School Improvement and Governance Network

Big Ideas

Education rights - the 4 Rs - discussion paper

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood s/he lives in; the school or college s/he attends; the factory, farm, or office where s/he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination”. Eleanor Roosevelt

The human rights revolution is in part a powerful revolution of rising expectations. It provides a vision of education and a better society that can be real and meaningful to people today. It involves "small places" such as schools, colleges and universities. Never has it been a more propitious time to be a human rights advocate and activist.

This paper examines the meaning and value of a rights-based approach to education and introduces a framework for a rights-based approach. A coherent and useful framework may embody the following four rights:

  1. The right to empowered participation and accountability
  2. The right to a high-quality, equal and inclusive education
  3. The right to a holistic approach to improving education
  4. The right to a well-resourced public education system.

Based on our four key areas of school improvement, informed by schools' good practices, these ‘4 Rs’ are aspirations against which current realities can be compared to pinpoint things to be improved.

What is the right to education?

Human rights include civil and political rights such as the right to vote, free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from discrimination, freedom of worship and the right to a fair hearing. There may not be the same level of awareness, however, of social, economic and cultural rights such as high-quality education and health care. The right to education is a mix of both social, economic and cultural rights and civil and political rights. The right to freedom from discrimination (which is both a civil-political and a social-economic-cultural right) is an example of how education is a mix of both.

Like all human rights, the right to education is universal and inalienable. Every child, young person and adult has the right to a high-quality education that is inclusive and non-discriminatory and promotes his or her right to dignity and optimum development. Besides focusing on students, parents and educators as rights-holders, a rights-based approach to education also emphasises governments’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfill these rights.

Background

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent treaties have established the right to education and have the force of law for governments that ratify them. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is stated that:

  • Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  • Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Having already been referred to by the International Labour Organisation in the 1920s, the right obviously has its origins in the aspirations of educators, community members and legislators throughout history.

In recent decades, the Education For All movement led by UNESCO, aiming to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015 and reflecting renewed interest in educational outcomes and quality, has created new momentum for education as a right.

What should change?

Protections of human rights in all countries, including Australia, can be ad hoc at best and, further, many rights may be far from being fully realised, including in areas such as education. As the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson QC, has observed:

"My experiences as a judge left me persuaded ... that in Australia we have legislatures that are insufficiently rights-conscious and bureaucracies that are insufficiently rights-sensitive. I don’t mean to suggest that our government is on a mission to breach human rights principles. But I most certainly mean to suggest that, currently, human rights is hardly a flicker in the eye of most law-makers and decision-makers. That has to change".

Building momentum - what can be done?

The right to education is not close to being realised anywhere. In Australia, with the 2006 Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, Victoria became the first Australian state to provide for formal protection of civil and political human rights. But this does not extend to social rights such as the right to education, although importantly section 41(d) affirms that one of the functions of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner is "to provide education about human rights and this Charter".

While most countries have signed up to international conventions, the on-going challenge is to provide the national legislation, policy, resources and support to fully realise all human rights in practice. As the leading UN expert on education as a right, Katarina Tomasevski, observed, “the paradox of human rights is the double role of the state, as protector and violater”. What can be done, then, to build momentum for education as a right? An effective rights-based strategy (E) must have:

  • A strong rationale (R) for adopting a rights-based approach
  • A clear vision and coherent framework (F) for human rights
  • An action plan and partnerships (P) for achieving the vision.

In short, R + F + P = E. Each is discussed in what follows.

Rationale for a rights-based approach

The rationale for a rights-based approach is twofold:

  1. The relationship between citizens as rights-holders with claims and governments obligated to respect, protect and fulfill these rights gives impetus to educational improvement
  2. Linking togther a range of rights, it specifically provides a powerful, truly comprehensive vision of public education that can be real and meaningful to people today.

On a practical level, it enables both of these things by:

  • Promoting schools, communities and a society in which citizens are fully aware of, and strongly assert, their rights
  • Ensuring that governments and education systems have clear obligations for rights that are entitlements, not just policy promises or choices that can be made by consumers.

Asserting rights

For many more people (including students) to become aware of, and assert, their rights, it is neccessary to:

  • Promote the principle that people are bearers of universal and inalienable rights, not just consumers buying services
  • Name issues such as the achievement gap in education for what they really are: serious violations of human rights
  • Highlight the right of parents, students, communities and educators to participate in decision making, including the macro level policy decision making of education departments.

