Human rights education in the education system

The learning and practice of human rights should be integrated into formal education systems.

Participants in an international conference on human rights education in the Asia-Pacific region in 1998 declared:

All schools - public and private - should place emphasis on human rights as an integral part of the curriculum as well as a separate subject in its own right. All school authorities should provide a learning environment free from intimidation and discrimination which fosters participation and respect for human dignity (The Osaka Declaration, 1998).

There has also been a call for a particular emphasis on developing awareness of racism and racial discrimination (United Nations General Assembly, 2002).

Human rights education in schools

In New Zealand primary and secondary schools, human rights can be taught as part of the social studies curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2000). To meet the aims of the curriculum, teachers select from a range of topics and find their own resources. An on-line resource to support teaching of human rights in schools has been developed by the Human Rights Commission ( www.pathway.hrc.co.nz ). It is designed to be taught at levels two (7-8-year-olds), four (mainly ages 11-12), and five (mainly ages 13-14).

While 11,000-15,000 people visit the Pathways website every month, the extent to which teachers include human rights in their social studies programmes is unclear (HRC & OHRP, 2003; UNCRC, 2003; UNESCO, 2000).

Non-governmental organisations also offer programmes for schools, such as the Culture of Peace Outreach Programme and the Cool Schools Peer Mediation Programme (UNESCO, 2000). The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO works with schools to develop projects about human rights through its Associated Schools Project network.

During the Action Plan consultation there was a strong call for both general and more specific human rights education in schools. People considered human rights education to be a key way of:

Specific suggestions included education on diversity, cultural understanding, and 'social and self awareness'. H uman rights education for young people was viewed by one participant as a way of demonstrating that discrimination is not tolerated. A group of high school students wanted more teaching on 'civics' (covering society, Government, legal system, and the international context). There were also calls for the school curriculum to include education on how to participate in political processes. On the subject of the right to freedom of religion and ethical belief, a number of participants suggested that education, particularly in schools, should give New Zealanders a better understanding of and respect for religions other than their own.

A further issue emerging from the consultation was the need to address the learning environment itself so that it fosters participation and respect for human dignity. According to the Ministry of Social Development (2002), a key action area in the implementation of the Agenda for Children is to reduce bullying in schools. Work has begun to strengthen current approaches by finding the best ways to create a positive school culture where there is no bullying. Schools have also been provided with resources for preventing and dealing with racial and sexual harassment (UNCRC, 2003; United Nations Economic & Social Council, 2001).

Despite these efforts, many consultation participants were concerned that aspects of the school learning environment needed to be improved. Specific issues raised were racism, discrimination, bullying, and homophobia. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups reported harassment in educational settings and thought that lack of education about sexuality was an issue.

Some participants suggested that teachers should receive training to improve their own attitudes toward particular groups. One group said 'teachers need to understand Maori students better and they will achieve' (Hamerton & Fowler, 2004a, p.90). Specific training in disability issues was suggested, and a group of Pacific peoples thought that teachers should have 'cultural Pacific training and [training on] the Treaty of Waitangi'( p.90). One group also wanted 'counsellors to be more proactive in recognising harassment and discrimination' (p.97).

Many participants thought it was important to extend human rights education beyond schools to communities. One suggestion was to 'have education at school on diversity that includes education of the parents' (p.97). A Pacific group noted that 'education is life; therefore education is a partnership with Pacific parents and their families' (p.86).

Human rights education in tertiary institutions

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority Framework (NZQA) offers five unit standards that are linked to human rights. Accredited providers include institutes of technology, polytechnics, wananga, industry training organisations, private training establishments, NGOs and some community groups. A number of university courses also include human rights components, particularly within law, social science and business studies programmes.

Human rights education in the areas of racism and racial discrimination

Race relations was identified by consultation participants as an area where human rights education was particularly needed. Some generally positive statements were made about education and attitudes in the area of race and ethnic relations. Comments included 'some . good programmes in schools' and 'some employers are trying to employ foreigners' (Hamerton & Fowler, 2004a, p.191).

Many participants saw human rights education as a key factor in eliminating racism, discrimination and stereotyping. It was suggested that such education should be in schools and workplaces, through government-funded workshops, media campaigns and free information kits.

The importance of promoting and protecting the rights to language and culture were emphasised by most of the Maori groups. Greater national awareness of and respect for Maori culture was seen as achievable through 'knowledge and understanding of Treaty culture' (Hamerton & Fowler, 2004a, p.181). One group said 'educate both Maori and Tauiwi re indigenous rights and how they impart a balance with everyone's rights' (p.181).

