A pathway to dignity: the role of Human Rights Education in modern society
In the article Human Rights Education and its role in the modern reality are considered. These basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity include: teaching “about” human rights, teaching “for” human rights and teaching “through” human rights. Hence, education is the essential component of building social cohesion.
There is no denying that throughout history every society has always been facing many challenges: discrimination caused by excessive disparities of wealth between richer and poorer, ethnic and cultural conflicts, increased violence, revolutions and war crimes [7, p.3]. Just as road regulations are written by the accidents, the basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity are developed by the centuries of coping with dehumanization and its consequences [14, p.50]. Meanwhile, many years there was no international human rights law regime in place . Indeed, international law long time supported and colluded in many of the worst human rights atrocities, including, for instance, the Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism (ibid). Hence it took a long time until in 1948 after countless intergroup atrocities across time, ranging from discrimination to genocide, the international community agreed on basic human rights reflecting basic human needs that would be binding on all states [4, p.16].
Despite the fact that these universal principles of dignity, respect and freedom have been declared, the modern community faces inequalities and discrimination on a daily basis. Human rights violations and abuses in the context of demonstrations in Iraq in 2019, violent persecution and unlawfully detention of people by the authorities in 2020–2021 Belarusian protests, sexual harassment and abuse of women led to ‘Me Too’ movement – these are all examples of human rights violations in modern reality. Moreover, entrenching discriminations take form of systemic racism affecting every area of peoples’ life from disparities in school funding to prejudices in hiring which result in lower unemployment rates [11, p.23]. However, in Martin Luther King’s words, ‘the moral arch of the universe is long, but it tends towards justice’.
The essential component of building social cohesion is education . The Preamble of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states ‘teaching and education … promote respect for … rights and freedoms’ (UDHR, 1948). After that in Article 26 states ‘education shall be directed to … the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…’ (ibid). But what is the current role of teaching in promotion human rights awareness and what is the relevance of human rights from an educational perspective? This paper will focus on the power of education in the building and defense of a universal culture of human rights in the modern society, its results and perspectives. Precisely, the article deals with the theoretical and practical sides of the promotion of human rights in schooling.
In order to get a picture of the multidimensional nature of the concept, let us examine variety of definitions of Human Rights Education (HRE). Different organizations, educational providers and actors in human rights education specify it differently depending on their philosophy, purpose, target groups or membership. The Human Rights Education Youth Programme of the Council of Europe defines Human Rights Education as ‘educational programmes and activities that focus on promoting equality in human dignity’ [4, p.17]. Amnesty International considers HRE as ‘a process whereby people learn about their rights and the rights of others, within a framework of participatory and interactive learning’. Governmental and non-governmental organizations tend to view HRE in terms of outcomes in the form of desired rights and freedoms, whereas educational academics focus on values, principles and moral choices. Teachers and other HRE practitioners, in comparison, who work directly with young people tend to think in terms of competences and methodology.
As far as Human Rights Education (HRE) is considered to be a learning that develops the knowledge, skills, and values with the broad goal of building a rights-respecting society, there are three main aims of this concept. A general breakdown of the objectives of Human Rights Education includes:
- teaching “about” human rights;
- teaching “for” human rights;
- teaching “through” human rights [10, p. 10].
In other words, students should be a) aware of the issues, b) concerned by the issues and c) capable of standing up for human rights. Hence Human Rights Education not only promotes understanding concepts of democracy and cohesion in order to examine life experiences from a human rights perspective, but also helps to the incorporating these concepts into their personal values and decision-making processes. Human Rights Education combats discrimination and promotes equality by addressing such essential issues as globalization, environment, democracy, peace, gender equality, citizenship, poverty, multicultural education, anti-bulling, etc. [9, p.14].
To illuminate the role of education and teaching in the human rights promotion in modern society, let us have a closer look at two examples illustrating the significance of Human Rights Education. ‘Human rights education can make a real difference in people’s lives’, says UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay in the introduction to the movie entitled ‘A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education’ . In the video students of Human Rights Friendly School in Southern India share disparities they face living in community with traces of the caste system.
‘In tea shop, the lower caste is served in coconut shells, and the upper class is served in steel cups’, tells with despair Indian youngster. After that, the young defender of human rights shares inspirationally another story: ‘My neighbors forced their 13-year-old daughter to get engaged. We asked her parents why. They said it was because they were poor. We told them “This is wrong”. You should allow your daughter to get an education. So, they allowed her to stay at school and called off the wedding. She is in the ninth grade now’.
Maria Soosai Selvaraj, National Programme Coordinator for the Institute of Human Rights Education reacts to the thoughts of young human rights activist by saying that ‘each child can make a change through practicing human rights values’. Thus, starting with the ‘pioneer schools’ in 2012 The Human Rights Education Program of Amnesty International made it possible to reach out more than one hundred thirty-four schools across eleven states in India [2, p.188; 3]. During the program students were engaged in various campaigns such as ‘BullyNoMore’ building awareness on the issue of bullying and helping schools to stand up against all forms of bullying, or movement showing support for Phyoe Phyoe Aung’s release (ibid, p. 189, 192). It should be said that Amnesty International’s Human Rights Friendly Schools project continues to expand and currently covers 22 countries around the world. All these small steps towards ‘whole school approach to Human Rights Education’ make big changes. School, in its turn, as a micro-society can help the students to acquire and appreciate key elements of a democratic and human rights culture.
Another equally important aspect of Human Rights Education aside from promotion of the values is fighting with implicit biases. Studies have demonstrated unconscious prejudices about racial groups, genders, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups . Students enter the classroom with their stereotypes which can prevent them from viewing a societal problem with an open mind. The great task of the human rights educators is to first assess their own prejudices and biases and then to assist students in opening their minds to new ways of seeing the complexity of the challenges faced in our communities and the world. The novelist Chimamanda Adichi shares the experience of the danger of knowing only one single story about another person or country. By telling the story of growing up in the eastern Nigeria and facing many prejudices about her culture after moving to United States for studying the author encourages to avoid stereotypes, which shape incomplete image about other cultures and people . ‘The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people’s dignity’, considers Chimamanda Adichi. According to the writer all these single stories, how they are told, who tells them, when they are told are defined by who has the power. From my perspective, the education is the main power, which can promote human rights and lead to the dignity and equality.
According to the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, education is considered to be ‘crucial to fostering tolerance and more peaceful societies’ and to be that power, which ‘helps reduce inequalities and reach gender equality’. And whereas over the past decade, major progress in the context of global goal of quality education has been made towards increasing access to education and school enrollment rates at all levels, particularly for girls (United Nations General Assembly); the process of human rights learning has subsequently involved more students and undoubtedly allowed them to witness human right into action. Among one of the targets of Sustainable Development goal we find that ‘by 2030,… all learners should acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development” [12, p. 17].
To sum it up, education is a cornerstone of the promotion of human rights. It promotes a human rights awareness that empowers students, stays with them through life, and can be passed to future generations.
The observation of results and progresses of work of Human Rights Education activist educators in Indian schools in the recent decade, an anti-bias approach of the Education, and the recognition of the value of Education in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 – all these factors emphasize the significance of the HRE in the modern society.
In 2021, education is acknowledged to be path of sustainable development. By giving schools around the world a shared language of inclusion, equality and non-discrimination, Human Rights Education plays the key role in achieving a more peaceful and global society.
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