Government obligations

Alongside the power of people to assert their rights, governments are more likely to consistently respect, protect and fulfill rights if:

  • There are steps toward more transparent, accountable relations between governments, communities and citizens
  • There is pressure on governments to ensure a free, high-quality public education and its ‘progressive realisation’ at all levels
  • Necessary changes in legislation, policy and funding (to fully support the right to education) are indentified and implemented.

As it is the federal government that enters into international agreements to protect human rights, it has the overall legal responsibility for making sure that rights are protected.

A rights-based framework

A weakness of a human rights approach is the lack of a coherent framework. Such a framework can be a tool for measuring the realisation of rights and the glue for building strong partnerships. A coherent framework may embody four basic, interlinked rights:

  1. The right to empowered participation and accountability
  2. The right to a high-quality, equal and inclusive education
  3. The right to a holistic approach to improving education
  4. The right to a well-resourced public education system.

A rights-based education necessitates the realisation of all four. Each of these ‘4 Rs’ is discussed in what follows.

1. Participation and accountability

A rights-based approach to education pivots on participation. According to the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, participation must be “active, free and meaningful”. This is not confined to decision-making at the local level. It also extends to decision making forums that affect policy making at the state-wide, national and international levels.

Participation challenges the top-down model of educators as mere implementers of policy delivery, a model which is not supported by any serious research although governments still try to use it.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights suggests that governments are obliged to facilitate participation by relevant groups at all stages of the policy process - from initial conception through to implementation and evaluation.

Informed and empowered participation

According to the US Center for Economic and Social Rights, this means that governments should:

  • Facilitate participation in the full range of educational decision-making, including management and evaluation of the education system, budgets and financing, curricula and teaching methods
  • Ensure adequate access for all stakeholders across communities to mechanisms for participation
  • Guarantee transparency in and access to all relevant information about the education system
  • Ensure that people have the capacity for informed participation.

What matters, therefore, is that participation is empowering. Empowerment is the process by which people’s capabilities to assert their human rights grow, thus claiming their rights rather than simply waiting for policies and legislation to change.

Human rights education

Pertinent to empowered participation is education in human rights. This is in itself a fundamental human right and also a responsibility. The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exhorts "every individual and every organ of society" to "strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms".

Human rights education includes learning the skills of advocacy - to speak and act every day in the name of human rights. It also provides a basis for conflict resolution and consensus building.

Education for human rights empowers people - including students - through skills to take appropriate action.

Students' right to participate

Several provisions in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) reflect children's right to participation. Article 12 affirms that:

“States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child urges governments to encourage greater participation by children in schools. Participation includes relationships in the classroom but may also extend to students’ participation in the development of school and government educational policy.

Student voice and classroom talk

Student voice is at the core of empowered participation. But this depends on the extent to which schools aim to ensure that all students, regardless of social background, acquire a highly-developed capacity to speak clearly, publicly, competently and confidently, and at length, about key themes and topics.

The pedagogy of the spoken word exploits the strong association between oracy (oral skills), literacy and numeracy. The benefits are twofold: it provides possibilities for significantly improving outcomes for all students as well as enabling many more students to participate in school and other decision making. Schools have not always been able to ensure that sustained opportunites to develop student voice are embedded in their everyday learning.

Accountability

A rights-based approach can improve accountability by identifying rights holders and duty bearers and monitoring the work of duty bearers in meeting their obligations. These include positive obligations to protect, promote and fulfil rights and negative obligations to abstain from rights violations. Monitoring should be regular and include feedback or complaint mechanisms to acknowledge stakeholders as rights-holders.

2. Quality, equality and inclusion 

The World Education Forum Dakar Framework for Action (2000) highlights the issue of quality by stating the need to improve “all aspects of the quality of education”.

The Education For All movement, which aims to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015, is also increasingly concerned with linking quality and inclusive education. But the missing link is pedagogy. As Robin Alexander notes:

“Quality is a recent arrival in [the Education For All] discourse, and pedagogy is only just beginning to be recognised as central to a proper account of what educational quality entails”.

What will serve to drive, therefore, the global educational agenda wil be a deeper understanding of the links between:

  • The quality of education
  • An equal and inclusive education
  • Developments in pedagogy.

Non-discrimination

Quality obviously does not necessarily mean inclusive - if students from the most advantaged backgrounds receive a ‘quality’ education while many other students ‘miss out’.

