‘Human rights teaching not reaching pupils’

2011-11-15 00:00

HUMAN rights education is not reaching South Africa’s classrooms. This was one the main issues raised at an international human rights education conference held at the Royal Hotel in Durban yesterday.

The three-day conference, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s faculty of law, brought together human rights experts from all over the world to share their knowledge of human rights education.

The conference comes as the United Nations World Programme for Human Rights is expected to be accepted in December. The first phase of the programme focuses on human rights education in primary and secondary schools. The second focuses on higher education and on human rights training programmes for teachers and educators, civil servants, law enforcement officials and military personnel.

In his keynote address on human rights from a multi-disciplinary perspective, the director of the University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights, Professor Frans Viljoen, highlighted the flaws of human rights law, its failure to deliver on its promises and personal responsibility when it comes to claiming people’s rights.

Jenny Fisher, an undergraduate from California who is locally enrolled on a study-abroad summer programme, presented her findings on a human rights education case study she conducted at Menzi High School in Umlazi.

“When 15-year-old pupils were asked if they know about their rights they answered that they do, but the old people who did not go to school do not know about the Constitution. Just like Jacob Zuma’s billboards are hung all over town during elections [they said], the same needs to be done with human rights education.

“This showed me that the pupils are already inquiring and talking about social issues in their communities. The United Nations needs to step out of its cultural biases and explore the unique education capabilities of specific countries,” said Fisher.

The presentation ignited a debate on the approach to human rights education and its implementation within the curriculum.

Delegates asked whether the education department is encouraging teachers to include human rights education in all school subjects. But there was no representative from the department present to answer.

• thandiwe.jumo@witness.co.za

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