Moldova: Implementing Human Rights Education into national curricula

Moldova is moving beyond frameworks to ensure that quality human rights education is provided through a nation-wide school programme. 

What was once introduced as an engaging extra-curricular topic almost ten years ago has now found its way into the national curricula in Moldova thanks to continuous advocacy work. Over the last ten years, Amnesty International Moldova (AI Moldova) has been instrumental in supporting the development and implementation of Human Rights Education (HRE) in the formal education system in primary and gymnasium schools. Currently, civic education is an obligatory subject in Moldova and HRE is an elective subject.

AI Moldova developed the first Human Rights Education curriculum and HRE materials in 2010. In 2013-16, the curriculum was revised and new modules on non-discrimination and sustainable development were introduced, which were approved by the Ministry of Education and National Council for Curricula.

Now, ten years down the line, the nation’s biggest challenge is not the curriculum itself, but ensuring those implementing the curriculum have the capacity and resources to do so well. Since 2015, AI Moldova has been training teachers and building on its Human Rights Friendly Schools programme in Moldova. In 2018 alone, it trained around 150 teachers.

With Moldova gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the concept of human rights is still developing in Moldovan society and education system. HRE is therefore a key priority in the country. Moldova faces an interesting political context. On the one hand, the political environment is not entirely human rights friendly. There remain significant concerns with civic freedoms and the justice system as well as discrimination against certain groups (Roma, LGBT+). Declining pluralism of the media and harassment of NGOs present barriers for human rights defenders.

On the other hand, there is a strong trend to move closer to and eventually join the European Union. HRE is not particularly controversial domestically (compared with more immediate human rights issues) and the government has committed to implement the Council of Europe recommendations to align Moldova to European Standards of democratic governance. Thus, there is relatively good support for HRE at a high level, and Amnesty International Moldova has had an agreement with the Ministry of Education since 2010.

Nevertheless, the programme faces practical challenges, particularly regarding teachers and the education system. Many teachers were trained in Soviet times, where human rights were not taught at all and teaching methodologies were rigid. The teaching profession in Moldova now faces high turnover due to historic under-investment, this means that teachers trained in one year may not be working in the next.

In 2018, Amnesty International Moldova has been focusing on embedding HRE in the formal education system. AI Moldova’s work over the last ten years has made a significant contribution to moving HRE from an extra-curricular activity in a small number of schools to an elective subject widely offered across Moldovan gymnasium schools and demanded by students. In 2015, AI Moldova signed another agreement with the Ministry of Education to include collaboration on teacher training and Human Rights Friendly Schools. It has co-authored HRE curricula with the ministry – in practice leading the process.

Since then, working with around 20 pilot schools, Amnesty International has developed Romanian language HRE curricula for particular grade levels and included more subjects. In 2015, HRE was made available as an elective subject starting in around 100 schools. In 2017, Amnesty started to develop an HRE curriculum from primary right through to gymnasium (secondary) level. The current curriculum spans two grade levels (ages 14-15), with one hour of HRE classes per week.

One primary teacher involved in piloting the curriculum in 2018 reported changing her view of the standard curriculum. Previously she had felt she was teaching students comprehensively across all the subjects. After taking the HRE training for teachers, she realised there are many things that kids need to know that are not on the standard curriculum. Prior to being involved in the pilot, she felt it would be impossible to teach human rights to primary-age pupils.

Other teachers reported that they did not realise the breadth of human rights concepts, for example that emotions and feelings are also part of human rights. Neamțu Olga, a primary school teacher from Chișinău explains, “HRE is based on the formation of competences for life, attitudes and values; it is the life we live day by day in different social groups. It is the peaceful resolution of conflicts, assertive communication and objective decisions that they take. The course meant for me professional and personal growth; experience, since the harvested fruits have made me understand that an informed person is a more protected person”.

Amnesty International Moldova is currently contributing further to curriculum development at a national level as well as supporting implementation through training of teachers. Work on the HRE curriculum development and implementation has strong links to Amnesty International’s Human Rights Friendly School approach. AI Moldova has trained more than 150 teachers with 50 becoming Amnesty International members. Currently more than one in 10 schools offer HRE as an elective subject and every year more than 2,000 students attend the course, participating in one hour of HRE classes per week. The project has found that a holistic approach is required to achieve good results: ‘It is not enough to have extra-curricular activities or student groups; it is also not enough to have a curriculum in place. It requires a holistic approach that is not just education about HR, but also education through HR.’ explains Violeta Terguță, HRE program coordinator at AI Moldova.

“It has been a great opportunity to learn about, through and for Human Rights and Child Rights within the frame of Amnesty training courses, summer schools, skill shares. I could exchange knowledge and skills with colleagues from all over the country. Amnesty Moldova’s work is great as they develop a lot of teacher friendly materials, lesson plans, books, guides, which can be used during both curricula and extracurricular school activities,” explains Diana Galanton a High School teacher in Bălți.

AI Moldova also organises other activities such as annual HRE tournaments that complement Human Rights Friendly Schools and formal education work, providing additional motivation for students to take action and engage on a high level. More than 100 students attending the course became AI Moldova members, forming school groups, and participating in wider Amnesty International activities, campaigns, as well as promoting Human Rights in their school and their community.

Daniel, a student at the Olimp High School in Sîngerei, reported that the course has helped him shape new views and opinions: “When I attended human rights classes, I found out that I used to have stereotypes, unfortunately. Now I know that all people are different but equal. People need to be tolerant and not discriminate against each other”.[1] For Nicoleta who studies in the same school, taking the course helped her realise the ways she can defend human rights: “I have learnt that one man, one signature can change the world. People should all get involved and not be simple passers-by. I will use the skills I develop during class to defend those whose rights are violated and formulate my arguments”.

As a result of the demand from schools now implementing HRE curricula, there has been a large growth in the number of students taking part in Amnesty’s annual letter writing marathon Write for Rights compared with ten years ago. Schools now call Amnesty to participate in the marathon, rather than AI Moldova having to call schools. Over the years the number of letters has increased from around 700 to 40,000 letters. A reason for this is the changes in the quality of actions over time as students are organising events differently and tackling issues in a deeper way.