The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) noted that discrimination includes any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular:

  • Of depriving any person or group of persons of access to education of any type or at any level
  • Of limiting any person or group of persons to education of an inferior standard
  • Of establishing or maintaining separate educational systems or institutions ... (although such systems are permitted for pupils of the two sexes, for religious or linguistic reasons, and private education is also permitted if its object is not to secure the exclusion of any group).

Disaggregated data

Disaggregated data can provide information to guide policy and practice in relation to a rights-based approach to education.

To ensure the visibility of all groups of students and their rights in relation to not only access to (but also the quality of) education, it will be crucial that data are increasingly disaggregated by sex, disability, race, ethnic or social origin, economic status, religion, language, geographic location and other status. Overly generic data can obviously disguise hidden pockets of inequality and render discrimination and exclusion invisible.

Rights-holders are yet to have routine access to sufficiently disaggregated data on patterns of enrolment, attendance, completion and attainment of children in the education system.

Inclusive education – key challenges

The UNESCO publication Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education (2009) notes that:

“Looking at education through an inclusive lens implies a shift from seeing the child as the problem to seeing the education system as the problem”.

Likewise, during preparations for the 48th International Conference on Education on Inclusive Education: the Way of the Future (2008), discussions noted that:

  • The term inclusive education needs to be further clarified and adopted by educators, governmental and non-governmental organizations, policy-makers and social actors
  • The lack of understanding, awareness and support in society about inclusive education needs to be addressed through advocacy and dialogue at regional and national levels.

In discussing an inclusive curriculum, it was also noted that:

  • Cohesive transition and articulation of the curriculum between early childhood, primary and secondary education are key factors in preventing dropping out and ensuring retention
  • Opportunities for informal and non-formal education should be developed in the curriculum
  • A highly academic, heavily overloaded curriculum is counterproductive to inclusive education
  • Multiple stakeholders should be encouraged to participate in curriculum design.

Teacher and community education for inclusion

Other discussions around inclusive education suggested that:

  • Teacher-education programs (both pre-service and in-service) should be reoriented and aligned to inclusive education approaches in order to give teachers the pedagogical capacities necessary to make diversity work in the classroom
  • Training of all education professionals, including members of the community, are essential to supporting an inclusive school.

3. Holistic approach to improvement

A holistic approach to improving education reflects the fact that human rights are universal, indivisible, and interdependent. This means that there is no hierarchy of rights; all rights are equally important and the realisation of one particular right depends in whole or in part on the realisation of others.

The lack of a holistic approach to educational improvement partly accounts for the lack of success with reforms that are still more piecemeal than systemic.

Whole-of-education links

A holistic approach also acknowledges the utmost importance of the links between early childhood care and education as well as primary and secondary schooling together with tertiary and post-compulsory education. As UNESCO argued long ago:

“The terms ‘primary schooling’ and ‘secondary schooling’ are coming more and more to be considered as no longer referring to different entities, but rather to successive phases of a continuing process that cannot be sharply distinguished except arbitrarily and by doing violence to the real continuity of growth and education. In so far as school systems and scholastic methods do break the continuity of growth they are coming to be regarded as imperfect instruments of education” (1961).

What kind of system?

Importantly, a holistic approach nudges educational improvement away from ‘incrementalism’ to the question of ‘What kind of system do we want?’ A continuum of learning and development from kindergarten through to university and college, or a K-20 system of education or a new seamless system, is the next big thing.

In this regard, in the World Declaration on Education for All, it is affirmed that:

“To serve the basic learning needs of all requires more than a recommitment to basic education as it now exists. What is needed is an "expanded vision" that surpasses present resource levels, institutional structures, curricula, and conventional delivery systems while building on the best in current practices”.

A Human Rights-Based Approach to Education for All (UNESCO, 2007) also states that:

“In the long run, the most disadvantaged are clearly best served by a non-discriminating and fully inclusive education system. Overall, therefore, investment needs to be made in programmes that have the potential to achieve large-scale systemic change”.

4. Well-resourced public education

Resources and facilities are unfairly distributed in many education systems and across schools.

Government revenue and spending can obviously be a key factor in realising human rights. Increased spending on public education challenges, however, the political orthodoxy that taxes should not be increased. Scarce resources also lead to trade-offs such as decisions to invest more in secondary than primary education. But it is obviously not acceptable to discriminate between groups of students and offer preferential treatment to some on the basis of resources.

