Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Human Rights Can Hit Home for Young Pupils

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Human Rights Can Hit Home for Young Pupils

Article excerpt

From drama activities to group projects and games, there are lots of accessible ways to introduce the concept to primary children

Some people consider it inappropriate to explore human rights with young children, fearing that the issues might be distressing. However, it is a misconception that you have to use harrowing stories to get the message across: you can easily bring the topic of human rights to life through images, play and discussion.

Indeed, some teachers may not realise how much human rights education they already conduct. In a single morning in an average school, staff can deal with homophobic name-calling, misunderstandings about asylum seekers and negative stereotypes about gender.

So, human rights are already being taught to young children and many teachers are expert at dealing with the issues, because of their experience in responding to inappropriate behaviour. Where some professionals need help, however, is in finding a comprehensive way to explore children's attitudes and values in the classroom, not just in response to a playground incident.

At Amnesty International UK, we have expanded our teaching programme to primary teachers to provide training in this area. Children of primary age form their opinions about human rights in relation to their immediate environment as well as other parts of the world. Our programme helps teachers to assist students in developing their attitudes, and it goes something like this:

Seeing is understanding

Show photographs of homeless people, child soldiers or young people being bullied and ask your class to pinpoint the right that each person is being denied. Then, through discussion, explore ideas of justice and fairness; this debate naturally leads on to the concept of human rights.

Taking the illustrated scene in Amnesty's free resource Right Up Your Street ( as a starting point, students can consider how people balance their rights within a community by identifying what rights are being enjoyed and denied in the picture. Stimulate further discussion by showing your class the illustrations in We Are All Born Free, a picture book that is free to primary schools in the UK (for accompanying activities, visit

Learning by doing

Try a range of interactive methods to structure discussions on controversial or emotive issues. Whole-class approaches can include elements of Socratic debate and forum theatre, both of which can be used to develop children's speaking and listening skills, and to create a respectful environment in which all students can exercise their right to expression and can develop their own ideas. …

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