Can integrate it into the education systemThe challenges and benefits of granting human rights [Archives:2004/790/Local News]

November 15 2004

By Sawsan Al Refai
For The Yemen Times

No one denies the giant steps that took place in the field of education in Yemen after the revolution in 1962, yet we cannot but face the challenges of illiteracy in Yemen.
While being haunted with the strikingly high rates of alphabetical illiteracy; the world is becoming more and more concerned with “Right Illiteracy”, a situation so much explicit in the declaration of United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004).
This decade was assumed to focus on the development and strengthening of comprehensive, effective and sustainable human rights educational programs at the local, national, regional, and international levels. I wouldn't want to ponder much on the question: which is more serious of a challenge in Yemen; alphabetical or right illiteracy?
That is simply because I genuinely believe that education and human rights are two faces of the same coin.
It might seem to be a bit ironic to discuss the issue of integrating human rights education into the formal educational system, taking into consideration the current high illiteracy rates, especially among women, and high drop out rates of students, and all the serious problems that face the situation of formal education in Yemen, a situation that has been resistant to all policies, plans and reform programs.
In a whim, if we consider that human rights education is an issue that should be addressed today, how can we address it? Do we have a balanced educational system that can handle changes in deep-rooted educational traditions? Can we suddenly decide to apply human rights to the educational system without taking certain measures and steps into consideration?
It is evident that the current humble efforts exerted by the government aiming at integrating human rights into formal education are yet not competent enough. Supplementing the educational curriculums with some environmental and civil rights topics is neither sufficient to integrate the human right concepts into the educational system in a holistic and sustainable manner, nor sufficient to attain major changes in entrenched attitudes and values not only of the students but also of teachers, parents and communities.
Do we want human rights issues to be celebrated one day in schools and neglected for the remaining days of the year?!! How can we establish a system that will facilitate the process of integration between human rights and education?
We should convince ourselves as government officials, educators, and citizens that we can not deal with human right situations in Yemen unless we use Human Rights Education (HRE) as a strategy. HRE encourages critical thinking, and therefore eventually challenges oppressive power structures. It is also a catalyst of action and a sustainable process that mediates social transformation.
It is true that HRE is a difficult strategy to implement in urgent situations such as ours in Yemen. It is also plausible that there is a general lack of knowledge and understanding of HRE by funders and decision-makers who often require evidence of immediate and measurable impact.
Nevertheless, if HRE was based on sensitization of all society levels, it could be a highly effective strategy that can change the situation in Yemen dramatically even if after many years.
Integration of human rights and education is a giant step that can only be fully frame worked through a national plan. This plan will establish or strengthen the local human rights institutions and initiate steps towards national programs for the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as enhance the opportunities for HRE among governmental, non-governmental, professional groups, and other civil society institutions.
All these stakeholders should be effectively involved in the process of need assessment in the field of human rights in order to set the human rights issues of priority that should urgently be addressed in formal educational curriculums.
This also should undoubtedly involve teacher training programs, learning materials and textbooks, and extracurricular activities that should all be designed and provided in the school environment, in addition to major educational policy changes.
Aren't we becoming again too “dreamy”? This is a long, tough, and expensive journey. However, we as educators should start working on this long term goal now! Meanwhile, we can achieve some short goals that can include campaigning for the promotion of HRE by civil society organizations targeting donors, government officials especially those in the educational field, and general public.
Holding regular wide-based training seminars and workshops for school principles and teachers (especially those teaching social studies and Islamic studies) is a step that can take us forward. Extra curricular activities on human right themes is an accessible method that can be utilized in schools and require minimal changes in the current setup of the existing education system.
Student, youth, and sport clubs, scouts and guides camps, and informal educational institutes are all possible alternatives where HRE can take place.
I would like to stress finally, that education and human rights are strongly interlinked, and the integration process among the two is vital and can only be possible if partnerships, networks, and coalitions were established among different stakeholders of education and human rights in solidarity towards building a free, just and peaceful society.