This includes the question of fees. Human rights law affirms that education cannot be ultimately universalised unless it is free. Fees for university study are contrary to the intent of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This affirmed that access to higher education should be secured through the “progressive realisation” of free education.

Realistically, of course, it is not possible for all governments to ensure the right to education for all at all levels immediately. Further, the progressive introduction of free secondary and higher education is mentioned in some UN documents but not others.

A plan for phasing out fees

The principle of progressive realisation may require governments to have a clear strategy, plan and time frame for enabling universal access to primary and secondary education. Over time, post-compulsory education may thus also be made progressively available and accessible.

Experience in many countries shows that the abolition of fees creates significant increases in enrolment and improves equitable outcomes and opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds. 

Conclusion

It is suggested that a weakness of a human rights approach is the lack of a coherent framework. Such a framework can be a tool for measuring the realisation of rights and the glue for building strong partnerships for change. It is also proposed that a coherent framework may embody four basic, interlinked rights:

  1. The right to empowered participation and accountability
  2. The right to a high-quality, equal and inclusive education
  3. The right to a holistic approach to improving education
  4. The right to a well-resourced public education system.

To do this may require a Charter of Education Rights for students, parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders to build a shared understanding of, and together advance, these rights. Working together to realise these rights can serve to build better education systems and schools and achieve the best possible educational outcomes for all.

Charter of education rights

Introduction

Everyone who is involved in education has rights. This Charter of Education Rights aims to support students, parents, teachers, principals and other stakeholders to build a shared understanding of, and together advance, these rights. Working together to realise these rights can serve to:

  • Build better education systems and schools
  • Improve educational outcomes for everyone.

School community members are encouraged to read the Charter and to discuss it within their community. Schools may also want to have a Charter contact person. Based on the ideas and experiences of many educators, parents, students, principals and school community members, the education rights are grouped into four key areas:

  1. Participation and accountability
  2. Quality, equality and inclusion
  3. Joined-up systems and services
  4. New resources and facilities.

Each of the rights is discussed in what follows.

1. Participation and accountability

The first area includes the following:

  • Participation
  • Human rights education
  • Communication
  • Comment
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Accountability

Participation

Parents, teachers, students and community members have a right to be included in major decisions and choices about education. This includes all levels of decision-making.

Governments should have regular mechanisms for dialogue that enable citizens and stakeholder organisations to contribute to the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of education. This requires a better mix of centralised and local participatory decision-making, implementation and monitoring. At the local level, participation includes awareness of opportunities to be involved in a school council/board or parent group and promotion of meeting times.

Governing bodies should be open and accessible to their communities, including their decisions via school community access to meeting minutes.

Parents, teachers, students and other members must also have the support, training and information necessary to fulfill these roles.

Parents, teachers and students should be actively involved in the development of all policies. They should be informed about which policies are to be reviewed each year, the process to be undertaken, how they can be involved and any agreed changes at the end of the review process.

Students are entitled to express their views on all matters of concern to them and to have these given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity. This includes the development of educational policy.

Human rights education

Human rights education is in itself a fundamental human right. The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exhorts "every individual and every organ of society" to "strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms".

Human rights education includes learning the skills of advocacy - to speak and act every day in the name of human rights. It also provides a basis for conflict resolution and consensus building.

Education for human rights empowers people - including students - through skills to take appropriate action.

Communication

All school community members have a right to seek and receive, as well as to impart, information and ideas. There should be access, subject only to narrowly defined exceptions, to information held by schools.

Everyone can contribute to communication by being open and honest. This includes the right to ask questions if more information is needed.

The ability to voice differences of opinion, respectfully and with understanding, indicates that the school community is working well together.

Communication with parents is most effective when it is two-way. This means encouraging parents to contact the school and giving them opportunities to get involved. This also includes the right to use interpreters if English is not one’s first language.

Communication includes teachers communicating and consulting with parents in a timely, understandable and sensitive manner. It may include working toward (and providing support for) staff responding as soon as possible to parents when they contact the school – even if it is to say that the issue will be resolved later.

Comment

Everyone has a right to comment on issues as well as have concerns or complaints dealt with properly and promptly. A school should also manage any concerns and complaints received from parents:

  • Courteously
  • Efficiently
  • Fairly
  • Promptly or within timelines agreed with the person in accordance with due process, principles of natural justice and an education department’s regulatory framework.

