|School-based Understanding of Human Rights in Four Countries - A Commonwealth Study - Education Research Paper No. 22 (DFID, 1997, 62 p.)|
The project was conceived from the start as a Commonwealth exercise and supported on that basis by the Department for International Development in Britain, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Department for Education, Northern Ireland. National teams, particularly in their follow-up interviews with teachers, advisers and administrators, were asked to seek opinions on the scope for Commonwealth cooperation in future.
Furthermore, as part of a stimulus for Commonwealth networking in the area of human rights, the project supported an important conference for teachers held at Stoke Rochford, England in May 1996 under the auspices of the National Union of Teachers of England and Wales, the South African Democratic Teachers Union and the All-India Federation of Teachers Organisations. This was attended by teacher union representatives from 27 countries and produced a significant declaration11.
11 The Stoke Rochford Declaration, created
by a series of working commissions, is available from the National Union of
Teachers at Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD, England, or from
SADTU or the AIFTO. It covered education as a human right; the rights of the
child; the rights of the girl child; teachers' rights; development rights; the
right to a safe and healthy environment; sexual orientation; and education for
The Commonwealth Values project team subsequently submitted a series of recommendations to the 13th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers based on the research findings reported here, and in the context of national commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the concluding declaration at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 1993, the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, 1991, and the specific international and regional human rights instruments to which Commonwealth states are party. These recommendations were as follows:
* Commonwealth countries need to review how they are carrying forward their human rights commitments at national level, and in terms of internal educational policies and their implementation. They may need to appoint national officers in the Ministry of Education or to strengthen national curriculum agencies. National commitments and policies should be reflected at the school level.
* It would be fitting to launch this review in 1998, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The opportunity should be taken to raise the status of human rights education.
* Commonwealth countries need to define precisely where in the curriculum their human rights commitments are being reflected in the teaching and learning of students. They should consider which educational strategies are most suitable to their own national circumstances.
* Ministers of Education and curriculum agencies should consider how human rights and associated concepts may be introduced at primary level, how this may impinge on the secondary curriculum, and how children's understanding develops as they grow up.
* Schools must endeavour to provide an environment which respects human rights norms, and which stresses the mutual responsibility of young citizens.
* Priority should be given to making students aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
* Ministries will need to undertake periodic impact studies, and should carefully consider an assessment of student progress which is appropriate to their national circumstances.
* Appropriate and adequate instructional materials must be identified, designed and, where they exist, coordinated and made accessible for schools.
* The significant role and critical understanding of the media should be taken into account when devising strategies to strengthen human rights education in schools. There are positive opportunities for utilising radio and TV to promote young people's understanding.
* Teachers' organisations have a creative role to play, through training and informing their members.
* Schools should be encouraged to use the expertise of NGOs where appropriate.
* National human rights institutions should be regarded as a resource for schools where they exist, and schools will benefit from their services for public and non-formal education.
* The role of peer groups could be a resource rather than a handicap to a strengthened understanding of human rights by young people at school and in the community.
4 Teacher education
* Teachers must be educated in the content and methodologies appropriate to human rights. There should be provision which supports human rights education at pre-service, in-service, professional development and senior management levels.
* All teachers should be exposed to human rights concepts, because every curriculum area has a human rights dimension.
* Teachers should be encouraged to work together in school on human rights, to increase their effectiveness with their students. Where a cross-curricular approach is adopted, particular care should be taken that teachers are suitably prepared.
5 Commonwealth cooperation
* The possibility of a human rights education agency which could serve the Commonwealth as a whole should be investigated.
* Commonwealth Ministers of Education should encourage member states to utilise and/or replicate findings of the Commonwealth Values project, and should welcome appropriate proposals for follow-up.
* The Commonwealth of Learning should contribute to the solution of needs expressed, particularly through the offer of distance learning packages for serving teachers.
* The Commonwealth Secretariat's work in developing a strategy for the promotion of human rights teaching, by cooperation between the Human Rights Unit and Education Programme, should be warmly endorsed. It should now focus on:
- Development and exchange of instructional materials
- Programme exchanges and the attachment of experts
- Regional meetings of curriculum and examination agencies, concerned with transferring national commitments into curricular policy
- Assisting Ministries, teacher bodies and schools to arrange student debates in Commonwealth regions
* The National Union of Teachers, the All-India Federation of Teachers Organisations and the South African Democratic Teachers Union should follow up their cooperation with other teacher bodies in the Commonwealth, to strengthen teacher networking and support
The Commonwealth Ministers of Education chose to discuss the work of the project, presented in a special report, at an expert Round Table at the Gaborone conference which was chaired by the Hon Gabriel Michinga, Minister of Education for Zimbabwe. This was lively and well-attended by a number of Ministers (including Professor S M Bengu of South Africa) and four of the researchers from three of the four participating countries.
In a rich discussion it is only possible to pick a few points, but the Indian delegation urged the need for work in primary schools and for better teacher education; the Ghanaian delegate said that a human rights emphasis should tend to strengthen rather than weaken school discipline; Professor Bengu said that the new South African democracy wanted to stress that the new constitution and human rights guarantees were a lived experience in schools; Professor Malcolm Skilbeck, a resource person for the conference, noted that there were no North/South differences emerging from the study; he thought it was important to develop strategies, but did not favour a new pan-Commonwealth agency.
Mr Justin Ellis of Namibia welcomed the problem-posing nature of the study, commended the idea of using the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration as an opportunity for strengthening human rights education, saw a role for the Commonwealth of Learning, and pointed out the need for human rights work in African societies undergoing rapid cultural change. A Scottish member of the British delegation said she felt the report was salutary for Britain, welcomed the stress on teachers and teacher education, and remarked that she was not confident that Scottish youngsters would say that they had heard of the Rights of the Child. There was indeed applause for two observers present from teacher organisations - Mr Steve Sinnott of the National Union of Teachers and Mr Ramesh Joshi of the All-India Federation of Teachers Organisations - when they argued for improved consultation with their profession.
In the communiqué at the end of the conference the Ministers of Education stated (paragraph 45), "Ministers considered a report on 'Commonwealth Values in Education: Young People's Understanding of Human Rights', and recommended that all countries review the teaching about human rights in their schools as part of their celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They suggested that the Secretariat or another agency could be asked to collate the results and report to the next Ministers' Conference, and encourage the implementation of human rights education in Commonwealth countries."
The result of the project and the Ministerial conference is to suggest a host of continuing possibilities for cooperation, some initially pegged to the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration. There is scope for international and regional meetings on curricula and teacher education; for continuing research into methodologies, and perhaps longitudinal work starting in the primary school; for work in devising new materials, some using Internet technology. The key requirements are a suitable consensus among groups of Commonwealth players, and the resources and personnel to do a worthwhile job.
It is anticipated that a number of partners in the original Commonwealth Values project will be considering how to build on what has been achieved, particularly in the context of the Ministerial commitment to make use of the jubilee of the Universal Declaration in 1998.