||Human Rights Education and Compass, a Brief
Guide for Practioners > Understanding Human Rights Education
Understanding Human Rights Education
What is Human Rights Education?
"...educational programmes and activities
that focus on promoting equality in human dignity, in conjunction
with other programmes such as those promoting intercultural learning,
participation and empowerment of minorities"
Official definition of Human Rights Education
for the Council of Europe Youth Programme
A long-term aim
shall be directed to the full development of the human personality
and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship
among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further
the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace".
Article 26, UDHR
There are many definitions and a number
of different approaches, but human rights education is best described
in terms of what it sets out to achieve. The long term aim of
such programmes is to establish a culture where human rights are
understood, defended and respected. Thus, anyone who works with
other people may be said to engage in human rights education if
they have this end in mind and take steps to achieve it - no matter
how or where they go about it.
There may be slightly different views about the best or most
appropriate way to move towards such an end, but that is as it
should be. No two individuals, or groups of individuals, or cultures
have identical requirements, and no one educational approach will
suit all individuals, all groups, or all societes. This only goes
to show that effective human rights education needs to be, above
all, learner-centred: it has to begin from the needs, preferences,
abilities and desires of each person, within each society.
A learner-centred educational approach recognises the value
of personal action and personal change and also takes account
of the social context in which learners find themselves, but this
need not mean that educators have to work in isolation, or that
they cannot learn from others who may be working in different
contexts. What draws human rights educators together from around
the globe is a common enterprise - a desire to promote and inhabit
a world where human rights are valued and respected. There are
general guidelines, tried and tested methods, educational materials,
and many people working in the field - all of which can help us
to achieve this common aim. This manual is intended as another
What do you understand by human rights education?
Breaking it down
The long view is important but for practical purposes we sometimes
need a more down-to-earth picture of our aims. It can help to
break these down into more concrete objectives: to look at the
different components that go to make up a culture of human rights,
and then to think about how we might be able to approach these
individually. A human rights culture, after all, is not merely
a culture where everyone knows their rights - because knowledge
does not necessarily equal respect, and without respect, we shall
always have violations. A human rights culture is a network of
interlocking attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, norms and regulations.
Understanding these can give us hooks on which to hang the work
we carry out within our groups.
Towards a human rights culture
"A journey of one thousand kilometres
always begins with a single step."
The following points derive from the essential
elements of such a culture. They can provide us with general objectives
for human rights education:
- to strengthen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
- to develop a sense of individual self-respect and respect
for others: a value for human dignity
- to develop attitudes and behaviour that will lead to respect
for the rights of others
- to ensure genuine gender equality and equal opportunities
for women in all spheres
- to promote respect, understanding and appreciation of cultural
diversity, particularly towards different national, ethnic,
religious, linguistic and other minorities and communities
- to empower people towards more active citizenship
- to promote democracy, development, social justice, communal
harmony, solidarity and friendship among people and nations
- to further the activities of international institutions aimed
at the creation of a culture of peace, based upon universal
values of human rights, international understanding, tolerance
Outcomes of HRE
What are the aims for my group?
We have identified a global aim for human rights education,
and some long-term goals. But we can move, even closer to home,
and think about the needs of individual groups and communities:
changing in the world, by working locally! The world, at the moment,
is a world where there are violations of human rights all around
us. In an ideal case, it might be enough to instil in the members
of your group a sense of respect towards other human beings, and
to hope that they, at least, will not be among those who will
violate the rights of others in the future. This is one important
aspect of the work we do as educators for human rights.
But we can aim for more: we can aim to inspire the young people
with whom we work to act not only on themselves but also on the
world around them. We can try to inspire them to become, in their
own right, mini-educators and mini-activists who will themselves
assist in the defence of human rights - even when the issues do
not appear to touch them personally. There is nothing unachievable
about that aim: it does not mean that we should expect young people
to devote their lives to the defence of human rights, but only
that they should be aware of the issues, concerned by the issues,
and capable of acting to alter the existing state of affairs where
they feel that this is necessary.
With this idea in mind, existing models of human rights education
sub-divide objectives into three main areas:
- Promoting awareness and understanding of human rights issues,
in order that people recognise violations of human rights
- Developing the skills and abilities necessary for the defence
of human rights
- Developing attitudes of respect for human rights, so that
people do not willingly violate the rights of others.
