Education International
Education International

It takes a whole school, if not a whole society, to teach about human rights

published 8 June 2016 updated 9 June 2016

Preparing today’s learners for their multicultural reality goes well beyond teaching human rights as a stand-alone lesson in the classroom, instead requiring the creation of an environment where everyone understands, values and protects human rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who as Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1946-1952 was an early champion for human rights education, described the approach needed to teach it when she remarked how “human rights carry no weight unless the people know them, unless the people understand them, unless the people demand that they be lived.”

To strengthen progress in this area, the Council of Europe, which has developed and published a comprehensive Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, initiated the European Wergeland Center. Ana Perona-Fjeldstad, the Center’s Director explains how the broad goals of education encompass preparing learners with a broad and advanced knowledge base for life and sustainable employment, but also as active citizens in democratic societies.

“In many educational systems in Europe developing the capacity to act as a citizen has lower priority than fostering skills and knowledge needed for the labour market,” she said. “That is why the Council of Europe has developed a framework which describes the main competences which enable citizens to participate effectively in democratic society. This can’t be achieved by a simple lesson taught once in school, but requires that the whole school community, and indeed society at large embrace the values embodied within Human Rights.”

Sneh Aurora, Human Rights Education Consultant, reinforces the notion that human rights education is vital to develop a culture of human rights and a society that embraces dignity, inclusion, and equality.

“Human rights education is a lifelong learning process that aims to foster knowledge and skills on the one hand, but values and attitudes as well as behaviour and action on the other,” she observed.

Guntars Catlaks, Director of the National Centre for Education of the Republic of Latvia, highlights another important aspect.

“Learning about human rights is the essential first step towards respecting, promoting and defending those rights. Knowledge and understanding of human rights can give young people the competencies they need to create a more peaceful and just society,” he says. “To bring this about, teachers need the support and training that enables them to develop the necessary skillsets.”

Perona-Fjeldstad, Catlaks and Aurora were keynote speakers at Education International (EI)’s Symposium on Human Rights and Values in Education, which took place in Riga, Latvia, on 7 and 8 June, 2016.

Please click here to download a background paper on approaches to human rights education developed by Sneh Auroa. Her Powerpoint presentation is available here.

Ana Perona-Fjeldstad’s presentation is available here.

Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen opened the symposium. His remarks are available here.