Human rights – A school curricula after Mugabe rule ?

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The London-based founder of the nonprofit group said human rights education will promote peace on the continent and help develop a new generation of independent-minded leaders.

This article has been modified since it was first published (March 8, 2011)

“This is a modern world where people should really think about human suffering and also stop it and learn to live together so that people do change,” a human rights campaigner speaking on condition of anonymity told Africa News Report “If I train teachers and they go out and teach in schools, it means changing a lot of people within a short space of time.”

Additionally, the campaigner believes human rights education for the young will help create desperately needed new leadership for southern African nations, where very few young people consider getting involved in politics. He said the election of 47-year-old Barack Obama as president of the United States has provided inspiration for many.

“The problem that we have in Africa is we are so afraid. We cannot challenge our elders,” he said. Constructive criticism can be misconstrued as just another Western-sponsored activity. “So basically what I am aiming to do with this program is I want to try and open up peoples’ minds so that in the future, when we start looking for leaders, we don’t become desperate,” and risk trading dictators for leaders without a plan for reform.

Foremost in his mind is what human rights education could accomplish in his home country, Zimbabwe.

The education system in Zimbabwe has faced declining standards and disruptions due to the country’s economic and political problems. Many teachers have fled their country to neighboring South Africa and Botswana due to poor working conditions and economic hardships.

According to him declining standards in government-run schools have prompted Zimbabweans to place their children in private schools and colleges despite the serious economic challenges.

first steps

The campaigner says that his plan is for his group to release a human rights education journal and organize international and regional conferences and workshops on human rights, as well as stage and music performances. The group would also recognize top human rights educators with awards.

He has also identified qualified teachers and envisions six- to eight-month training sessions on human rights concepts, including conflict resolution and promoting peaceful co-existence among different tribal, political and religious groups. After training, the teachers would join school faculties in southern Africa to teach human rights “as an extra subject, just like business studies and computers,” he explained.

The campaigner believes the secondary school human rights curricula most likely would be introduced in Christian schools, private schools and colleges. The human rights group’s goal is to help governments in the region understand the benefits of such courses instead of looking at them as Western-sponsored activities.

Under his plan, South Africa would serve as a regional base for the program’s activities there and in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Malawi, he said.

“Starting a project like this is not easy … and it may fail to take off” without support, he said. He is seeking help from overseas and hopes to attract celebrity support similar to that of actor George Clooney, who raised awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“If it’s done properly, if I can get people to help me out, this can start as early as 2010” for students at various schools in southern Africa, he said, anticipating that at least 3,000 could participate in the group’s program at both the certificate and diploma levels every year, and the concept can be transferred to other parts of Africa and the developing world.

The goal is for students to receive human rights training at an earlier age “so that when they go to university they will have an idea of what human rights is all about. It will entice them to even go for human rights degrees,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s future

The campaigner is optimistic that in Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe leaves power, classes on human rights and peaceful co-existence will be a welcome addition to secondary schools.

“My honest opinion is that anger right now is manufactured at the highest level. People in Zimbabwe are prepared to live together,” he says, citing his own background in a mixed tribal area in the southern part of the country.

He said many of his fellow citizens have been forced into the political violence between Mugabe’s supporters and those of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Zimbabwe’s youth have found themselves fighting each other.

Despite the current bleak conditions, “I’m quite confident that Zimbabwe will actually be a leading example of people who love to live together.” He said.

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