalities, as well as problems and areas for their development. The discussions were divided into three main topics: content of human rights education, methodology, and support structures.

Defining Human Rights Education

To narrow down what may possibly be varying opinions on the definition of human rights education, the participants gave these views:

a. Preparing children for their lives as citizens. This includes teaching about their rights and the rights of others, promoting mutual respect for the law, and promoting social harmony for sustainable peace and development.

b. Lifelong inculcation of human rights values and norms into the 'total personality' of people so that they behave accordingly.

c. A process by which students are enabled to think about their experiences of enjoyment, and non-enjoyment, of human rights for the purpose of raising their awareness to take control of their own lives and to transform society.

d. A process of informing people about their rights and the rights of others in order to develop a consciousness and disposition toward the promotion, protection and realization of these rights.

e. The process of understanding the meaning and practice of human rights for the purpose of having a just and humane society.

According to Sarna 1, human rights education is said to have the following goals:

a. raise awareness/conscientization (cognitive domain);

b. encourage responsibility/empowerment (affective domain); and

c. change the world/transformation (behavioral domain).

 The same set of goals can be phrased as follows:

a. foster attitudes of tolerance, respect and solidarity inherent to human rights;

b. provide knowledge about human rights, in both national and international dimensions, levels, and institutions established for their implementation; and

c. develop the individual's awareness of the ways and means by which human rights can be translated into social and political reality at both national and international levels.

What derives from these formulations are the following basic elements:

a. emphasis on the process of learning human rights;

b. personal and societal transformation as a basic aim; and

c. critical examination of the students' own experience in relation to the established values of human rights.

Contents of human rights education

Below are the major categories of contents of a human rights education module:

a. students' actual experiences relating to human rights

b. reasons for teaching human rights
 - universally accepted reason
 - concept of state and power, human rights as part of human nature
 - "ourstory" - the story of people's struggle for human rights
 - development of the concept of human rights
 - 1993 Vienna Declaration

c. human rights concepts and principles
 - drawn from people's experiences
 - protected and guaranteed by international human rights instruments and national laws

d. rights and responsibilities issue

e. society, government, culture and human rights issues

f. contextualizing human rights issues (in relation to gender, peace, development, environment, etc.)

g. child rights

h. settling conflict in the exercise of rights

i. skills (dialogue, facilitation, communication, involvement in human rights work, crisis management, etc.)

j. promotion and protection mechanisms
 - sanctions against violations
 - grievance mechanisms (courts, national human rights institutions, etc.)
 - recognition of human rights work
 - strategies for promoting human rights (campaigns, marches, etc.)
 - constraints in promoting human rights

k. success stories of human rights struggle

l. debunking myths about human rights

m. human rights violations
 - who violates, what forms

n. development and human rights
 - role of business corporations, international financial institutions

o. human rights workers

p. transcending fear, limiting situation to deal with

q. healing the trauma of victims of human rights violations.

This list reflects the issues that surround the understanding of human rights and the way it should be taught. It stresses the need to know the practical aspects of realizing human rights, the experiences of people who work for human rights, the notions of human rights that should be corrected, and the appropriate ways to deal with students who have suffered from human rights violations.

A participant discussed an instance when a student, during a discussion on human rights, stood up and talked about a personal experience and then sat down and kept quiet. In such a case, questions arise: How should the teacher react? What should she/he do to avoid traumatizing the student again when the experience is recalled? This only shows the need for teachers to be ready to manage students' reactions to the discussions on human rights violation. This relates to the methodology being used. An experiential approach can possibly bring out traumatic experiences of students. Such expression of traumatic experiences should help them overcome their trauma or fear.

In certain cases, however, the experiences involved may have very serious political implications (especially in relation to people who hold positions in government, or regarding the government itself) and discussing the experiences openly may be too sensitive. Others have very bitter and angry stories. Care has to be taken in this regard. In these cases, simulation may be an appropriate method. For purposes of human rights education, there is still a need to discuss this issue (actual experience sharing versus simulation exercise) in order to find the proper way of using the approach. There are questions to be answered however: how concrete must the discussion be? How artificial can an example be? Is there an age level appropriate for this methodology? What kind of intervention has to be made in case of sharing of actual experiences? All these will need to be determined.

In the same vein, management of conflict is also deemed an important subject in human rights education especially in relation to the issue of recognizing, tolerating and accepting different opinions, demands or interests.

