Nine out of 10 teachers want students' human rights education to begin before they reach 14, a TESS survey suggests.
The poll of more than 670 teachers across the UK, conducted jointly with Amnesty International UK, finds that 47 per cent think the children at their school do not understand the concept of human rights. Similarly, 46 per cent believe their pupils have no awareness of their own human rights.
Alice Edwards, education officer at Amnesty International UK, said pupils had little understanding of what human rights entailed. "I think there are a lot of children who don't understand what they're entitled to and that human rights belong to everybody," she said. "It can almost be read that some people have human rights and some people don't."
The issue should be taught across the curriculum, she added, suggesting that maths teachers could look at how wealth was divided across the world, or students in literacy lessons could write campaigning letters. "Make it clear that human rights isn't a stand-alone issue," Ms Edwards said. "It penetrates everything. It belongs to me, it belongs to you, it belongs to everybody."
One respondent said that human rights should be taught as "part of health and well-being in Curriculum for Excellence".
Craig McVicar, a teacher at Quintin Kynaston in West London, has run dedicated, off-curriculum days focusing on human rights. "A lot of our students come from all over the world," he said. "They're refugees from war-torn countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Kosovo. That makes it quite real for them. I guess it makes [pupils] feel quite fortunate when they hear what people experience in other places in the world."
Mr McVicar advocates lessons that explore the introduction of formalised human rights, including the formation of the United Nations after the Second World War.
And teachers needn't worry about students misappropriating the information. "Pupils have never said to me, `You're abusing my human rights by making me wear school uniform'," Mr McVicar added. "In actual fact, some of the kids with behaviour problems are motivated by this. They realise a bit more about themselves and what's important in life."
Jessica Barnecutt, who teaches at Oaklands School in East London, said that although students were quick to grasp issues around torture and unfair imprisonment, they did not always understand how rights were central to their lives.
"Some of our kids [who take on caring responsibilities at home] are very grown up very young," she said. "They have a lot of responsibility. They might not see that as an infringement of their human rights but I would.
"It's like any subject: some students grasp it more quickly than others. Even I find it quite hard to define. It means freedom and being able to express your views, and not being subject to persecution. But I teach maths. I'm not a words person."
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