There is an urgency to ensure the support for human rights amongst Lena, Mohammed, and Liang who just enrolled in school for the first time in their lives. Only by fostering human rights knowledge, skills and attitudes in every generation, we can win the battle for human rights. The UN Human Rights Council stresses that states have an obligation. The 2030 Agenda gives direction.
“Democracy is a battle that should be fought in every generation.” More than 75 years ago, the Danish democracy researcher Hal Koch stated these wise words, and we believe one could say the same for human rights. Human rights education is a key instrument in this battle. You need to know what you are fighting for and what you stand to lose if you do not fight. States are obliged to ensure quality human rights education in schools and thereby prepare and support children and youth to stand up for their rights and to protect and uphold the rights of others.
However, according to Freedom House, a total of 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018. Furthermore, about 1 in 5 children - adolescents and youth worldwide - are out of school, 75 million children have had their education disrupted by conflict or natural disasters, and less than half of the world’s refugee children are enrolled in school, according to data from UNICEF, UNESCO and the UN Refugee Agency.
Schools are key in the battle for human rights
The numbers expose that an alarmingly high number of our future generations are deprived of their right to education which includes education in human rights. Add to this that many of the children who do go to school, are enrolled in education systems, that are very far from being categorized as “inclusive and equitable quality education”, as is the goal 4 on quality education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The generation of children who are currently walking through the doors of primary schools for the first time, will finish lower secondary by 2030. If children of this generation do not know their rights and are not taught how to support the fulfilment of the rights of others, more countries will most likely move in a less democratic and human rights protecting direction. It is time to act. Target 4.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is firmly anchored in human rights and explicitly emphasizes the importance of integrating human rights education in the education systems. It thus drives stark impetus for promoting human rights education.
As schools are key to socialising younger generations, we must create learning environments characterised by respect and human dignity, where teachers provide students with opportunities for self-expression and participation in decision-making. Only by integrating human rights values into all aspects of schooling and education, can we promote a universal culture of justice, non-violence and equality. Human rights education therefore needs to be provided for in national education and policy laws.