From Nova Scotia to England: The Frontier of Children's Rights Education

Article excerpt

In 1997, the Children's Rights Centre at Cape Breton University decided to initiate a program of children's rights education in local Cape Breton elementary schools. The initiative was inspired by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and by the concept of educating children about their rights as a means of promoting citizenship and democracy. Based on its success in Cape Breton, education in children's rights became incorporated into the Nova Scotia provincial curriculum and more recently into Hampshire County schools in England. Hampshire is now at the frontier of children's rights education not only by incorporating children's rights into the curriculum but also by working to make it become a part of the school ethos.

From the perspective of Katherine Covell and Brian Howe, directors of the Children's Rights Centre, children's rights education is a positive development for at least three basic reasons. First, educating children about their rights and responsibilities is a foundation for citizenship education. Often it is forgotten that children are citizens of the present as well as of the future. As citizens, they have rights and responsibilities and they are entitled to know what these are through education. Second, research indicates that children's rights education produces positive benefits. In learning about their rights, children develop a deeper appreciation for the rights of others and a sense of social responsibility. There also is improved behavior and a more harmonious classroom environment. Third, educating children about their fundamental rights is in keeping with international obligations under the UN Convention. As pointed out by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, countries that ratify the Convention have an obligation to educate children (as well as adults) about the rights of the child. The incorporation of children's rights education into the school curriculum, says the Committee, is an important means of fulfilling this obligation.

The following is a review of early initiatives in Cape Breton and Nova Scotia and of developments at the frontier of children's rights and citizenship education today.

The Cape Breton initiative

The Children's Rights Centre began discussions with the Cape Breton-Victoria School Board in 1997 about the need for children's rights education in local schools. The School Board agreed to form a partnership with the Centre and to coperate with the development of a children's rights curriculum and the pilot testing of this program in seven Grade 6 classrooms (involving 175 children) during the 1997-98 school year. Grade 6 was chosen as an introductory point for the curriculum as research indicates that children around age 11 have an increased capacity for understanding abstract concepts such as rights. Canadian Heritage agreed to provide funding for the pilot project. The objective was to involve Cape Breton teachers and students in the design of the curriculum, to make the curriculum relevant and engaging, and to do a formal evaluation of its impact at the end of the school year. If the evaluation was successful, the aim was to expand the program into Nova Scotia and make curriculum materials available for teachers in other jurisdictions.

To allay concerns about new responsibilities in the context of limited resources, the curriculum was designed to fit into and complement existing curricula. The decision was made to fit the program into the existing health curriculum since this curriculum spanned the school year and since there was a good match between health themes and children's rights topics. Articles of the Convention were matched with existing health topics. For example, Article 33 of the Convention (the child's right to be protected from narcotics) was linked with the existing section on drug prevention. The curriculum included units on healthy living, personal safety, drug use, family life, discrimination, and problem solving. …