Lessons well learnt – New guide promotes global human rights education

Students attending Accra High School in the Ghanaian capital may not see themselves as trend-setters in global education.

But after a visit to their school late last year, Ghana’s late President John Atta Mills – who was also a professor – spoke of his great admiration for their success at making human rights an integral part of everyday school life.

The school aims to build capacity of the whole school community by promoting a democratic environment, innovative teaching methods and responsible citizenship. Students feel empowered through a representative student council that moots new ideas and voices the student body’s concerns.

And the school has embraced human rights not only inside the classroom, but also as an integral part of its clubs and extra-curricular activities – a human rights garden maintained by students and staff is just one space where openness, tolerance and debate are promoted.

Accra High School is one of a growing number of schools around the world that are supported by Amnesty International’s Human Rights-Friendly Schools project, whose methodologies and successes are highlighted in a new guide.

“Human rights education is a participatory practice aimed at empowering individuals and communities, equipping them with the knowledge, attitudes, values and skills that they need to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others,” said Sneh Aurora, International Human Rights Education Manager at Amnesty International.

“With this new guide, we’re offering practical suggestions for schools around the world to make human rights a viable part of their curricula, teaching methodology and broader learning environment that has a lasting impact not just on students, but also on their wider communities.” Becoming a Human Rights Friendly School: A guide for schools around the world offers 10 Global Principles for Human Rights Friendly Schools that can be integrated into four key areas of school life – governance, relationships, curriculum and extra-curricular activities, and the overall school environment.

A toolkit of human rights education resources accompanies the guide.

According to Amnesty International, Human Rights Friendly Schools are places where human rights are at the heart of the learning experience and present in all key areas of school life.

They are inclusive environments where all are encouraged to take part, regardless of status or role, and where cultural diversity is celebrated.

Integrating human rights into education

In 2009, Amnesty International developed the Human Rights Friendly Schools project within the context of the UN World Programme for Human Rights Education.

The programme’s initial phase from 2005 to 2009 – aimed at primary and secondary schools worldwide – called for a holistic approach to human rights education, encouraging national governments not only to support schools to teach about human rights, but also to ensure that schools were run according to human rights values and principles. Since 2010, a second phase has expanded the focus to also cover higher education.

“This human rights education initiative is based on the premise that everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms and should have access to human rights education and training,” said Sneh Aurora. Fifteen secondary schools from 14 countries – in all regions of the world – took part in a pilot of Amnesty International’s Human Rights Friendly Schools project from September 2009 to July 2011.

As the project now engages a greater number of schools and expands to new countries, the organization sees this new guide as an opportunity to consolidate, reflect and share the experiences and learning to date, and continue to support schools in their journey to become human rights friendly.

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