The definition of human rights was also an issue that was discussed. It was strongly felt that there was a need to define human rights from the experiences of people that may be wholly or partly reflected in the international human rights standards. What is being stressed is the view that the concept of human rights did not come into being only when the international human rights standards were formulated through the various international human rights declarations and instruments. People had, and still have, their own concept of human rights regardless of whether the State or the international community recognized it. This is not to lessen the importance of international human rights instruments that declare that the obligation to promote, protect and realize human rights is lodged primarily with governments. Neither does this view reject the universality of human rights. Instead, it emphasizes the source of the concept of human rights.

The obligation of government to protect or realize human rights has its limitations. There are times when governments (such as in Cambodia) have limited means of fulfilling this role and thus people should not expect that governments will be able to fulfill its obligations in full.

In understanding the structure of society as part of human rights education, it is pointed out that society should aim at fulfilling human needs and developing human potentialities. In fulfilling human needs, however, the integrity of the physical environment and its capability to provide support to life should be protected. Religious principles, such as those from the Buddhist tradition, already call for the protection and preservation of the environment (that is, the teaching of living in harmony with nature).


The participants agreed that the process-oriented approach is the most appropriate methodology for effective human rights education. This approach is described as having the following characteristics:

a. it focuses on the consciousness of the students in the learning process. The students' insights and feelings are important elements of the system;

b. it allows students the space to reflect on experiences and to see how to respond to those that violate human rights;

c. to assure that students are able to have a meaningful grasp of the learning rather than a superficial intellectual understanding, the methodology must be self-pacing and recursive;

d. the learning process enables the teacher to determine the level of human rights consciousness of the students by understanding their beliefs, thinking, feelings, attitudes and habits;

e. the teacher, after drawing out insights from the students, helps them raise their consciousness of human rights to a higher level; and also helps them to think and discuss critically what they have and have not considered;

f. the learning process itself has human rights meaning. It also determines the human rights content to be learned. Thus the learning process itself needs to be reflected on by the students;

g. it involves continuing qualitative evaluation of the students' improvement and not just quantitative evaluation (examinations). A right mix of the two types of evaluating knowledge learned will have to be adopted.

The participants likewise agreed that the learning process must be able to promote divergent thinking (in contrast to uniform learning). This supports the other goal of promoting critical thinking among the students. Divergent thinking prevents the employment of learning methods that demand of the students subscription to only one line of thought, and promotes the adoption of a broadened perspective that allows students to critically examine a variety of views. This, in turn, equips them with the capability to deal flexibly with varying situations.

One participant pointed out that students who go to certain schools in Indonesia are already being taught the participatory method of learning as part of their regular curriculum. Thus, there are existing experiences in process-oriented methods that can be used for human rights education in schools.

Part of a good methodology is the 'values' approach. Human rights principles can be related to 'core values' or 'national values' determined to be internalized by the students. Under this system, a strong human rights perspective is required of the teachers. There must be a clear understanding of the human rights implications of such integration with 'core values.' Whether such values are culture-based or moral-based, their critical examination is needed. They should be reviewed to see what promotes or inhibits human rights. It is also important to note that there is always a question to ponder: who determines values?

The integration approach has been found to be the most prevalent system of teaching human rights under existing curricula. However, a review of the integration of human rights into existing subjects is important. The Philippine education department's program, for example, may have to look more closely at the system of teaching human rights within the established curriculum. Teachers must therefore be aware of the limitations of the existing curriculum in promoting human rights education. On the other hand, in cases when governments believe that human rights principles are already included in existing curricula (such as in case of the Pancasila Moral Education and Civics [PMEC] in Indonesia), there is a need to make sure that human rights values are more explicitly studied rather than assumed to be covered in the usual teaching of the curricula.

Support Structures

A basic requirement to support human rights education in schools is a favorable political climate. That is to say, the discussion of human rights must be an accepted practice in society. In Southeast Asia, two factors are seen as contributing to the type of political climate existing in a country: national ideologies (as in the case of Indonesia and Vietnam) and international pressure (as in the case of Cambodia).

Governments should have the determination to support human rights education. Such determination may take various forms:

a. having human rights education as a priority of government leaders;

b. the existence of supporting policy, personnel, budget and administrative structure;

c. the existence of a supporting governmental inter-agency system which includes national human rights institutions if there are any; and

d. the existence of legal mandates that require the teaching of human rights in schools.

