Feeling for all humanity

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Schools up and down the country are already showing how the issues can be explored

Human rights education is not all cognitive. Opportunities to experience affective involvement are important too. Fiona Smith, lecturer in dance at the University of Brighton, is running a large dance performance work linking her college's centenary celebrations with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights anniversary. Each of the 12 participating secondary schools is preparing dance work based on an interpretation of some of the articles within the declaration. "The younger children might produce work that is narrative, with the older ones taking slightly more abstract concepts, maybe dealing with notions of oppression or racism," says Ms Smith.

Tracy Law, a primary teacher at Banga Bandhu school in London's Tower Hamlets, sees rights as a core part of education. She says: "You can't really have a function in the classroom if you are not doing it." She has also done development education work - such as a project on Kenya - with six and seven-year-olds. "Year 2 children are concerned with rights and wrongs, justice and injustice in their own lives. They also have a lot of stereotypes about other countries. The earlier you challenge them the less fixed the ideas become," says Ms Law. She uses puppets, story books and role-plays, always making the rights dimension explicit.

Eamonn Scott, head of St Vincent's RC primary school in Rochdale, says: "Teaching about rights is life. We teach about respect and the right to be different."

Every Friday lunchtime, Year 6 pupils meet as a junior Amnesty International group and write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience. It is just one part of the human rights work the head sees as central to the school's ethos. "It is good for discipline. We look at rights and responsibilities, stressing that everyone has the same rights," says Mr Scott.

The school devised a primary-level human rights alphabet. Mr Scott says: "It's a way of getting across ideas of equality, fairness, justice - at their level."

When Peter Wright, from Crownwood School in Greenwich, London, goes to human rights events he is usually the only maths specialist present. "It is more of a challenge to do human rights work in maths," he says. He rejects the myth of maths as a value-free zone. "Gender bias is very prevalent," he insists.

His ideas include multicultural maths, using games from other cultures, or simply doing multiplication tables in other scripts - say Hindi or Chinese. He has used statistics to compare male and female responsibilities within the school. Another idea comes from the fair trade work of agencies such as Christian Aid. Seeing where the money goes from the price of a pair of trainers combines maths and rights awareness.

Other organisations in human rights education include Amnesty International, tel: 0171 814 6200 and the Council for Education in World Citizenship, tel:0171 929 5090

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