Education is considered a basic human right. Human rights education, however, is the dissemination of knowledge about people’s rights and responsibilities individually and collectively in relation to their society (locally, nationally, and internationally). In 1924, the League of Nations endorsed the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The United Nations Charter (1945) also laid much of the groundwork for the Convention by urging nations to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. Yet, it was not until 1989 that the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. All but two countries have ratified this Convention (United States and Somalia). The principles are overwhelmingly supported by governments, their implementation less so.
Greater attention has been paid to the development of human rights education, particularly since the United Nations General Assembly recommended and put forth the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education from 1995 to 2004. During this decade, the hope was to develop a plan of action at local, national, and international levels for the dissemination and promotion of human rights. Eight key target areas were identified, among them three related to education: (1) integration of human rights standards into educational curricula; (2) introduction of human rights standards into literacy education; and (3) promotion of nonformal and mass human rights education programs.
Curricular development in human rights education has focused largely on teaching the basic principles of fundamental human rights as outlined in the Charter of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ideals of fostering tolerance and respect for oneself and others are at the fore of these rights. The goal is for individuals to understand and exercise their fundamental rights, as recognized at local and international levels; where human rights are not protected at the regional level, efforts to secure those individual rights should be a matter of international humanitarian law.
The United Nations’ goal is to have human rights education permeate all levels of schooling and all levels of the community. Human rights education is often taught as a specific discipline, for example, as citizenship education, but it can also be part of all the disciplines, thus developing an inherent ethos embedded in the educational program. These principles underpin human rights education; the implementation and emphasis of human rights education widely diverge in different local and national contexts.
- Archard, D. (2004). Children, rights and childhood. London: Routledge.
- Hart, S., et al. (2001). (Eds.). Children’s rights in education. London: Jessica Kingsley.
- United Nations. (1999). The right to human rights education. New York: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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