A concrete form of government determination to support human rights education programs in schools is the recognition given to teachers who are found to be performing well in teaching human rights. Such recognition can be in the form of awards and other incentives.

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:

  1. Include human rights education in teacher training programs (even if other names for human rights education are employed).
  2. Set up links with sympathetic government and school officials, and with politicians as well.
  3. Initiate human rights education programs in private schools.
  4. Adopt an incremental approach to making changes in the schools.
  5. Promote school activities that may relate to human rights.
  6. Seek international support for human rights education programs.

As a very crucial support structure, teacher training is an appropriate venue for promoting human rights education in schools.

Training concerning human rights education for teachers should include the following components:

  1. education in general
     - theory of knowledge
     - theories of learning
     - philosophy of education
  2. human rights education
     - human rights education curriculum
     - human rights education as a mission in life/philosophy of human rights education
     - methodology
     - teaching strategies within and outside the school
  3. skills
     - human rights integration techniques
     - materials development (including syllabus-making) using easily available resources
     - facilitation skills
  4. evaluation systems
     - use of a mix of quantitative and qualitative evaluation systems
     - evaluation as an on-going process
     - covering long and short-term effects of human rights education
  5. school environment
     - development of democratic, human rights-sensitive, and gender-sensitive school environment
  6. teachers' own human rights concerns
     - problems encountered by the teachers such as
     - inadequate opportunity to develop skills
     - unfavorable working conditions
     - low compensation for work required
     - personal traumas.

Teachers can also be taught about support mechanisms, such as

- networking/experience exchange among teachers, non-governmental organizations, and government institutions;

- use of media (for communication, popularization of human rights such as use of multi-media, theater and arts);

- collaboration with other socialinstitutions (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.

Training of teachers may be given to either a select group of teachers who specialize in teaching human rights or to all teachers who teach general subjects. The basis for selecting which type of training program to adopt is the approach used in the human rights education program. The integration approach would require all teachers to have the training while the separate subject approach would limit training to only the human rights subject teachers. In the present situation of Southeast Asia, the integration approach is prevalent. Training therefore will have to be given to all teachers as much as possible.

One objective of teacher training can be the development of "structural human rights education" which refers to the school environment or system. There must be an appropriate environment or system in the school that subscribes to human rights principles in order to make the study of human rights more effective.

The parents of the students will also have to be involved in the learning process as part of the support structure.

The support structures for human rights education in schools would thus comprise several elements: the governmental structure, the non-government organizational network, the school administrators, and the society as a whole. This demonstrates the magnitude of the help needed for a successful human rights education program in schools.

Future activities

The participants, including HURIGHTS OSAKA representatives, exchanged ideas on what would be appropriate activities that can be undertaken in the future to support the development of human rights education in schools. These include:

  1. Regional promotional material in the form of a guide to the development of human rights education programs in schools. This material would be based on the experiences in Asian countries.
  2. National promotion of human rights education programs in schools. This includes organizing teacher training, developing teaching materials, etc.
  3. Development of resource exchange system. This can consist of compilation of existing teaching guides for classroom use and a listing of resource persons for skills development.
  4. ASEAN Teacher Education on Peace and Human Rights Education. This is a plan by a Philippine teacher training institute (Philippine Normal University) to bring together teachers from ASEAN countries that are involved in human rights and peace education.
  5. Follow-up on the 1995 Asia-Pacific conference on human rights education and development.
  6. Search for advanced human rights education courses in the Asia-Pacific region and other regions.
  7. Directory of resource persons.

The realization of these plans can be done by lead organizations with the support of other groups in the region. HURIGHTS OSAKA, for example, will proceed with the preparation of a guide material about human rights education in Asia based on the results of the series of workshops held in 1998. The Philippine Normal University in Manila, Philippines will try to look at the possibility of holding the ASEAN teachers' education meeting. The Asian Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education (ARRC) can take part in the preparation of directory of resource persons in Asia-Pacific.

In addition, participation in the training activities of the Philippine department of education by Cambodians involved in human rights education programs in the schools is also seen as a possibility.


1. Shirley Sarna, For the Dawn of a New Millenium: Human Rights Education, Quebec Commission on Human and Youth Rights, Quebec, Canada, February 1997.