What can you identify as the main concerns for the young people
that you work with?
Knowledge, skills and attitudes
about human rights
What type of knowledge is necessary for
young people to gain a deeper understanding of human rights issues?
Which skills and attitudes will be required for them to help in
the defence of human rights?
The lists below provide some of answers to these questions;
these were the objectives that we used in putting together this
manual. Knowledge and understanding
- Key concepts such as: freedom, justice, equality, human dignity,
non-discrimination, democracy, universality, rights, responsibilities,
interdependence and solidarity.
- The idea that human rights provide a framework for negotiating
and agreeing standards of behaviour in the family, in school,
in the community, and in the wider world;
- The role of human rights and their past and future dimension
in one's own life, in the life of communities, and in the lives
of other people around the world.
- The distinction between civil/political and social/economic
- Different ways of viewing and experiencing human rights in
different societies, different groups within the same society,
and the various sources of legitimacy - including religious,
moral and legal sources;
- Main social changes, historical events and reasons leading
to the recognition of human rights;
- Major international instruments that exist to implement the
protection of human rights - such as the United Nations Declarations
of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations Convention of the
Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the European Convention on the
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR);
- Local, national, international bodies, non-governmental organisations,
individuals working to support and protect human rights.
for human rights
- Active listening and communication: being able to listen
to different points of view, to advocate one's own rights and
those of other people;
- Critical thinking: finding relevant information, appraising
evidence critically, being aware of preconceptions and biases,
recognising forms of manipulation, and making decisions on the
basis of reasoned judgement;
- The ability to work co-operatively and to address conflict
- The ability to participate in and organise social groups;
- Acting to promote and safeguard human rights both locally
Attitudes and values
through human rights
- A sense of responsibility for one's own actions, a commitment
to personal development and social change;
- Curiosity, an open mind and an appreciation of diversity;
- Empathy and solidarity with others and a commitment to support
those whose human rights are under threat;
- A sense of human dignity, of self-worth and of others' worth,
irrespective of social, cultural, linguistic or religious differences;
- A sense of justice, the desire to work towards the ideals
of freedom, equality and respect for diversity.
An inclusive approach
"The word 'education' implies the
entire process of social life by means of which individuals and
social groups learn to develop consciously within, and for the
benefit of, the national and international communities, the whole
of their personal capacities, attitudes, aptitudes and knowledge."
In this manual we have taken an inclusive
approach to HRE in a number of different senses. Firstly, we have
tried to embrace every one of the three different dimensions -
knowledge, skills and attitudes - to an equal degree. Secondly,
the activities have been designed with a broad audience in mind
- both in terms of age range and in adressing the formal, non-formal
and informal education sectors simultaneously. Thirdly, we tried
to link human rights education through participatory and active
learning activities to relevant local and global issues such as
development, environment, intercultural relations and peace. We
do not suggest that HRE can only be approached as a separate discipline.
The use of such participatory activities has been central. Studies
show that co-operatively structured small group work helps in
building group cohesion, and in reducing biases between group
members. Co-operative group work also helps to improve understanding
of complex concepts and increases problem-solving skills, enabling
participants to devise solutions that demonstrate greater creativity
and practicality. All of these outcomes are important aims of
human rights education. That means that we need to 'include' young
people themselves at every moment of learning process. We should
not fall into the trap of assuming that we, the educators, are
in possession of an ultimate truth, which must be passed on to
passive learners. Such an approach can easily transform human
rights education into the worst type of 'ideological' education.
An essential feature of the methodology contained in this manual
involves the idea that young people will bring to any educational
process a rich pool of experience, which must be actively drawn
upon to ensure an interesting and effective development of the
educational activities. Questions, often even conflicts, should
be regarded as fundamental educational resources, which can be
adressed in a positive manner.
For further descriptions of involving young people in participatory activities, you can look at "Section 3" of DOmino and the educational approach outlined in the Education Pack.
HRE with young people
hear and I forget.