Privacy and confidentiality

Everyone participating in the education system or a school needs to respect the privacy of other people in the system or school.

Everyone has a right to expect that their personal or other information will be collected, used, disclosed and strored in accordance with the relevant laws about privacy, and that this information will remain confidential unless the law allows disclosure or the individuals direct otherwise.

Students have a right to privacy in sensitive matters such as health or family issues. Confidential matters should only be revealed when appropriate. That is:

  • If the student has consented to the information being used in a certain way
  • To prevent or lessen a serious threat to life, health, safety or welfare of a person (including the student)
  • As part of an investigation into unlawful activity
  • If the disclosure is required or mandated by law
  • To prevent a crime or enforce the law
  • If it is relevant to the educational needs of the child.

This right means refraining from discussing students' personal problems in situations where the information will not be treated confidentially.

2. Quality, equality and inclusion

The second area includes the following:

  • Quality
  • Equality and non-discrimination
  • An inclusive curriculum
  • Teaching and teachers
  • Safety
  • Respect
  • Indicators of progress.

Quality

Students have a right to access high-quality schooling and learning regardless of their gender, culture, language, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, geographic location or disability.

Equality and non-discrimination

All participants in education systems and schools have a right not to be discriminated against in any way.

Students have a right to a system of education in which socio-economic background and similar factors cease to be a significant determinant of educational outcomes.

Governments must also support all young Australians to achieve not only equality of opportunity but also more equitable outcomes.

An inclusive curriculum

Principals and teachers are wary of differentiating the curriculum for under-achieving students if this serves to segregate students.

They know that streaming and second choice options are socially unjust and offer no long-term solution to underachievement.

Human rights frameworks refer to the development of an inclusive curriculum. Such a curriculum should neither exclude nor discriminate.

A socially just, inclusive curriculum seamlessly combines academic knowledge, concepts, theories and principles with applied learning and real world problem solving.

The curriculum is then opened up to a wider range of students who may otherwise be streamed into narrowly academic and applied learning and technical pathways.

Teaching and teachers

For the teachers to fulfil their responsibility for high-quality learning, several factors need to be considered:

  • Teachers are themselves rights-holders
  • There must be recognition of, and respect for, their professional status and autonomy
  • Teachers must be supported and empowered to be innovative in teaching and learning practices
  • Appropriate education and professional development of teachers must be ensured. (It is obviously not sufficient to introduce frequent ‘changes’ or ‘innovations’ unless there is the corresponding training to go with it).

Safety

School community members have a right to a safe, secure and supportive learning environment. This is characterised by caring, respect for democratic values, broadly understood rights and responsibilities and clear, consistent expectations for behaviour and consequences for misconduct which are communicated to students, staff and parents.

It includes access to, and links with, health services, policies and codes of conduct that enhance the health of teachers and learners.

It also includes education content and practices leading to knowledge, attitudes, values and life skills needed for self-esteem, good health and personal safety.

Respect

All school community members have a right to be respected for their culture, beliefs, values and characteristics like age and gender. Teachers are entitled to be treated politely and with consideration of their workload.

The unique relationship that a parent or teacher has with a student might at times lead to differences of opinion as to what is best for the student.

Both need to appreciate and respect the special knowledge, skills and insights that each brings to their relationships with a student.

Teachers demonstrate respect by:

  • Acting with care and compassion
  • Treating students fairly and impartially
  • Holding colleagues in high regard
  • Acknowledging parents as partners in the education of their children.

Indicators of progress

Governments should develop well-defined targets for reducing disparities and monitoring progress toward their achievement.

To ensure the visibility of all groups of students in relation to enrolment, attendance, completion, attainment in education and other factors pertinent to equity, data should be disaggregated by sex, disability, race, ethnic or social origin, economic status, religion, language, geographic location and other status.

Overly generic data can obviously disguise hidden pockets of inequality and render discrimination and exclusion invisible. Disaggregated data can provide information to guide policy and practice in relation to a rights-based approach to education. 

Rights-holders are yet to have routine access to sufficiently disaggregated data on patterns of enrolment, attendance, completion and attainment of children in the education system.

Governments that are truly committed to tackling inequity recognise the fundamental importance of statistics and the need for credible and independent institutions to produce them.

Attention to collecting disaggregated data at the grass-roots level, both to identify areas of greatest inequity and to provide data for local-level planning, management and evaluation, is essential.

