If HRE is education about, in and for human rights, the learning environment must reflect this, or as Flowers and Shiman argue: “how you teach, is what you teach.”1 Once again, the following is a brief introduction to a few methodologies and their various methods utilized by human rights educators. Also see additional sources on the Resources page.

According to Felisa Tibbitts, the founder of Human Rights Education Associates,2 the methodologies most commonly used in human rights education and learning, are based on (a) Freire’s praxis model, (b) constructivist learning and (c) participatory approaches.3

(a) Freire’s praxis model. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire is commonly seen as the greatest influence on the practice of HRE. Some of the basic principles in his influential work, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), challenge traditional teaching methods, which he terms the "Banking Method." In his analysis, most traditional schooling is dehumanizing, "turning students into 'containers,' into 'receptacles,' to be 'filled' by the teacher." Freire sees the traditional teacher as a "Subject," one who "owns" knowledge, which she or he imparts to the "empty vessels," or "objects".4

The “banking method” does not recognize the learner's earlier life experience, preexisting knowledge, and individualized ways of knowing. To challenge the traditional model, Freire developed a "problem-solving method" of education aimed at "the individual's ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human." To Freire, the process of learning was inseparably linked with the process of being human. The goal of becoming more ‘fully’ human could not be achieved "apart from inquiry [and] praxis] " because "Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention; the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other."5

Learning then ought to be an on-going process which leads individuals to form their own understanding of the world and ultimately to "conscientização", translated as "learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality." Freire posited that learning was situated both in the individuality of the learner and also in the complex social, political and material conditions surrounding and influencing the learner.

As a critique of the “banking method of education” Freire developed what he called "problem-solving education":6

Authoritarian Humanistic
Vertical, top-down Horizontal, collaborative
Knowledge is a fixed corpus Knowledge is dynamic
Emphasis on memorization Emphasis on critical thinking, analysis
Inhibits creativity Demands creativity
Encourages passive acceptance Encourages questioning, problem solving
Supports status quo Supports personal/social transformation
Lecture method Dialogue method
Students: objects of assistance Students: beings who are becoming
Students: blank slates, know nothing Students: have knowledge/experience
Teachers "own" knowledge Teachers are co-learners

Freire insisted that any kind of learning stems from people's subjective situation and their awareness of that situation, "the various levels of perception of themselves and of the world in which and with which they exist."7 This is of high relevance to HRE: in order to make the content as realistic as possible, the educational strategies, as well as the readings and assignments, ought to use the history and tradition of the learners, and use problems and issues that they themselves are familiar with, either as a part of their daily-experience, or seen in the media that is accessible to them. The selected classroom strategies and techniques are to help learners link the content (e.g. the history of HR, UNHR articles etc) to their daily lives.

(b) Constructivist learning. A “constructivist” perspective on learning is a contemporary method that is greatly influenced by Freire. Constructivism also sees knowledge as socially constructed and influenced by the skills, values, and presuppositions the learner brings to the educational experience. Constructivism posits that individuals create new understandings through the interaction of what they already know with the new ideas and experiences they encounter. This analysis is relevant regardless of the age of the learner or the learning environment. Research of the learning process indicates that people learn best when actively engaged in constructing their own knowledge, manipulating ideas and testing them against perceived reality. Learning activities that promote this construction are characterized by active engagement, inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration with others, as opposed to didactic, lecturing, and memory-oriented methods.

The constructivist approach also emphasizes critical thinking. Although scholars differ on the degree to which critical thinking should emphasize objectivity and rationality or social context and "connectedness," they agree that critical thinking is essential to the construction of knowledge. The constructivist approach has clear importance for HRE, especially in its emphasis on the individual within a socio-cultural context and its potential for both personal and social transformation. Most human rights educators argue that HRE is inherently transformative because its content cannot be separated from the values and attitudes on which the human rights framework is based. As such, the MSI training and lesson plans must not only focus on content and cognitive skills but also the values and attitudes aspect when evaluating our methods of HRE.

(c) Participatory Approaches have already been mentioned due to being an integrated part of the process of learning in the two mentioned methods. In sum, participatory learning means a minimum of passive listening, where the learners (those being students/facilitators/teachers) are actively engaged in their own learning; meaning co-constructing what they perceive as “reality.” Examples for participatory methods are discussions, debates, role plays, mock trials, games, and simulations.

For learners to “participate” in their own learning, a non-hierarchical, democratic, collaborative learning environment is encouraged, in addition to:

  • Promotion of personal enrichment, self-esteem, and respect for the individual;
  • Empowerment of participants to define what they want to know and to seek information for themselves;
  • Respect for the experience of participants and recognition of a variety of points of view;
  • Encouragement of reflection, analysis, and critical thinking;
  • Engagement of subjective and emotional responses, as well as cognitive learning;
  • Encouragement of behavioral and attitudinal change;
  • Encouragement of risk taking and using mistakes as a source of learning;
  • Emphasis on skill building and practical application of learning;
  • Recognition of the importance of humor, fun, and creative play for learning.8

Another ‘checklist’ or common principles used when teaching human rights, regardless of setting and learner group, includes the following points:

  • Provide OPEN-MINDED EXAMINATION of human rights concerns with opportunities for participants to arrive at positions different from those of the facilitator.
  • Include an INTERNATIONAL/GLOBAL DIMENSION to the human rights theme being examined, (e.g. how it manifests itself both at home and abroad).
  • Avoid too much focus on human rights abuses. Emphasize human rights as a POSITIVE VALUE SYSTEM and a standard to which everyone is entitled.
  • Affirm the belief that the INDIVIDUAL CAN MAKE A DIFFERECE and provide examples of individuals who have done so.
  • Include an ACTION DIMENSION that provides participants with opportunities to act on their beliefs and understanding. These actions should address problems both at home and elsewhere in the world.
  • Link every topic or issue to relevant articles of the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. Make this connection explicit rather than implicit or assumed.
  • Be responsive to concerns related to CULTURAL DIVERSITY. Activities should reflect a variety of perspectives (e.g., race, gender, religion, cultural/national traditions).
  • Be concerned with both CONTENT AND LEARNING PROCESS. It is difficult to engage participants in examining issues related to rights and justice if the learning environment does not demonstrate respect for justice and human dignity.
  • Keep lecturing to a minimum. Instead use PARTICIPATORY METHODS for learning such as role plays, discussion, debates, mock trials, games, and simulations.
  • Connect people’s LIVED EXPERIENCE directly to abstract concepts and legal documents.9

The ideas presented above by a variety of educators are at times overlapping, though together they offer a general understanding of what methods are needed to produce “effective” HRE. Not all of the above are applicable to every lesson, and in most cases, educators combine a variety of methods and techniques when conducting their lessons. When selecting methods, one should keep in mind (a) that some methods may be viewed as culturally inappropriate for some groups (e.g., physical contact, graphic arts), (b) the writing and reading abilities of the learners, and (c) the requirement of unfamiliar or unavailable resources (e.g., library resources and access to internet).10

Teaching in human rights may be one of the main difficulties when introducing HRE in secondary schools in India. If teachers are not familiar with problem-solving and constructivists methods, it may be a challenging transition to them as well as for the students. Eventually, the responsibility lies on the teachers and the school-system in general to encourage this change in learning process. Teachers’ confidence in themselves as ‘managers’ of the classroom and enthusiasm about human rights education will be key points when determining the effectiveness of this project. Not to mention the possible effects it will have on their students.

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