I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
It is increasingly accepted that attention
should be devoted to human rights education for young people,
not only because it is important for society, but also because
young people themselves appreciate and benefit from the type of
activities that this work involves. Contemporary societies and,
in particular, the youth population are increasingly confronted
by processes of social exclusion, of religious, ethnic and national
differences, and by the disadvantages - and advantages - of increasing
globalisation. Human rights education addresses these important
issues and can help to make sense of the different perceptions,
and values of a modern multi-cultural society. It helps individuals to find ways
of using such differences in positive ways.
and participatory approaches are particularly valuable in assuring
learning acquisition and allowing learners to reach their fullest
From the 1990 Jomtien Declaration.
Perhaps more importantly, young people care
about human rights, and in that sense, they provide the main resource
for human rights education. Young people today are often criticised
for being apathetic and uninterested in politics; but a number
of studies appear to suggest that the opposite is actually the
case. Research carried out for the European Commission in 2001,
for example, reminded us that young people do participate in society
- not least, through associations and youth clubs. On average,
within the countries of the European Union, more than 50% of young
people either participate in, or belong to, an association of
some type1 (although there are significant differences
from one country to another).
As far as interest in political issues goes, a study of young
people's attitudes to the European Union revealed that human rights
issues rank among their top priorities. Beaten only by the issues
of unemployment and crime, young people would most like their
governments to address the protection of human rights, protection
of the environment, the fight against racism, and inequality between
Is it your experience that young people are not interested in
political issues? If so - why do you think this might be?
Experience from around the globe has shown the energy and commitment
that young people will devote to such issues if they can themselves
take joint responsibility for what they do and how they learn,
and if the issues are presented in relevant and interesting ways.
As educators, we need to harness that energy. That they will
take up these ideas and run with them is evident from the numerous
existing programmes for young people - from the small scale activities
carried out on a relatively ad hoc basis in individual youth clubs
or schools, to the major international programmes conducted by
the Council of Europe and other organisations.
Which types of issues are most likely to raise the interest of
members of your group?
Formal and non-formal educational
The most appropriate way of involving participants and structuring
an educational process depends to a large extent upon the setting
in which an educator is working. You may have more or less freedom
regarding content, timing and form of activity depending on whether
you are operating within a formal, informal or non-formal educational
context.The activities presented in this manual have been designed
to be flexible enough for use in all such contexts: within youth
clubs, schools, summer camps, informal meetings, and so on.
is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten"
B. F. Skinner
Informal education refers to the
lifelong process, whereby every individual acquires attitudes,
values, skills and knowledge from the educational influences and
resources in his or her own environment and from daily experience
(family, neighbours, marketplace, library, mass media, work, play,
Formal education refers to the structured education system
that runs from primary school to university, and includes specialised
programmes for technical and professional training.
Non-formal education refers to any planned programme
of personal and social education for young people designed to
improve a range of skills and competencies, outside the formal
"learning [is]...a process that is
not only related to the function of school or other organised
educational settings. This conception of learning is based upon
the idea and observation that a considerable number of our meaningful
learning experiences happen outside the formal education system:
in workplaces, families, different organisations and libraries..."
Dr. Pasi Sahlberg in
Building Bridges for Learning - The Recognition and Value of Non-Formal
Education in Youth Activity
Non-formal education as practised by many
youth organisations and groups is :
- accessible to everyone (ideally);
- an organised process with educational objectives;
- participatory and learner-centred;
- about learning life skills and preparing for active citizenship;
- based on involving both individual and group learning with
a collective approach;
- holistic and process-oriented;
- based on experience and action, and starts from the needs
of the participants.
Formal, non-formal and informal education are complementary
and mutually reinforcing elements of a lifelong learning process.
This manual has not been designed as a 'course' in HRE, and the
individual activities can usefully be applied in very different
contexts, in formal or less formal settings, and on a regular
or irregular basis.
HRE as a starting point for
At the core of human rights education is the development of
critical thinking and the ability to handle conflict and take
action. We have included among the aims of this manual the encouragement
of solidarity-based activities and the organisation of events
in the community, both because these are important for the development
of skills and abilities closely connected with HRE, and because
they are in themselves a means towards the end of developing a
positive human rights culture. Young people can make a direct
difference to the world around them, and this has been an important
theme in the manual. We have included an individual section on
taking action (Chapter 3) which provides a series of simple ideas
for community activities related to human rights.
