Who should be involved in HRE?

A rights-respecting school is based on the idea that every child has a right to an education that:

  • helps realize their human rights (including rights to health, work, an adequate standard of living, and a sustainable environment);
  • respects their human rights (including rights to dignity, safety, expression, participation, and justice); and
  • promotes the human rights of others.

Implementing quality human rights education that achieves these goals is dependent upon the commitment, enthusiasm, and creativity of many people. The “human rights climate” within schools and classrooms should rest on reciprocal respect between all the actors involved. The way in which decision-making processes take place, methods for resolving conflicts and administering discipline, and the relationship among all actors constitute key contributing factors.


One of the most important things a teacher can do when adopting HRE is to teach in such as way as to respect human rights in the classroom and the school environment itself. For learning to have practical benefit, students need to learn about human rights and learn in an environment that models them. One great way to model human rights is to negotiate a set of classroom rules and responsibilities with your students. Teachers are also in a unique position to be able to connect the classroom to the community by involving various community members in HRE such as students, education authorities, parents, business leaders, local advocates and more.


Effective HRE ensures that students are given more responsibility and freedom to participate in matters affecting their own lives. Schools are the primary institutions in which children develop an understanding of what it takes to become an active and informed citizen who is aware of and exercises their fundamental human rights and responsibilities in everyday life. Such an understanding, however, cannot be cultivated without democratic structures and processes being actively modeled for students in schools. Student councils, for example, provide an effective forum for involvement. The council can be part of school decisions at every level — including curriculum and staff selection. Student participation on the school board is also an effective way for students to be involved in decisionmaking, provided the involvement goes beyond tokenism and gives the student proper training and support. 


Principals play a major role in leading the school in the development of human rights-based education. The purpose of adopting HRE is to improve the school’s ability to meet the needs of the students and the aspirations of the community. Effective principals use their self-knowledge and sense of caring for the members of the school community to build an evolving consensus around the values that underpin their professional work. They recognize that the school’s leadership is accountable for making a difference in the lives and learning of their students. They have a clear set of goals, and intentionally pursue them to ensure success for all. They focus on closing the gaps between the highest and lowest achieving students in order to raise learning standards and outcomes for all. They create schools that welcome and include all members of the community. 


For HRE to be effective, schools must take into account the rights and duties of parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for their students and their right to choose the kind of education that is given to children. Schools must also provide appropriate direction and guidance to parents/guardians in the exercise by the child of their human rights. To encourage this, schools could lead workshops or involve parents/guardians in human rights teaching in the school.


In a rights-based approach to education, the school board’s over-arching goal is to ensure the realization of the right to education for children in their schools. This means that the education their schools provide must be aimed at the development of the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential and preparation for responsible life in society. Schools boards can use this framework to develop curriculum based on human rights principles. A human rights framework can also be an indispensable part of a school board’s toolkit for effective school governance. 


Community involvement is at the heart of HRE. Whatever injustice and intolerance exists in the community will be present in its schools as well. Young people need to not only learn how to recognize human rights abuses but be able to do something about them as well. Developing collaborative work with appropriate partners (such as community organizations, NGOs, or representatives) to plan and implement social action activities, will bring to life the reality of human rights in a way no lesson can.