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Citizenship and human rights education
click below to read about specific developments in this field, in:

  • countries a-m

  • countries n-z

    or have a look at the bibliography

    content on these pages commissioned by the British Council, from:
    Lynn Davies, University of Birmingham

    back to the Human rights index


    The components of, or sites for citizenship and human rights education fall into six main areas:

    • formal curriculum of schools and higher education (through government or NGO programmes or materials)
    • organisational structures of schools: student councils, student unions
    • links and work with the community
    • non-formal education or popular education
    • training courses for public officials
    • public awareness campaigns, using media and roadshows.

    In establishing the extent and nature of citizenship and human rights education in a country, the first question is that of definition. The concept may mean a whole range of possibilities, such as civics, political education, national identity, global education/global citizenship, environmental education, peace education, gender equity/ feminist critiques of citizenship, interculturalism and ethnic minority inclusion. Comparative textbooks on citizenship education often find each author defining 'citizenship' (in terms of law, psychology, identity for example) as a preamble before outlining the state of play in their country.

    Citizenship education in schools will be closely aligned to the definition, rights and responsibilities of a citizen in that particular country, as well as to whether children are considered as citizens - either of the country or the school. Human rights education will also be linked to whether a country is a signatory to the various international conventions and how far these have been incorporated into law and educational policy. A key question therefore is the legislation in a country - either specifically on curriculum or school organisation, or on those areas of Human Rights/Children's Rights which would have implications for education.

    Another issue is establishing of how widespread is provision for these areas within a country or educational system. If they are a formal part of a compulsory, examinable curriculum, then one can assume that they are at least 'delivered' universally - if not necessarily learned. Often, however, citizenship and human rights education are integrated into other curriculum areas, and introduced as cross-curricular themes. The conventional curriculum areas are the predictable ones of social science (including history and geography); but they can also be found in art and media education, and, because of the moral dimension, in religious education. There is a current interest in citizenship within foreign language learning, using critical pedagogy to understand culture, cultural expression and national images. This develops the idea of intercultural competence and exploration of identity, and modules on this have been developed in Russia and UK.

    With an integrated curriculum there is considerable diversity over time and place in terms of the priority given to these areas. A Commonwealth report on human rights teaching in 25 countries found a great variety of subjects that it fell into: (the constitution (eg Pakistan), social studies (eg Jamaica), moral education (eg Malaysia), religious education (eg Uganda), personal and social education (eg Canada) and history (eg India). In Cyprus, it is compulsory to teach the basic rights and freedoms laid down in the Universal Declaration; in Australia, Britain, Brunei, Canada and India, the approach tends to be more cross-curricular. There is not an agreed syllabus that would cover human rights as perceived in all member states of the Commonwealth.

    In terms of education and human rights, a distinction may have to be made initially between education in human rights, and human rights in education. The former is usually a curriculum and school organisational area, while the latter may refer to access to schooling, treatment by teachers etc. Texts may talk about children's rights to education, and examine gender, ethnic or wealth differences, for example. However, there are overlaps between the two concerns, particularly when examining school policy and structure. A student council may provide an excellent education in political skills, while simultaneously ensuring rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of association or to participation in decisions. This review has included therefore countries' initiatives both in formal curriculum areas and in democratic structures in schools.

    It has also assumed mainly a definition of citizenship education as having to include a critical approach to society and government, and therefore has looked for this rather than the more traditional social studies areas such as 'Understanding Society'. This can, (as in the case of China, for example) teach only obedience to authority, filial duty etc. Much civics education can teach an uncritical acceptance of the constitution or the work of the police or judiciary, and aim at the production of the 'good citizen'. More contemporary notions of citizenship education stress skills and attitudes as well as knowledge, so that students are to engage with issues of justice, inequality and conflict in their society and learn skills to challenge these. Without detailed research into classrooms, it is of course difficult to assess how critical citizenship and civics education as promoted in a syllabus really translates specific participative teaching and learning styles. Mostly, however, the emphasis in citizenship and human rights curricula does imply pedagogies that stress pupil democracy, questioning, use of evidence, problem-solving and collaboration. The manuals for these areas (as mentioned in the accompanying bibliography) provide a range of activities and exercises that challenge pupils' thinking as well as giving knowledge and skills to participate actively in community and the polity.

    What constitutes 'education' and 'teachers' is therefore an interesting issue. Citizenship and human rights education covers domains far wider than schools. These include awareness campaigns about human rights, as we see in Malawi or Guatemala; making videos; collecting documentary evidence about human rights abuses; engaging in history projects at the University; and establishing museums. Schools themselves broaden out to the locality in terms of encouraging community work, or by sending representatives to regional Youth Parliaments. In this case, the teachers can be local politicians, librarians, historians and activists, as well as a wide range of citizens engaged in the community. We can see in many countries very innovative ways of linking school and community, and - through technology - linking with the wider international community. The questions of national citizenship, global citizenship, or European citizenship are raised through networks and collaborative projects across countries.

    An important issue in many countries is teacher preparation. Many texts on citizenship and human rights education mention the reluctance of teachers to engage in what they see as political education, through lack of training, lack of knowledge, fear of lack of interest by pupils or parents, or being accused of indoctrination. It would seem crucial to ensure that these areas are also covered in initial and in-service teacher training and curricula, if teachers are to approach such areas with confidence. This links to the problem of sustainability. As with any challenging initiative, it is difficult to assess the life of a project, and whether it will continue once the funding stops. Materials production features highly in many projects on citizenship and human rights, as these materials often need to be simultaneously country specific and international, including local or national concepts of the citizen as well as more universal dimensions such as the various conventions on rights.

    The key question therefore in terms of spread and sustainability is the origin and funding of citizenship and human rights education in a country. It is instructive to see whether this is the Ministry of Education, a Ministry of the Family, a National Commission, a donor agency, a European project, an NGO or an individual school. While it may seem that government support would be the most secure base, in countries with changes of government and therefore education officials, emphasis on citizenship education may fluctuate. More permanent National Commissions - and of course permanent legislation around rights - may provide a less contestable base from which to generate educational materials, syllabuses and projects. What is needed is long term research which traces the links between the educational legislation of a country (for example with regard to student representation) and the future behaviour of citizens. There is research which shows the beneficial effects of pupil democracy on inclusion and achievement while pupils are at school, but it is more difficult to demonstrate the long term impact of citizenship education.

    Nonetheless, it is possible to discern a growing concern with these areas in many countries of the world. The urgency of the need to tackle war and violence, to foster a national identity without the counter-effects of patriotism, to promote inclusion and to recognize rights as universal have led to acceptance of citizenship and human rights education as legitimate sites of learning. International pressures towards good governance have also been influential in countries dependent on aid. It is likely that globalisation will generate concerns about global citizenship, albeit for a number of different economic and social reasons. From the identification of initiatives in the 27 countries reported below, a steady growth in citizenship and human rights education can be predicted, with yet more countries learning from these experiences.

    Back to the Human rights index

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