3. Joined-up systems and services

A more joined-up approach to educational improvement is a fundamental right. This has been variously called ‘holistic’, ‘systemic’ and ‘transformational’.

Taking a joined up approach to change is how real progress in reducing the achievement gap and improving outcomes for all can be made and sustained.

This includes strong partnerships between schools, colleges and universities as well as between early childhood care and education and primary and secondary schooling.

As UNESCO suggested long ago:

“The terms ‘primary schooling’ and ‘secondary schooling’ are coming more and more to be considered as no longer referring to different entities, but rather to successive phases of a continuing process that cannot be sharply distinguished except arbitrarily and by doing violence to the real continuity of growth and education. In so far as school systems and scholastic methods do break the continuity of growth they are coming to be regarded as imperfect instruments of education” (1961).

In a holistic approach, the various parts of education and schooling are related in such a way that education is not fragmented. For school communities, this means the right to have addressed the question of ‘What kind of education system do we want?’

4. New resources and facilities

It is a fundamental right to work and learn in an adequately resourced education system.

Many governments do not give education sufficient priority in their national budgets. Too many do not use resources for education effectively and efficiently and may subsidise better-off social groups at the expense of others.

Not less than 6 per cent of a country’s GNP should be devoted to education, as recommended by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century.

It is important to ensure that the allocation of public resources for education serves to reduce inequities in access and quality rather than to reinforce them, particularly through the use of positive discrimination measures.

Human rights law affirms that education cannot be ultimately universalised unless it is free.

Governments should have a clear strategy, plan and time frame for enabling universal access to post-compulsory education.

Teachers also have the fundamental right to be adequately remunerated and have access to the best available training and professional development and support.

www.humanrights.vic.gov.au website

The website, www.humanrights.vic.gov.au, outlines the 20 fundamental rights the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities protects, and provides people's stories to explain how these rights are protected. The Charter protects people in three basic ways.

  1. All public authorities must act fairly and humanely when they deal with you and deliver services
  2. State and local government must take human rights into account when they develop laws and policies
  3. Courts must take human rights into account when they interpret and apply laws.

Human rights in education website

Human Rights in Education/Mana Tika Tangata is an open collaborative initiative for better education and citizenship - through the development of schools and early childhood education centres as learning communities that explore, promote, and live human rights and responsibilities.

Rights-based schools

Update

This section was last updated on 18 May 2012. We also invite you to provide your feedback about this latest draft.

Introduction

Every student has the right to an education which develops his or her personality and talents to the full. Every student has the right to have his or her voice heard and to participate in decision making.

As well, schools play a vital role in fostering respect, participation, equality, safety, pro-social behaviour and non-discrimination.

A key challenge that schools may face is to develop and promote a clear set of broadly agreed and meaningful values - not just rules - that has been developed via the participation of staff, students, parents and the school community and is actively upheld by all.

Schools have rich insights into how best to develop shared values and rights which have a practical impact on school relationships.

A rights-based school can provide a shared values framework which, in turn, may help to build a stronger school community.

A rights-based school

What, then, is a rights-based school (RBS)? Based on what schools already do, a RBS may seek to more systematically:

  • Teach about students’ rights (and human rights more broadly) as well as the rights of all school and community members - including the rights of teachers and parents
  • Model rights and respect in all relationships in all settings - at school and in the home and the community
  • Reinforce the understanding that along with rights there are responsibilities as well as clear consequences for actions.

Four key areas

Simply as suggestions to stimulate dialogue in a school community as well as discussion pointers for teachers and students about rights and a RBS strategy, rights can comprise four key areas:

  1. Participation, communication and accountability
  2. Quality, equality, respect, safety and inclusion
  3. Strong school-family-community partnerships
  4. The very best resources and school facilities.

A broad community approach

Becoming a RBS is a staff and whole-school community effort. Teachers, students and parents co-develop their own kind of human rights framework and apply it to all everyday situations.  

The strategy is likely to be successful if supported by a team representing the various stakeholders in the school community, including teachers, students, parents and non-teaching staff.

Leadership, school council and broader school community (e.g., parent) buy-in is essential. This means building agreement at all levels that the school is working to become a RBS.

As well, links with human rights organisations and educational resources inform and support the practical strategies of schools. See our useful list of rights contacts on this website.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of a rights-based school cover five key areas:

  1. Promoting opportunities for all young people to become: (a) successful learners, (b) confident and creative individuals and (c) active and informed citizens (as per the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians)
  2. Addressing inequality and discrimination
  3. Building stronger school-family-community partnerships
  4. Promoting positive relationships and pro-social behaviour
  5. Improving learning outcomes for all.

