Mekdes Tadele (PhD), Coordinator, Curriculum and Material Development
Human Rights Education Department, EHRC
Human rights education (HRE) is commonly defined as education, training and information which aim to empower learners to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and the building of a universal culture of human rights in society through equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour. It is a key long-term strategy for addressing the underlying causes of human rights violations, preventing human rights abuses, combating discrimination, promoting equality and enhancing participation.
Childhood is the ideal time to begin lifelong learning about and for human rights. Providing human rights education at an early age of human development is strongly recommended as children’s attitudes, ideas and characters are formed at a young age. Establishing such human behaviors as giving due respect for and treating others in a dignified manner and believing in the diversity and equality of human beings are better achieved at an early stage. HRE in school can assist children to value human rights and incorporate them into their attitudes and behaviors. It seeks to foster self-value, appreciation and respect for differences; competences in identifying violations and ability to articulate rights before duty-bearers; and confidence and skills among children in relation to defending and promoting human rights.
Education in human rights is guaranteed as part of the right to education under International Human rights Instruments, including in UDHR (Article 26), the ICESCR (Article 13), and International Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 29). The Committee on the Rights of the Child in its general comment No. 1 pointed out that “the education to which each child has a right is one designed to provide the child with life skills, to strengthen the child’s capacity to enjoy the full range of human rights and to promote a culture which is infused by appropriate human rights values” (Para. 2).
According to leading educators, teaching and learning about human rights in an age appropriate way is feasible and desirable starting from pre-school to tertiary level. If HRE is established as an integral part of school curriculum, young students can easily develop understanding and appreciation for human rights. It is also possible to strategically increase outreach capacity and create multiple and lasting effects in terms of creating a human rights culture. With this consideration, the first phase (2005-2009) of the World Programme for Human Rights Education (WPHRE) encouraged governments and other actors to assess the current situation of HRE in the primary and secondary school systems and develop a national implementation strategy. Accordingly, countries took measures to integrate education about human rights norms and principles into education curriculum. In this regard, three commonly proposed strategies are available, i.e. standalone or separate subject on human rights; integration of explicit HRE themes within key “carrier” subjects; and mainstreaming HRE across all subjects.
The most common method of mainstreaming involves integrating human rights themes, issues, perspectives and approaches within one or two key subjects, such as Citizenship Education, Social Studies, Civic and Ethical Education and Moral Education, at the primary and secondary school levels. In Ethiopia, Civic and Ethical Education (CEE), which has been provided as a mandatory subject from grade 5 onwards, is the main subject through which human rights concepts and principles reach students. However, a study conducted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in 2020 found limitations in the content of the subject in terms of enabling learners develop human rights knowledge, attitude and skill. Thorough examination of the textbooks for CEE subject, the EHRC study identified a number of problems. Among these are incoherent and repetitive discussions on human rights topics; limited discussions on international and national human rights instruments; insufficient exercises in the domains of skills and attitudes/values; and limited attempt to relate lessons and topics to the daily lives of students and their communities.
The recent curriculum revision replaced CEE with Citizenship Education (for middle and secondary education levels). A new subject titled Moral Education is introduced into the primary education curriculum. Citizenship Education teaches children about their roles as citizens and to be active participants in the affairs of their country. As a major component of the subject, students learn about the rights which the state guarantees and corresponding obligations.
On its part, moral education aims to equip learners with a set of beliefs and values regarding what is right and wrong. The intersection point between moral and human right education is that both are concerned with developing respect for fundamental human freedoms, a sense of dignity within people and the promotion of freedom, tolerance, equity and harmony among people. This might provide room to incorporate human rights concepts in Moral Education curriculum.
The development of a new curriculum presents an opportunity for an effective integration of human rights education in the education system. However, it requires a continuous effort to incorporate and strengthen HRE in the formal education system. At the moment, it is important to seize the opportunity and to ensure that age appropriate and important topics of human rights are covered in the subjects. Furthermore, it is necessary to design topics within a framework of participatory and interactive learning as required in HRE.