About two-thirds of participating groups identified the need for earlier, better and more accurate information and education about the Treaty, both from historical and current perspectives. Several groups thought that human rights education was needed by both Maori and non-Maori as a means of improving understanding between cultures. The recently established Treaty Information Unit within the State Services Commission provides a website on the Treaty and funds information programmes by other organisations, including the Human Rights Commission.

Surveying public understanding and opinions on human rights

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Where appropriate, public inquiries to assess the levels of understanding and opinions about human rights, and the need for discussion on what constitutes an adequate understanding of human rights should be undertaken. This was seen to be useful for planning and evaluating human rights education efforts at the national level.

Surveys on levels of knowledge about human rights

A report by the Ministry of Justice in 2000 noted that 'the importance of human rights is not well understood in New Zealand '. This report recommended the development of a national plan of action for human rights in New Zealand as one key way of addressing this lack of understanding (Ministry of Justice 2000, para. 232).

In a telephone survey conducted in April 2003, 65 percent of people said that they had a good level of knowledge about human rights in New Zealand and 76 percent said they had heard about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The level of declared knowledge varied, however. People on higher personal incomes and older people were more likely to have heard about the Universal Declaration than those on lower incomes and younger respondents (UMR Research, 2003). An earlier telephone survey showed that many people thought that the Treaty of Waitangi had very little or nothing in common with international human rights (UMR Research, 2002).

A limited number of surveys have reported on awareness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). In a 1997 survey of children and young people, 53 percent said they knew about rights that children have, but only 23 percent knew about the Convention (UNCRC, 2003). In the April 2003 UMR survey, 59 percent of people surveyed said they had heard about UNCROC. Those on higher personal incomes and older respondents were more likely to declare that they had heard of it (68 percent of respondents 45 years and older and only 33 percent of those aged under 30). Non-Maori respondents (61 percent) were more likely to declare that they had heard of the Convention than Maori (47 percent) (UMR Research, 2003).

Reflecting the UMR Human Rights and the Treaty of Waitangi survey (2002) findings, consultation participants reported a general lack of awareness and understanding about human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, how these were related to each other and what this means for everyday life. One participant said people needed to change their 'misconception that they are disadvantaged by the recognition of others' human rights' (Hamerton & Fowler, 2004b, p.64).

While some public opinion polls have been conducted on knowledge of human rights, no agreement has been reached as to what constitutes an adequate understanding of human rights.

Involving local authorities

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Specific attention should be paid to the local level, such as local authorities, and that human rights training of local administrators should be promoted.

There is no coordinated effort for human rights education for local authorities in New Zealand. Instead, each local authority is responsible for ensuring all employees understand, and can apply in practice, relevant human rights standards (such as those in the BoRA). The new Local Government Act 2002 requires each local authority to consult and consider the needs of its people in relation to social, economic, environmental and cultural development.

Some local authorities have worked in close partnership with human rights organisations and community groups on specific human rights events, such as Race Relations Day.

Training of educators and trainers

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Training should aim at reaching primarily those who are (or have potential to be) responsible for human rights education activities, both as educators (for example, teachers, trainers of professional groups, members of non-governmental organisations) and as human rights education process managers (officials from ministries of education, members of non-governmental organisations). Such training should be comprehensive, tailored to the role of the trainee, covering both human rights content (standards and means of protection) and skills for organising and delivering education.

The extent of human rights education in tertiary institutions where teachers are trained is not known. However, criteria for teacher registration (which covers early childhood and the compulsory education sector) include aspects that are consistent with a school environment where human rights are respected. 'Respect for other cultural and social values' and 'care for the learning of those who are disadvantaged and those with learning difficulties' are two examples (New Zealand Teachers Council, undated).

In relation to statutory organisations, training for advocates through the Office of the Children's Commissioner includes a focus on children's rights in schools and ways of resolving issues concerning them (Office of the Children's Commissioner, 2003).

Three of the Human Rights Commission's major human rights education programmes are aimed at creating networks of human rights trainers who are able to pass on their knowledge and skills to others. One such programme, Tu Tikanga , provides training by and for disabled people. Another, Taku Manawa , is linked to the national qualifications framework and focuses on people who are most at risk of discrimination at the community level. The third, entitled Making Human Rights Work , delivers human rights education to the public sector (HRC & OHRP, 2003).