As teachers we are in the human rights business, whether or not we realise it.

When, following the Great Depression and the horror of World War II, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” it envisaged a special role for teachers:

every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights.

“These rights” include the human rights to dignity, safety, fair treatment – and the right to education (UDHR article 26).

Education is the key to realising human rights such the rights to work (article 23) and “a standard of living adequate for health and well-being” (article 25), but we are also responsible for ensuring young people receive – in the words of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – an education aimed at

  • development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
  • development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
  • development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
  • preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
  • development of respect for the natural environment. (article 29)

In other words, our job is to deliver an education that respects and helps realise the human rights of every child in our care and those of others.

These responsibilities are reinforced in

  1. - New Zealand’s Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers, which reflects human rights values, declaring that “the professional interactions of teachers are governed” by fundamental principles that include
  • the treatment of people with “rights that are to be honoured and defended”
  • justice, and the sharing of power and prevention of the abuse of power
  • responsible care – doing good and minimising harm to others;

- the New Zealand Curriculum, which requires schools to ensure that “respect for self, others and human rights” is “evident in the school’s philosophy, structures, curriculum, classrooms, and relationships”.

The good news is that there is evidence that taking a human rights approach to education can result in

  • greater student participation, engagement and achievement
  • lower levels of teacher burn-out and greater job satisfaction.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 21 April 2010 14:11)