Support for this approach includes the work of MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed. In their book, The Intelligent School (2004), they write:

“We would place pupils’ rights and responsibilities at the heart of an effective school.”

The UK Rights Respecting Schools

As an example of a RBS, the UK Rights Respecting Schools award scheme started in 2004. It is running in more than 800 primary and secondary schools.

Schools have reported a decrease in bullying, an improvement in achievement and participation, a positive effect on attitudes and global awareness and a more inclusive, caring school atmosphere.

The findings from research conducted by the University of Sussex indicated that every school surveyed reported improved behaviour.

Part of the development is an increased use of a rights-respecting language. This has been described as ”a negotiating language rather than a demanding to do it language”.

As well, when children and young people at a Rights Respecting School learn about the universality of rights, they also learn about the importance of a global view of this. Schools observe the impact of a child rights’ perspective on global citizenship.

It is reported that by 10 years of age, most children in a Rights Respecting Primary School can:

  • Give examples of how their own actions have consequences - positive and negative - for the rights of others
  • Refer to the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Give examples of rights abuses from local to global contexts
  • Use the UNCRC as a framework for making judgements about issues concerning justice and sustainability
  • Understand that their own rights are linked with personal responsibilities
  • Critically evaluate the actions of others, including governments, through reference to human rights.

What can schools do?

Based on what many educators and schools already do with values and rights, there are several possible stages in promoting a rights-based school. These may obviously include:

  • Where are we? Looking at the current situation of relationships and rights and responsibilities in the school
  • What do we want to achieve and how? Developing and implementing a highly-focused plan
  • What else do we need to do? Assessing what has been achieved and what else may need to be done.

A school community may want to develop its own Charter of Education Rights and appoint an education and school rights contact person. As well, a summary of a school's rights and values is often included on posters in classrooms.

A popular exercise to get students thinking about what rights are important to them, some schools ask students draft a charter of rights for their school or classroom.

Links

Organisations

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development list of resources to support human rights education

Castan Centre for Human Rights Law focuses on the study of human rights law globally, regionally and in Australia

The Australian Centre for Human Rights Education (ACHRE) at RMIT University works to assist people and organisations to understand, exercise and apply human rights in their daily lives.

Australian Education Union human rights publications and resources.

Australian Human Rights Commission publications and resources.

Human Rights Act for Australia Campaign publications and resources.

The Human Rights Law Resource Centre (HRLRC) is Australia’s first specialist human rights legal service. It supports the provision of legal services, litigation, education, training, research, policy analysis and advocacy regarding human rights.

The People's Decade of Human Rights Education (PDHRE) develops and advances pedagogies for human rights education relevant to people's daily lives. PDHRE was pivotal in lobbying the United Nations to found a Decade for Human Rights Education.

The Right to Education Project builds on the work of Katarina Tomaševski who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

United Nations Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Health and Human Rights

The Center for Public Health and Human Rights (CPHHR) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explores how human rights contexts and issues can have profound impacts on the health of individuals, communities and populations.

Documents

Draft Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Contradicting Commitments: How the Achievement of Education for All is Undermined by the IMF. This report explores the IMF's role and its impact on the right to education.

The World Education Forum (2000) adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments. In doing so, its participants reaffirmed the vision of the World Declaration on Education for All adopted ten years earlier.

This global monitoring report entitled Education for All by 2015: will we make it? assesses the extent to which the World Education Forum commitments are being met.

Professor Robin Alexander's Education for All: the Quality Imperative and the Problem of Pedagogy explores how educational quality is conceived, indicated and measured and how it might be better addressed in the future.

Education Rights: A Guide for Practitioners and Activists presents strategies for a human rights-based approach to education. Published by ActionAid International.

A Human Rights-Based Approach to Education for All (2007) brings together much of the current thinking and practice. It presents key challenges and provides a framework.

Manual on Rights-Based Education: Global Human Rights Requirements made Simple (2004). Written by Katarina Tomaševski.

Overcoming inequality: why governance matters (2009)

Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2009)

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Aims of Education

Journals

The Australian Journal of Human Rights is a publication of the Australian Human Rights Centre (AHRC). It is devoted to the publication of articles, commentary and book reviews about human rights developments in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and internationally.