When it comes to the right to education, we often only think of it in term of access. But we should also focus on the realisation of rights inside the school, both in terms of the treatment of children and the curriculum. Schoolteachers have a big role in the realisation of children's rights so that "children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates" - from the CRC General Comment No 1 on the aims of education.
Inside the classroom, children should be treated with respect to their inherent dignity and should be provided with the skills and ability to express their views freely and participate in school life.
The school should represent a safe learning environment, especially for children living in violent homes or communities.
The aims of education
Teaching methods should be tailored to the different needs of different children and ensure that essential life skills are learnt by every child.
The classroom is the best place to teach children about human rights and their indivisibility. Children should learn about rights by seeing human rights standards implemented in practice. Pedagogical methods should not, in any way, encourage discrimination, violence or any form of intolerance. Teachers have the responsibility to teach children respect for differences and values such as peace and tolerance. The principle of non-violence should be promoted and reflected in a policy that bans corporal punishment.
Upholding these values is even more important in a conflict-affected area.
Article 29 of the CRC on the aims of education provides that education should aim at developing the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent.
Education should prepare the child for an active adult life in a free society and foster respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, and for the cultural background and values of others.
One of the most important things teachers should give to students is how to become advocates for their own rights. Children should know about their rights to access information, meet with others and form associations, form opinions and express their views. The school should be the first environment where children practice their civil and political rights.
School councils are a good way of involving children in the running of the school and in decisions about how the school environment could be improved for everyone. School councils also introduce children to important social and political principles around voting and representation.
A school should be an environment safe from violence
In many countries, even ones where corporal punishment is illegal at schools, children are still subjected to harsh and humiliating verbal abuse, corporal punishment, bullying, and sexual victimisation and harassment.
A report published in October 2011 by the International NGO Advisory Council for follow up to the UN Study on Violence against Children - Five years on: A global update on violence against children - showed that in some countries:
- More than 80 per cent of school students, from the youngest to the oldest, report experiencing corporal punishment at school.
Numerous children have died due to injuries suffered at the hands of their teacher. 86 Recent deaths of children resulting from school corporal punishment include:
- a 13 year old Sri Lankan girl who died from serious injuries received from being punished with a cane at school;
- a nine year old in South Africa who died after being beaten with a plastic pipe for making a noise;
- a 14 year old boy in the Philippines who was punished for not doing his homework when he returned to school after suffering typhus;
- an 11 year old girl in Delhi whose teacher banged her head and made her stand in the sun for two hours because she had not done her homework;
- a seven year old boy in Malaysia who was assaulted by his teacher because he had been accused of stealing from another child;
- and a 14 year old boy in Karnataka, India who died after being punished by his teacher for being late to school.
Fatalities may not be common, but physical harm, lasting psychological harm, underachievement, school absence, and school drop-out are all commonly correlated with corporal punishment.
What can NGOs do?
Teachers alone cannot ensure the full realisation of children’s rights inside the school. NGOs have a big role to play.
They should advocate for more budget allocated to:
- train teachers and all other school personnel to ensure that they have the knowledge, the capacity and the necessary means to treat children with respect and dignity and provide them with essential life skills;
- provide appropriate facilities and accessibility of school building to facilitate everyone’s access to education.
- Organisations should provide advice on the contents of training manuals to make sure that all children’s rights are taken into consideration, including training of teachers in working with children with disabilities.
- They should encourage the setting up of a monitoring system to ensure that children’s rights are not violated inside the school. A reporting system can be developed through student councils.
- UNICEF has developed a guide for programme managers in east africa and the pacific on Assessing child-friendly schools. Download the Child-friendly schools checklist and the Child-friendly schools powerpoint presentation.
- UNESCO human rights website has information and publications on peace, human rights and democracy education.