Teaching school children about human rights is now a necessity
It is universally accepted that education is considered as a precondition for a healthy democratic society. It is thus important that education includes the study of peace, human rights, and democracy as essential to society’s development. In a country such as Pakistan, violations of human rights at all levels necessitate human rights education at all school levels in general and teacher education in particular.
Human rights education is defined as training, dissemination, and information efforts aimed at building a universal culture of human rights by imparting knowledge and skills, and moulding attitudes. Theeducation is the most important tool for spreading fundamental/ human rights awareness. In Pakistan, free and compulsory education itself has become one of the fundamental rights of children of the age of five to sixteen after introduction of new Article 25-A added in Part II, Chapter 1 of the Constitution through the 18th amendment.
Human rights should be presented in the context of a society’s moral and social traditions therefore it is important that human rights education should be included in school curriculum. Schooling provides not only basic education but also, under the best circumstances, aids a child to explore the world and express ideas. The school can help establish an intellectual basis for teaching the historical development of human rights and their contemporary significance.
On a deeper level, like the political nation, the school forms a constructed place in which students, like citizens, are treated equally, irrespective of their background. The concept of the school is like the “concept of citizenship, impersonal and formal.
“By understanding the idea of school as a community, citizens will learn to understand and feel included in the political nation” – (Osler and Starkey 1996). The school is a model of good society as John Dewey (1909) suggested. Schools are places where it is theoretically possible to operate a community based on social justice and human rights.
The contemporary conception of fundamental/human rights has historical roots. Rousseau and Socrates have enunciated principles of human rights. Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on 10 December 1948 is an important milestone in the struggle for human rights. The Declaration symbolised the beginning of the international human rights movement. In 1959, children’s rights to life, education, health, protection, and development were proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies a set of guarantees enabling one:
- not just to live but to live with dignity; and
- to develop fully and use one’s human qualities, intelligence, talents, and conscience.
The Declaration also states that everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free at least at the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
The World Conference on Human Rights considers human rights education, training and public information essential for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities and for fostering mutual understanding and tolerance.
Human rights education should include peace, democracy, development and social justice, as set forth in international and regional human rights instruments, in order to achieve common understanding and awareness with a view to strengthening universal commitment to human rights.
Taking into account the World Plan of Action on Education for Human Rights and Democracy, adopted in March 1993 by the International Congress on Education for Human Rights and Democracy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and other human rights instruments, the World Conference on Human Rights recommends that States develop specific programmes and strategies for ensuring the widest human rights education and the dissemination of public information, taking particular account of the human rights needs of women.
Human rights education aims to do the following:
- Enhance the knowledge and understanding of human rights.
- Foster attitudes of tolerance, respect, solidarity, and responsibility.
- Develop awareness of how human rights can be translated into social and political reality.
- Develop skills for protecting human rights.
The Constitution of Pakistan shapes the country’s concept of human rights. Basic objectives of the Constitution have been defined in the Preamble and the protection of human freedom and liberties are emphasized in Fundamental Rights Chapter. The rights of the child have been given the greatest priority under the Constitution.
Under Article 25-A of the Constitution, free and compulsory education in fact refers to fundamental rights education which is aimed to fully develop human personality and strengthen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Through Article 25-A of the Constitution legislature by way of inserting words“compulsory education” has intended to provide education that could promote understanding, tolerance and tranquillity amongst the people of Pakistan belonging to different religions, casts, communities and cultures.
The following provisions in Constitution safeguard fundamental human rights:
Equality before the law (Article 25);
Freedom of speech and expression (Article 16);
Right to assembly and association (Article 17);
Right to trade and business (Article 18);
Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour (Article 11);
Prohibition of labour in case of children below 14 years (Article 11);
Freedom to profess religion (Article 20);
Safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion (Article 22);
Non-discrimination on ground of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth (Article 26);
Equality of opportunity (Article 27);
Conservation of language, scripts, and culture (Article 28); and
Provision for free and compulsory education of children up to 16 years of age (Article 25-A)
The heart of human rights education is curriculum development for all stages of school education. As a guidance to develop the curriculum for children we can incorporate valuable ideas from the Vienna Declaration–human rights, humanitarian law, democracy, rule of law, peace, development, and social justice. We can also add many more to provide local color and to relate human rights with the needs of learners at different stages. Maybe some of these topics are already exist in the prevailing curriculum, but now the challenge is to make the human tights topic as the main agenda of learning.
Finally, human rights education should find its rightful place in the school curriculum, teacher training courses–pre- and in-service, textbooks, supplementary reading materials, educational policies, and school administration. Human rights education must exert its influence from early childhood education onward and through a broad range of disciplines to build a human rights culture. Hence, greater commitment from all sectors and preparation of a sound, realistic plan of action can help us achieve human rights education for all and transform the human rights movement into a mass movement to achieve a better social order and peaceful coexistence. Indeed, this is one of the greatest challenges of our times.