Teaching and learning on human rights values
On Human Rights Day, we reflect on the importance of incorporating human rights education into education systems.
December 10, 2018 by Carol Rask, Danish Institute for Human Rights and Kristina Helland Strandby, Danish Institute for Human Rights|
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A teacher trainee helps out in class. Burkina Faso.
CREDIT: GPE/Kelley Lynch

With the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we hail an international commitment to fostering peace and democratic development guided by human rights values.  

We also celebrate a 70 year-old recognition that a primary aim of our educational systems is to further the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. (UDHR, Article 26 (2))

Human Rights Education an integral element of the right to education

Learning about and respecting human rights is thus key in the realization of the right to education and for quality education for all. Through effective learning about human rights and human rights values, children and youth can take the first steps towards enjoying, exercising and demanding respect for their rights. When our schools and teachers further learning environments characterized by human dignity, respect and non-discrimination, children and youth learn through practice to uphold and respect the rights of others. Human rights education becomes a powerful investment for a strong human rights culture and for furthering sustainable development. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognizes this. Goal 4 on education reaffirms that human rights education is key to quality education. Through SDG Goal 4.7 world leaders agreed that all learners should acquire human rights knowledge and skills. Inspiration on how this can be done can be found in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (UN-DHRET) and the World Programme for Human Rights Education (WPHRE).

Incorporating human rights education into our educational systems

We know that to effectively further human rights education, it must be provided for in educational laws, policies and plans, and implemented in the educational system e.g. in schools and  teacher training programmes. So when assessing how far we have reached, we must ask ourselves:

  • Is human rights education included in our education laws and policies?  
  • Do we have teachers trained in how to build a human rights-based culture and effectively transfer human rights knowledge and skills in the classroom?
  • Do our school curricula include elements on human rights? What do our learning assessments say about knowledge, skills and attitudes on human rights among our school children and students?

Partners within the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) thus have a key role to play by, for example, including human rights education as a key element in education sector plans and programs.

National Human Rights Institutes as strategic partners and data providers

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can assist in this endeavour, as institutions with an official mandate to promote and protect human rights in their countries.  In many countries, NHRIs have solid knowledge and experience with human rights education. They increasingly work to ensure that national policies and programmes include human rights education. For example, the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia (NHRCM) has facilitated the inclusion of human rights subjects within all University programs through a close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and other government entities.  In Burundi, the NHRI provided technical assistance for assessing the planned national educational reform process from a human rights perspective.

Measuring progress against standards

Effectively furthering human rights education involves monitoring progress. To do this, we need meaningful and operational indicators. NHRIs are co-operating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to pilot such an indicator framework. The pilot further aims to ease government’s international reporting obligations. The ambition is to make it possible for governments to use the same human rights data when monitoring progress against SDG 4.7.1 and reporting to international human rights bodies and the World Programme for Human Rights Education. Six NHRIs from all regions have piloted the framework, which has helped identify some challenges in national implementation. Of particular note in the findings is the striking absence of human rights education in teacher training curriculum in all but one of the piloted countries.

How then, may one ask,  can we further respect for the values enshrined in the UDHR within our education institutions when our educators themselves are by and large not empowered to do so?

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