Ways forward for Human Rights Education in Europe and Asia

Human Rights Education has progressed in both Europe and Asia, but there are still many unresolved issues.  EWC’s Executive Director Ana Perona-Fjeldstad presented trends, common challenges and possible ways forward at the 19th Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights Education & Training in Tromsø, Norway 4-6 November.


The Seminar was co-organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples’ Republic of China. The seminar was hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The current state of Human Rights Education (HRE) in Europe and Asia was analyzed in the background paper "Human Rights Education & Training", by Dr Sriprapha  Petcharameree and Mr. Frank Elbers. “The report presents a good summary of where we are today, of our successes and our limitations”, EWC Executive Director Ana Perona-Fjeldstad said in her speech. As discussant of the report, and representative of a European Centre, she highlighted a few trends from Europe as possible responses to address the set-out limitations. The Director pointed out that the report shows a more fragmented situation in Asia than Europe due to, among other, the existence of the Council of Europe. As a Pan-European organization it has provided the frame for a coherent policy on Human Rights Education on the continent, including a commonly accepted definition of what HRE is, as well as its aims and approaches.

“For many years the trend in Europe has been shifting from a knowledge-based to a competence-based curriculum, which is about developing the competences students need to master their lives and be active citizen in diverse societies – also called 21st century skills. It is less about studying human rights and more about the skills, attitudes, knowledge and critical understanding and values that makes students able to act and support human rights in their everyday contexts”, Perona-Fjeldstad underlined.

The newly developed Council of Europe Reference Framework for Democratic Culture provides a conceptual model, describing the competences, which need to be acquired by learners if they are to become active citizens and live peacefully together with others as equals in culturally diverse societies. This framework might be an initiative of interest for Asian countries.

“In Europe, we also see that the distinction between formal education and non-formal approaches are more fluid. Some of the most innovative approaches to HRE comes from this mix. Several countries, for example Lithuania and Bulgaria, have in their curriculum a focus on school culture and partnership with community actors such as NGOs. Civil society actors are also invited to the table when developing national curricula, bringing their experience from practice to inform policy”, Perona-Fjeldstad continued.

Materials developed by non-formal educators, with non- formal educational approaches, are more often used in the classrooms, their language and methodology are seen as more “accessible”, as is the case with manuals Compass and Compasito.

Perona-Fjeldstad also underlined the role of the Whole School Approach (WSA), which allows to overcome the strict borders between formal and non-formal education. WSA integrates human rights principles and values into teaching and learning in the classroom, in school governance and school culture as well as encouraging school community-partnerships.

“Cooperation with the local community is another important WSA element. This cooperation between non-formal and formal education actors allows for the introduction of the transformative approach, generally used only by non-formal education actors, to formal education contexts. Not only NGOs can be involved in the work with schools, but also museums, theatres or even businesses. The involvement of new HRE actors is essential for addressing human rights issues that concern the whole community”, Perona-Fjeldstad said.

The report highlights an implementation gap in Human Rights Education. In Asia, there seems to be larger variation with regards to the existence of principles and policies for HRE at the different levels. In Europe, concerning general education, there are no major inconsistences between HRE principles and national education policy. But in both cases there is a considerable gap between education policies and education practice.

“Translating policies into practice takes time, sufficient financial resources, coordinated long-term policies, adequate teaching and learning resources, systematic assessment and evaluation, and the necessary teacher preparation and support. This is not always thought of when devising policy. It also requires an understanding of the relevance of HRE among educators, parents, students, civil society actors, decision makers and other members of the community”, Perona-Fjeldstad asserted.

Another point highlighted in the report “current state of Human Rights Education (HRE) in Europe and Asia” is the need to provide capacity building to educators, in service as well as pre-service. In many countries there is still a lack of practice-based methods in teacher education, and new transformative HRE approaches require a shift towards a more practice-oriented approach. Data gathered by organizations like OECD and UNESCO confirm this need. In both Europe and Asia there is a need for systemic, ongoing and consistent support for professional development for educators. Higher education institutions preparing future teachers has a major role to play.

Perona-Fjeldstad also underlined the necessity for more research on the effectiveness of HRE programmes. “NGOs often don’t have the funds to allocate sufficient resources for evaluation of their programmes. We need to establish evaluation criteria to measure effectiveness of HRE initiatives, including the development of formative assessment tools for measuring the proficiency achieved by the learner. There is a need to analyze trends, revise what is being done and what works when implementing HRE, in order to reinforce its status in the curricula addressing policy-makers concerns for evidence-based information”, Perona-Fjeldstad said and underlined the new EWC project “ Integration of Refugee Children in Greek schools, where cross-sectorial cooperation among EWC, the Greek Ministry of Foreign affairs and two Universities (the Univ of Athens and the Univ of Peloponnese) is paving the way to understand the impact, what works and how.

Another common challenge seems to be the limited presence of human rights education in vocational education and training (VET) on both continents.  This is a dilemma because in many countries there is an overrepresentation of the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups, including non-citizens and refugees, choosing Vocational Education and Training (VET).  “Studies shows that inn VET, Human Rights Education is often reduced (if not absent) compared to the training of specific skills and its educators have limited competence on HRE. A systematic and long-term approach is needed in the implementation of HRE into VET that includes legislation, teacher training, research and involving civil society in curricular development”, Perona-Fjeldstad pointed out.

Finally, the report addresses the possibilities of digital media to expand access to human rights education. Besides looking into digital tools as a delivery method, we need to consider the content and practice online. “Online strategies are important to fight discrimination, because a lot of discriminatory practices happen there (like cyber-bullying and hate speech) and adapting online methods and approaches can be very effective to counteract the challenges in the digital world. It is of interest to connect Human Rights education to critical issues in social media and public life, and demonstrate the benefits of its pedagogy in fostering critical analysis of society and personal reflections on owns values and motivation to apply Human Rights principles to everyday life”.

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