Our society has gone from bad to worse. The social scenario has been changing rapidly with no certainty about the direction that the existing value system and morality will adopt. We often use the term ‘erosion of values’. This erosion of values is not only to be observed among the students, as is often lamented. We, as adults, are equally responsible for that. This ‘erosion of values’ has led to deterioration of respect for human rights of others. The need for being aware of what our rights as human beings are, was always there but it has become all the more important in the current social scenario. At present we are being invaded by excesses from all sides – be it the excess of information, the ‘atrocities’ against childhood or the illicit advances of the teacher community or the violation of the sanctity of relationship between a teacher and a student. We have had a glorious past of the ‘guru-shishya’ tradition.
In the words of Amartya Sen, “there is need to pay attention to the narrowing of horizons, especially of children, that illiberal and intolerant education can produce….Indeed, the nature of education is quite central to peace in the world….every human being’s identities have many different components, related to nationality, language, location, class, occupation, history, religion, political beliefs, and so on.” Therefore, we can say that the biggest challenge for a teacher is to promote respect and tolerance in the classroom. In 1985, the UGC prepared a blueprint for promotion of Human Rights teaching and research at all levels of education. This blueprint contained proposals for restructuring of existing syllabi, and introduction of new courses and/ or foundation courses in Human Rights. Having declared 1995-2004 as the United Nations decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), it is now in the process of initiating as a follow-up, the World Programme for Human Rights Education.
Human Rights Education
Human Rights Education (HRE)has been defined by the UN Assembly as ‘a lifelong process by which people at all levels of development & in all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of other s & the means & methods of ensuring that respect in all societies’.
If we try to analyse the concept of Human Rights and Education (HRE), we can shortlist a few main objectives of HRE. First, to develop an interaction between the society and the educational institutions for a smooth and efficient functioning; secondly, to create a sense of awareness among the citizens so that it helps in realization of the norms and values of human rights and duties inculcated in the educational programme; thirdly, to give boost to research activities.
Challenges before the Teacher
According to a survey conducted by Saroj Pandey (2007), a majority (70%) of the sampled teachers lacked awareness about the existence of Human Rights Protection Act in India. Pandey (2007) also concluded from the responses given by the teachers that they have only a vague idea of human rights; they lack the conceptual clarity, which would help them to clearly and unambiguously explain the human rights; some teachers equated human rights with the fundamental rights provided in the Indian Constitution, while others took it as being one and same thing as peaceful co-existence; there were still others, who felt that it meant following the social norms. This survey is just a hint towards the widespread ignorance that prevails among the members of teaching community. So before we talk of the other challenges being faced by the Human Rights Education and how to inculcate them through education, we must be aware of the fact that the biggest and the greatest challenge is modern context is having a clear-cut knowledge what human rights are first of all.
The Child Labour (Prohibition & regulation) Act, 1986 prohibits the employment of children below the age of fourteen years in certain occupations and regulates the conditions of work of children in shops, commercial establishments, workshops, farms, residential hotels, restaurants, eating-houses, theatres or other places of public amusement or entertainment . However, this act does not provide anything for those children whose parents are engaged in low paid, unskilled jobs and are unable to send them to school. The chances of being exposed to child labour at some point of time are very high for such children. We now have the Right to Education vested duly in our Constitution. What remains to be done is encouraging the children to continue to pursue their education for the requisite time period. This is just one instance, there are many such problems that the teacher has to tackle with his own personal abilities.
Role of Teachers in Human Rights Education
It is very important for the teachers as ‘diagnostician and prognostician of student behaviour’ to be aware of what the rights of a child as a student are. National Council for Teacher Education has been making efforts in this direction. Since the year 1995, the council has implemented a project called Human Rights and National Values for Teacher Educators. This project has come up keeping in mind the important role that a teacher can play in spreading the message of awareness about human rights.
At the primary stage, the languages and the subject of Environmental Studies is said to be very appropriate for the inculcating awareness in the students about the human rights. But merely inclusion of a subject is not sufficient. A lot more needs to be done beyond that. This is where the teacher enters an arena of utmost importance. It needs to be kept in mind that the efforts towards generating this kind of awareness are not just a poor attempt at completing the course of the aforesaid subjects. The practical actions of the teacher should match accordingly with a view to an effective implementation of human rights awareness.
According to the National Curricular Framework (2005), the objective of the subject of environmental studies is to generate among the students the ability ‘to critically address gender concerns and issues of marginalization & oppression with values of equality and justice, and respect for human dignity and rights’. At the primary stage, a student will not be able to fully comprehend the concept of ‘rights’, let alone having the above mentioned abilities. The magician that a teacher can be, he can very smoothly and spontaneously, without any conscious effort on the part of the students, imbibe these values through activity method. As the old English saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” Giving the students the opportunity of creative expression, will help to make concepts more concrete and understandable; facilitate the concretization of abstractions; and will also help to bring in an attitudinal change by affecting the responses both emotionally and intellectually. All this can be done through the medium of e stories and poetry, drama, song, dance, graphic arts and sculpture. Questions might be raised that every teacher is not an artist. But then even every student is not. Teacher can be an inspiring facilitator for helping the students to give a vent to their creative expression, irrespective of the quality of output.
As the students progress in grades, the complexity of the content may be increased likewise. For instance, in the upper primary stage, some topics that give the students knowledge about the basic democratic values can be included. Students can be told about diversity, inequality and about the democratic principles of a government. Gradually till the time students reach the secondary level, the topics can be broad, that is, in context of the whole world. Students should be familiarized with the evolution of human rights all over the world. While imparting all this knowledge the practical aspect should not be ignored at any cost. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the agency of United Nations for Human Rights has given an elaborately enlisted the various activities and approaches that need to be adopted for promotion of human rights among school students at various levels of education.
Table 1: A step-by-approach as given by OHCHR, United Nation Human Rights agency
Remember, be it primary or secondary or senior secondary stage, a teacher can inspire more than the textbooks can and practical teaching is much more effective than just theoretical preaching. For this various activities can be organized. Story and poetry can prove to be a viable media. Among other techniques are drama, dance, song, graphic arts and sculpture. Discussions can prove to be good stimulants if conducted meaningfully. Students can benefit a lot from the field and community trips. This would help to extend school to community.
Teacher’s inspiration can be endless in helping the child to move ahead in life and be an enlightened citizen. Just be there for the child so that you can guide him in being aware of his human rights as well as taking care of the rights of others. Teacher can easily bring home the point that rights come with duties. These values when inculcated among the students would be of tremendous help in rightfully making the world a better place. On a lighter note, don’t be a teacher who says, “Students today we will be knowing what freedom of speech is….hey you sitting on the last bench, just shut up!”