Why teach human rights in schools?

The short answer is that human rights are part of a child’s everyday life and schools have a responsibility to enable children to make sense of the world around them. Knowing about rights and responsibilities, understanding what they are, and learning how they have been struggled for and sustained are important elements in the preparation of all young people for a life in a democratic and pluralistic society. Children of all ages express concerns or outrage at events or situations which they see as unjust in their own lives and the wider world. Human rights education (HRE) can build on that understanding of injustice and sense of fair play and can explore why certain behavior is unfair.

The concepts taught in HRE are universal. There are violations of human rights all around us. We see and/or experience societal problems such as homelessness, racial discrimination, and intolerance on a daily basis. Students enter the classroom with their own prejudices and biases which can prevent them from viewing a societal problem with an open mind. It is the job of a human rights educator to first assess their own prejudices and biases and then to assist students in the great task of opening their minds to new ways of seeing the complexity of the challenges faced in our communities and the world.

Benefits of human rights education

Human rights education teaches students not only about their rights but also their responsibilities. We all have the responsibility to ensure that we do not infringe upon the rights of others. For example, the right to freedom of expression also carries with it the responsibilities not to hurt, insult, or incite others to prejudicial behavior. Through HRE, teachers can instill in students a sense of respect toward other human beings and inspire them to become, in their own right, educators and activists who will assist in the defense of human rights. Human rights education:

  • Produces changes in values and attitudes
  • Produces changes in behavior
  • Produces empowerment for social justice
  • Develops attitudes of solidarity across issues and nations
  • Develops knowledge and analytical skills
  • Produces participatory education.

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