Human rights in the classroom
When is it too soon to talk about human rights in the classroom? To answer that, we need to understand why we go to school in the first place. The stock answer of parents is to make sure their child gets “quality education.” And what exactly does that mean?
Most of us find it difficult to precisely define what quality education is, but we all expect schools and teachers to prepare learners for life. In today’s strife-torn world with scarce resources, this means that the learner must have technical competencies bolstered by a deep-seated respect for human rights and freedoms.
Academics also do not have a standard definition of quality education, but they do agree that there are two quality dimensions. The most obvious one is cognitive development. In the child’s formative years, the building blocks are learning to read, write and use numbers. More complicated concepts and abstractions are learned with each year level.
The second quality dimension pertains to the values that the learner imbibes while interacting with his or her teachers and schoolmates. This begins with learning to follow simple rules like waiting one’s turn and being respectful to others. Later, this progresses to being able to think critically, sift through all kinds of information, and discern right from wrong.
In both dimensions, the competencies being acquired naturally become higher as the learner progresses and the subject matter becomes increasingly complex.
The final embodiment of quality education becomes evident when the learner starts engaging with his or her community and the world at large, propped up by the skills and competencies acquired in school and the moral certitude that he or she is helping make this world a better place.
Lately, we’ve been hearing much talk that human rights are antithetical to effective law enforcement and the ultimate eradication of the drug menace. This is patently false, but schools tend to reflect community values. If we are to correct this dangerous misimpression, it makes absolute sense that human rights concepts permeate the entire education system.
Years ago, all members of the United Nations resolved to protect the world’s children from hunger, disease and social iniquity. This commitment is embodied in the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child. It says in part that “education should allow all children to reach their fullest potential in terms of cognitive, emotional and creative capacities.”
On Dec. 10, 2004, the UN adopted the World Program for Human Rights Education with the following premises:
First, human rights education (HRE) helps improve the effectiveness of the national education system as a whole, enabling the education system to fulfill its fundamental mission to secure quality education for all.
Second, HRE improves quality of learning achievements by promoting child-centered, participatory teaching, and learning practices and processes.
Third, HRE increases access to and participation in schooling by creating a rights-based learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming and fosters universal values, equal opportunities, diversity and nondiscrimination.
Fourth, HRE contributes to social cohesion and conflict prevention by supporting the social and emotional development of the child and by introducing democratic citizenship and values.
As a member of the UN, the Philippines is bound to both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the World Program for Human Rights Education—unless, of course, President Duterte makes good on his threat to withdraw our membership. That would be so unbecoming of a nation whose citizens here and abroad are known for their commitment to the cause and rights of children, the infirm and the elderly.
So when should teachers start discussing human rights in the classroom? Just like anything else in any modern curriculum, learning starts at Grade 1.
Butch Hernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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