The World Conference on Human Rights declared Human Rights Education as essential for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities, and for fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and peace. Picture: Supplied
The World Conference on Human Rights declared Human Rights Education as essential for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities, and for fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and peace. Picture: Supplied

Why it’s important to incorporate human rights in the school curriculum

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 31, 2021

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Panyaza Lesufi

I have often wondered how many of us could answer the following questions: What are human rights? Why is it important for us to have knowledge of human rights? Do we value human rights? Do we have “a human rights respecting culture” in our Rainbow Nation?

As Human Rights Month slowly comes to an end, who can tell his or her friends and family what human rights violations are? Are we able to recognise such violations?

What is your response when you observe human rights violations taking place?

What steps should we take as a nation to stop human rights violations? Lastly, are you familiar with the term Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

While these questions are a mouthful, the answers can be found in various definitions declaring that human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death.

Educationists, researchers and academics agree that human rights apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security.

These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, freedom of expression, justice, non-discrimination, human dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence. These values are defined and protected by law to emphasise that everyone counts.

As a leader in the education field, I believe it is important to incorporate human rights education in various subjects of our school curriculum in order to promote peace, democracy and social order. After all, 18 years ago the World Conference on Human Rights declared Human Rights Education (HRE) as essential for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities, and for fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and peace.

The UN has urged all member countries to promote and include HRE in their school systems.

That is why article 26(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

HRE helps pupils be aware of human rights issues and to understand human rights concepts such as democracy, freedom of speech, justice, equality, human dignity, solidarity and peace. It also helps pupils, academics and teachers to incorporate human rights vales into their personal culture and decision-making processes.

It is important for teachers to sensitise pupils to various human rights concerns and enable them to become critical thinkers who analyse rights issues objectively and critically and ask questions.

Also, respect for human rights extends to the inclusive education of persons with disabilities, thus ensuring that the educational system eliminates discrimination and facilitates access to education for all students.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines inclusive education as “a form of education provided for those who are not achieving, or are not likely to achieve through ordinary educational provisions, the level of educational, social and other attainments appropriate to their age, and which has the aim of furthering their progress towards these levels”.

The process of inclusive education is supported by several international legal sources, especially the 1994 Declaration of Salamanca, which stated that the fundamental principle of inclusive schooling is “all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have”.

Inclusive schools must recognise and respond to the diverse needs of their students, accommodating both different styles and rates of learning and ensuring quality education.

Inclusive education helps in the promotion of diversity, elimination of discrimination, and equal access for all children to a quality education. It provides opportunities for employment of persons with disabilities.

Making schools accessible and available is an important first step in fulfilling the presence of human rights.

It is a pity that despite the provision of human rights in our constitution and the Bill of Rights, human rights abuses persist. Police brutality and gender-based violence and economic marginalisation are common.

It is sad that rights such as that to education and health and freedom of speech and association are routinely trampled upon. Sometimes matters have been complicated by the technological revolution, which has demolished terrestrial boundaries and opened up communities like never before.

Personal liberties such as privacy and protection from offensive and harmful commodities and content can no longer be guaranteed, hence the passing of the Protection of Personal Information Act.

Observing human rights means the government as well as the local authorities are obligated to provide education infrastructure, free elementary education and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by every child.

As a province we have to ensure the availability of all types of schools in every township and suburb. That is why Gauteng has established Schools of Specialisation to focus on both theory and practical learning required in various fields of science learning.

The Schools of Specialisation form part of our programme of Reorganisation of Schools to change public education in order to build a single integrated schooling system that overcomes past inequalities. Our aim is to address the critical skills shortage in our country. The school’s facilities will also be made available to nearby schools.

In these schools, pupils are given workplace exposure and career guidance to prepare them for the workplace or institutes of higher learning such as Technikons, Further Education and Training institutes and universities.

These schools increase skills development and help us deliver an empowered Gauteng through transformation, modernisation and re-industrialisation. They are distinct from general public schools because they have a strong technical and vocational content. Pupils are given work place exposure and career guidance in their chosen fields to prepare them for the transition to work or pursue higher training.

The schools of specialisation specialise in Mathematics, Science and Information Communication Technology, Engineering, Commerce and entrepreneurship, Performing and Creative Arts and Sports.

An emphasis on the joy of learning and the development of habits of continual learning, development of skills for higher order thinking, effective communication at all levels, the incorporation of human rights themes and the use of information technology have become high priority areas in the curriculum.

While technological advancements have empowered individuals and expanded democratic space and connections, they have also exacerbated inequalities.

This state of affairs is proof that anchoring human rights in our Constitution is not enough if not accompanied by a firm resolution to enforce them. Social, economic and political inequalities do not, and can never, augur well for peace and stability and the adherence of human rights. That is why economic development, job creation and human rights education are, and will remain, the foundation for nation building.

It is the social responsibility of all of us, including teachers, to make every pupil and child understand and accept that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

As we say goodbye to the 2021 Human Rights Month, let us remember that it is the moral responsibility of every one of us to avoid being passive spectators to becoming active defenders of human rights.

* Lesufi is a Member of Executive Council for Education in Gauteng.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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