In addition to this section, each of the activities in Chapter
2 has been designed with the aim of helping to develop certain
key skills useful for organising and carrying out actions in the
community. We have tried to adopt a pluralistic approach and a
learning-by-doing perspective, in line with, for example, the
Council of Europe's Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC)
project recommendations. Here, HRE is presented as a daily practice
that should be based on experiential learning and learning-by-doing,
with the aim of mobilising competencies and initiatives in a continuing
and changing process.
"Never be afraid to raise your voice...
against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the
world... would do this, it would change the earth."
"Human history becomes more and more
a race between education and catastrophe."
The following recommendations for educational
policies are drawn from "Education for democratic citizenship:
a lifelong learning perspective", and are intended to support
this spontaneous process of change:
- directly involving practitioners in designing, monitoring,
implementing and evaluating their own educational innovations;
- encouraging the solving of concrete social issues, using
the know-how and practical experiences of reflective practitioners;
- promoting bottom-up educational change;
- working towards greater autonomy of educational agents so
that they can work out specific forms of action and linkage
with the local community, civil society and social partners;
- encouraging networking, joint projects and activities, as
well as communication between practitioners and decision makers.
International support for
The Council of Europe
For the Member States of the Council of Europe, human rights
are meant to be more than just assertions: human rights are part
of their legal framework, and should therefore be an integral
part of young people's education. The European nations made a
strong contribution to the twentieth century's most important
proclamation of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly
on 10 December 1948. The European Convention on Human Rights,
which has legal force for all member states of the Council of
Europe, drew its principles and inspiration from the UN document,
and was adopted two years later.
Recommendation No R (85) 7 to the Member States of the Council
of Europe (adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 14 May 1985)
is related to teaching and learning about human rights in schools.
This document emphasises that all young people should learn about
human rights as part of their preparation for life in a pluralistic
democracy; and this approach is slowly being incorporated into
different European countries and institutions.
At the level of the European Union, at a meeting in Luxembourg
in December 1997, the European Council recommended that all states
should work towards:
- strengthening the role of civil society in promoting and
protecting human rights;
- promoting activities on the ground and developing technical
assistance in the area of human rights;
- strengthening training and education programmes concerning
In April 1998, the European Ministers responsible for Youth
met in Bucharest, and agreed on the aims and objectives of the
Council of Europe youth policy3:
- to encourage associative life and all other forms of action
which embody democracy and pluralism, and to help all young
people to participate more fully in the life of the community;
- to adapt current partnership patterns to social change and
to other types of youth organisations and youth work which have
so far been under-represented, and further develop the concept
of active participation by young people;
- to take full advantage of the valuable contribution which
young people can make as active, responsible citizens;
- to develop citizenship education projects which make it possible
to involve young people more quickly and more effectively in
the life of the community, while respecting differences;
- to implement, from local to European level, an inter-sectoral,
integrated and coherent youth policy, based on the principles
of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms and the European Social Charter.
In December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly officially
proclaimed 1995-2004 the United Nations Decade for Human Rights
Education. This followed a recommendation at the
1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, which stated
that human rights education, training and public information were
essential for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious
relations among communities and for fostering mutual understanding,
tolerance and peace. The Vienna Conference had recommended that
States should "strive to eradicate illiteracy and should
direct education towards the full development of the human personality
and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms". It had called on all States and institutions to
include human rights, humanitarian law, democracy and rule of
law as subjects in the curricula of all learning institutions
in formal and non-formal settings. More recently, in December
2004, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed a
World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-ongoing). Building
on the achievements of the United
Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, the World Programme
"seeks to promote a common understanding of the basic principles
and methodologies of human rights education, to provide a concrete
framework for action and to strengthen partnerships and cooperation
from the international level down to the grass roots".
One other area of relevance is the increasingly multicultural
and multi-faith nature of modern societies. The importance of
"learning to live together" within and across different
societies is central to the whole idea of education - the "necessary
utopia" that was recommended by the 1996 UNESCO report about
education in the twenty-first century4. Human rights
lie at the core of the concept outlined in the UNESCO report -
for example, in the ability to mediate conflict and to find common
perspectives in analysing problems and planning future directions.
Facilitation of non-violent change is of fundamental importance
and of urgent concern both within and between societies. It should
occupy a central role in educational efforts.