Often we deal with human rights and children´s rights from a perspective of violations of rights, eg. teaching about street children in Brazil, child soldiers in Burma or young prostitutes in Bangkok - as if rights were most important when they are at risk of not being fulfilled.
Particularly when working with younger children it is necessary not to focus on violent and gruesome things as will often be the case when working with human rights violations.
It is well known that it is often more meaningful for children to draw upon elements and perspectives from their own surroundings and daily life. The challenge in human rights education is to work in a way that does include the children themselves as much as possible. This is what is meant by the positive perspective on human rights and children's rights: To secure relevance to the children in their daily life and to build up their knowledge and competence on human rights, particularly in relation to their own vicinity.
At best teaching about human and children's rights would include three main components:
- attitudes or values, e.g. tolerance, respect, empathy
- knowledge on rights and responsibilities
- skills, e.g. analytical, handling of conflicts, forming and expressing own opinions
Thus teaching will comprise working with the values inherent in human rights and children's rights: respect for each individual, for its freedoms and its integrity as well as tolerance towards different opinions on the one side and caring and responsibility for the weak and vulnerable on the other. The aim of all human rights education is, as it has often been emphasised, to try to build up the same values within the class room. Needless to say that this will have to start with the teacher herself: What you teach is how you teach! However, it is equally important to combine awareness and acceptance of human rights values with precise knowledge on the rights of each individual as well as the limits to these rights. This is essential to avoid watering down the concepts of human rights and thus undermining them.
Last but not least human rights and children's rights should be active instruments for all citizens, including children, consequently building up competence to make use of rights and respect ones responsibilities must start at an early age.
A variety of themes and exercises has been developed to encompass these tasks: I shall only mention a few examples and refer to the list of resources mentioned below for further inspiration.
This exercise can be taken up at all levels. It can be linked to themes like the rule of law, civil and political rights, the child's right to express his/her own opinion (Convention of the Rights of the Child art. 12) etc.
The class can in smaller groups prepare draft lists of rights and responsibilities for the class, and the whole class can then discuss e.g. the ten most important rights/responsibilities and decide to "live" with them for a period of one month. Then they can be assessed and revised, if necessary.
It may be useful to have a list of rights and duties for the teacher and a separate list for the students as the teacher is in a position which is not equal to the students - thus two sets of rules may be more operational and realistic to work with.
Often, during training courses for teachers where a "class rights" exercise is performed, teachers come up with lists almost exclusively stating obligations and responsibilities for the students: All students must be respectful of each other, all students must prepare themselves properly etc. The school is already very demanding on the pupils, the point here is that the pupils and the teacher as well work actively with the concepts and functions of clear rights alongside the responsibilities.
Furthermore, it is important to avoid very abstract language such as: all students have the right to respect and dignity. This is both very broad and at the same time very impalpable and thus difficult to manage for children. Rather rights and responsibilities should be very concrete and clear: Every student has the right to express his/her opinion, after raising his hand. Every student has the rights to be warned clearly two times before any punitive measure is taken against him/her. All students have the right to respect for their privacy, including no interference with mail, school bags, clothes, etc.
Students can, in smaller groups, outline a map of the local town centre: The main square, the main churches / mosques, town hall, schools, cinemas, press agency, railway station etc. The maps can be the outset for discussions on how and by whom human rights are implemented locally: The police takes care of right to personal security and integrity; and judicial system shall
secure fair trials; cinemas, newspapers, libraries render possible freedom of expression, railways
facilitates freedom of movement etc.
As a follow up to this activity the class can pay visits to some of the institutions, like the police station, the court house, the local newspaper etc. The most interesting aspect of this activity is that it localises and contextualises human rights so that the pupils get an impression of how the very abstract principles described in international instruments can be transformed into practice in their own community.
Amnesty International USA Human Rights Educator´s Network.: Human Rights Education The Fourth R (Vol. 6, No 1, Summer 1994)
Open Society Institute, Forced Migration Projects, September 1995: Annotated Human Rights Education Bibliography
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