UN Declaration on Human Rights: Education
As part of our ongoing review of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, we’re turning our attention to education.
Within the Declaration there are specific articles relating to education and there are references and relevance in other articles. There are also statements about education in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children and young people should be taught about the Human Rights Declaration and the subsidiary Convention.
Malala Yousafzai says,
“Let us remember: One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice . . . . . . those who have fought for their rights . . . . . . . . their rights to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
We tend to assume Malala is talking about developing nations or third world countries where education isn’t always established as a right for all, and where children may be working in appalling conditions rather than being educated according to their rights.
But the whole point about the UN Declaration on Human Rights is that it’s universal, and it’s worrying that the “developed” nations seem to think that the UN Declaration’s article on education somehow bypasses them as an irrelevance.
Even if our education system was perfect – which it isn’t – and fully in accordance with the UN articles, then we still shouldn’t stand still. Education is a constantly evolving issue – changing with new technologies, new inventions, new pedagogies, new knowledge and understanding of how to live life well.
More economically prosperous countries should be continuously reflective, identifying ways to improve learning and life-chances for children in their own countries and further afield.
Article 26 says,
So does the UK adhere to the Declaration for education?
Point 1 – Yes everyone has access to free education up to the age of 18, but the record on technical and vocational study isn’t exactly inspiring. As for higher education, in theory a university degree is accessible for all on merit, but in reality the cost is becoming increasingly prohibitive or a deterrent for many.
Point 2 – “the full development of the human personality” has evidently not been the priority for a succession of governments. Raising attainment and an increase in academic standards is not a “full development”. It’s a partial development. It’s a development of one aspect of intelligence.
There’s a passing reference to the Spiritual, Moral, Cultural and Social (SMSC) aspects of learning within the National Curriculum and the Ofsted Framework but one suspects that no head teacher is going to lose sleep over the inspection of these areas of learning in spite of this being a significant part of overall judgement, and as we’ve said previously, a few after-school activities doesn’t constitute a holistic provision for SMSC.
As for promoting “understanding, tolerance and friendship”, our government’s “response” to this is to talk of British values not human values, and has only started to consider the value of this work in a reactive response to terrorism and a small group of pupils in a small group of Birmingham schools showing signs of radicalisation. A thoughtful, well-planned and statutory PSHE programme, designed by experts who have decades of experience, doesn’t appear to be important – in spite of the fact that making it statutory with appropriate training could ensure that our education system adheres to this aspect of the Declaration.
Point 3 – Parental choice is theory not practice. Look at how many parents didn’t get their first choice of school for primary and secondary places over the last few years. Parent choice is a myth, set within strict boundaries both geographical and economical. The “haves” either pay or move house. The “have not’s” make do.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all governments used these three pointers as a starting point to frame their aims of education? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the fundamental aims of education were based on a full understanding of human values as advocated by the UN Declaration of Human Rights!
Our attention now turns to the other articles and their relevance to education and the teaching profession.
We’ve written a brief not comprehensive response under each article statement.
Article 2: Ban on discrimination – “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as . . . . national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
3Di: Our divisive system of tiered education hardly complies with this statement. Those with money have far more entitlement than those who don’t.
3Di: Whilst this is specific to “criminal charges” it makes us think about Ofsted and the right to challenge an inspection judgement, or the right to challenge the Secretary of State with reference to academisation.
Article 19: Right to freedom of opinion and expression – “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
3Di: Hardly true when one considers the relationship between education professionals and the government. The previous article (18) on freedom of thought is also pertinent when it comes to teachers’ professional autonomy. The other point is whether we are truly enabling young people to express their right to have an opinion, or their thoughts in our current offering. How many schools and universities have made fundamental changes to practice based on the voice of the young?
Article 23: Right to work – “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring an existence worthy of human dignity . . . . . Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
3Di: In a developed country it’s not enough to grant the right to form a trade union if that union is wholly disregarded when it comes to the terms, conditions and content of service.
See today’s news about teacher recruitment and retention, for instance.
3Di: Many of those outside teaching persist with the “all those holidays” mantra without having any notion of what it is like to work in schools. Whilst reference to this article may seem flippant, it’s not. It’s serious. If government expectations and the requirements of a job contradict the specific hours outlined in the terms and conditions, it is contravening this article. Furthermore, are we encouraging young people to rest and engage meaningfully in leisure activities? Are we talking enough about balance between work and play, particularly in the GCSE and A-level years? Are we doing enough to ensure that families can have an annual holiday?
Article 25: Right to an adequate standard of living – “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
3Di: If we don’t talk to our children and young people about their rights then how are they going to know what their rights are? Wellbeing is so important and we barely mention it on a day to day basis in schools. Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education is so integral to enabling our young people to make careful, safe and healthy choices.
Article 27: Right to participate in cultural life – “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
3Di: Art, music, drama and other creative subjects have always been the poor relatives in education and this will deteriorate further with the EBacc. Again, young people should know their rights and schools should offer a full complement of arts, accessible for all students – encouraging them to maintain at least one arts subject throughout their school lives.
Education is so important. As Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world”. Our world won’t change unless our educators, our teachers, our students – and our governments – look carefully at these Human Rights and employ them consistently when considering and fulfilling the aims of any education system.
For more on the UN Declaration, click here.