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Human rights in curriculum stressed

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In discussion: Teachers from Chennai at a video conference on ‘The rights of children' organised by the United Nations recently.
In discussion: Teachers from Chennai at a video conference on ‘The rights of children' organised by the United Nations recently.

Ajai Sreevatsan

Too much focus on individual achievement, says activist

CHENNAI: The charter of human rights is too important not to be taught at the school level since issues of justice and development are firmly intertwined with individual rights.

That was the view conveyed by teachers and academicians who participated in a worldwide live video conference on ‘The rights of children' organised by the United Nations recently.

“The ultimate aim is to bring the world, with its immense diversity and complexity, into the classroom,” said Wayne Jacoby, Director of Global Education Motivators, from the UN conference room in New York. “But any change has to start with teachers.” Since most school-going children step into the classroom from extremely unequal and exploitative societies, experts say that the integration of human rights into the curriculum is essential.

V. Vasanthi Devi, Chairperson of the Institute of Human Rights, says “Though human rights are universal, most violations are contextual. They happen in communities and in the school's neighbourhood. Awareness of one's rights can be empowering, especially for underprivileged children.”

The Institute runs a programme on human rights in 370 Adi Dravida welfare schools in the State. While a broad outline on rights is given in class VI, specific focus is given to child rights in class VII. Pointing to the trend of most children being programmed to compete by the time they reach class VIII, Ms.Devi says that too much focus is given to individual achievement and cognitive development, at the expense of other facets of intelligence.

“The rest of the world does not exist for children because no attention is given to emotive or psycho motor skills.”

Calling on schools to provide an enabling environment to pursue social education along with academic education, P.Krishnamoorthy, Deputy Head (Development Support), CRY, says “Children should know that 50 per cent of girls suffering from malnutrition are in India. They must be provided intellectual space in schools so that they may influence stakeholders. Even things like the ban on corporal punishment must be monitored by student collectives.”

He added that only if children get to know about their rights will they stand up for the rights of others.

Bhavanishankar Subramanian, principal of the Omega International School, one of the schools that took part in the live video conference, said “In emerging multi-cultural settings, students have to be taught to move from tolerance to acceptance. They must learn to resolve issues through dialogue, not debate.”

He added that as a result of integrating human rights into the curriculum, problems such as bullying and peer conflict are getting easily resolved. A teacher from a New York school said during the virtual discussion session, “Respect for the other is the starting point. We move forward by seeking similarities in our differences.”

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