I. Rights have a counterpart in obligations.
A central aim of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to commit the member nations of the UN, every individual and every organ of society, to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are upheld. Education and upbringing are the main instruments for achieving this aim. Has the Science of Education, Pedagogics, accepted this challenge? In my copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the following address is written:
On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act, the Assembly called upon all member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories".
"Principally in schools and other educational institutions". When read it sounds like the General Assembly has appointed schools and other educational institutions to bear the main responsibility to inform about human rights, and to shape them into reality. The intention of this paper is to show that this is the case, and that this message is repeated, and repeated.
From the preamble:
The preamble of the declaration should be read very carefully, it tells the reasons why, and it tells the purpose, quoted here:
Now, Therefore The General Assembly proclaims This Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance....
One tool is indicated: by teaching and education. One end is indicated: to the end that every individual and every organ of society keeping this Declaration constantly in mind...
Article 1, gives the declaration in a nutshell: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood."
Notice - reason and conscience are given the same emphasis. This is important also when it comes to teaching and education. Notice also - The declaration must be understood actively: act towards each other in the spirit of brotherhood.
Article 26 is specifically about education:
Point 1 is about the right to education:
(1) Everybody has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Point 2 is about what education shall be directed to:
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental fredoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Here Human Rights Education is defined. "Education shall be directed to... " Nothing less. As we shall see, the definition is repeated and enforced through a series of UN and UNESCO conventions, given over a period of more than 40 years. Thus this definition must be considered an authorized definition. This is the only educational content nations worldwide have committed themselves to through international conventions.
Point 3 is about parents' rights:
(3) Parents have a prior right to chose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
In the conventions this parents' right is especially linked to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This pays respect to the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education for their children in conformity with their own convictions.
On 16 November 1945 the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO was adopted. Art I, point 1:
The purpose of the organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations
On 14 December 1960, at its eleventh session in Paris, the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Convention Against Discrimination in Education. Art V, 1 a, reads: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
The principle of non-discrimination is a continous concern for the UN, and education a main tool when enforcing this principle. See for instance:
- the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (21 Dec 1965), art 7,
- UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, (27 Nov 1978), art 5.2,
- Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief, (25 Nov 1981) art 5.3,
- International Convention of the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, (18 Dec 1990) Art 45.2&4,
- Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (18 Dec 1990) art 4.2).
In the UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education, art 26.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is included in a convention. In principle a convention binds the states, in this case in respect the field of education.
What measures are taken by the educational systems ?
29 years after the founding of UNESCO, on its eighteenth session in Paris, 19 November 1974, the General Conference adopted a Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. From the preamble we read:
Noting nevertheless that the activity of Unesco and of its Member States sometimes has an impact only on a small minority of the steadily growing numbers of school-children, students, young people and adults continuing their education, and educators, and that the curricula and methods of international education are not always attuned to the needs and aspirations of the participating young peoples and adults,
Noting morever that in a number of cases there is still a wide disparity between proclaimed ideas, declared intentions and the actual situation,
The General Conference recommends that Member States should apply the following provisions by taking whatever legislative or other steps may be required in conformity with the constitutional practice of each State to give within their respective territories to the principles set forth in this recommendation.
The General Conference recommends that Member States bring this recommendation to the attention of the authorities, departments or bodies responsible for school education, higher education and out-of-school education, of the various organizations carrying out educational work among young people and adults such as student and youth movements, associations of pupils' parents, teachers' unions and other interested parties.
3. Education should be infused with the aims and purposes set forth in the Charter of the (United Nations, the Constitution of Unesco and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly Article 26, paragraph 2, of the last named, which states:
´Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.´
The last part of the quotation sounds familiar.
In the interest of the children?
In 1946 the United Nations demonstrated its concern for children by establishing UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. In its early years UNICEF concentrated on emergency aid for the children who were victims of the war in Europe. Later it broadened its activities to include long-range programmes designed to prepare children all over the world for productive lives.
On 20 November 1959, the General Assembly ofthe United Nations unanimously adopted the declarations of the Rights of the Child. Principle 7 is about education:
The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will provide his 1) general culture, and enable him on a basis of equal opportunity to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.
The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.
The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of his rights.
30 years later, 20 November 1989, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention has two articles on education, art 28 and art 29. Here shall be quoted from art 29 point 1:
States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical
abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for
the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity,
language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is
living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations
different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of
understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples,
ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.
It may be noted that the natural environment here is explicitly seen as a human right. It may also be noted a development from the declaration to the convention as concerns how the child is seen, from emphasise on protection to emphasise on respect for the integrity of the child. This can be seen from the articles 13, 14, 15 and 16:
1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the
1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.
1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
The last quotation is from the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN 16 December 1966.
1. The State Parties to the present Convenant recognize the right of everybody to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Thus Human Rights Education should be defined and authorized by competent UN organs, and, to the extent that the conventions are incorporated into the law, defined by law.
II. To what level of learning shall Human Rights Education aim? At what level are we? For the purpose of discussion we can describe levels of learning:
1. The knowledge that can be called passive knowledge. You know, and you reproduce on paper, for instance at exams.
2. The knowledge that can be called active knowledge. You use it in discussions and arguing.
From time to time I have contacted Pedagogical Institutes and Colleges of Education in Norway to ask for reports and papers on Human Rights Education. There seems however to be very little to be found. Article 26.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seems not to have reached level 2 within the professional community of education.
3. The knowledge that is part of yourself and your personal pattern of acting.
It may be remarked that many persons reach this level of knowledge, that they "act towards each other in the spirit of brotherhood", without formal training and without even knowing the term Human Rights. So why bother?
And it may be remarked that it can be not only difficult, but even unethical to teach at level 3.
Such remarks are relevant indeed and need to be carefully analyzed and discussed. It concerns the philosophy of education. Can/should conscience be taught/instructed?
This may however also be the place for a reminder: There must be seen a distinction betweeneducation and teaching. And certainly we must look to the difference between teaching and learning. The focus of this lecture is on learning. :
4. This is the knowledge that is not only individual, but collective. It is common, and it is part of a collective pattern of acting.
Actually, "to the end that every individual and every organ of society, . " indicates a level 5:
5. The knowledge that is part of a global pattern of acting. The aim of this paper is not to be a guide for teachers. The responsibility for implementing Human Rights Education into the educational systems lies at the Government, at the Ministry of Education and at the Educational System. It is a call for strategy. But the strategies the educational systems choose, must be developed with principles of learning in mind, and vice versa. One fundamental learning principle that we must build on, and which connects strategy and method, is: You need concrete experiences to gain understanding.
- You must be in water to learn to swim.
- You must be in interaction with nature to learn your role in nature.
- You must be in interaction with society to learn your role in society.
And as concerns Human Rights Education: To learn solidarity, you must practice solidarity.
This is valid for individual as well as collective learning. The basic learning aid is not a book, but experience. In such connections it is natural to have in mind articles 13 - 15 of the Convention of the Right of the Child, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of association; that the children should be allowed to learn their freedoms and rights, through experience. Perhaps we also should look to other traditions of learning and other pedagogics, that only recently have carried the name of pedagogics, namely liberation pedagogics or as Paolo Freire called it, pedagogics of the oppressed.
It is on high time to call for programs of study to find out where, in which connections and how people develop solidarity, and perhaps especially to look for successful examples of how schools and other educational institutions are brought into such solidarity learning situations.
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