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HRBA's Theoretical Roots

HRBA thought bubbleThe human rights-based approach (HRBA) to schooling is based on the principle that human rights should be conveyed both in and through education. The HRBA process involves complex interactions between the right to education in general, the implementation of human rights practices within the structure of the school itself, and the teaching of human rights through schooling. In order to understand and implement HRBA, it is first necessary to understand its key components. To facilitate this understanding, HREA provides the theoretical background of HRBA in three different sections: What is HRBA?; The Right to Education and the Right to Human Rights Education (HRE); Human Rights Education as a Key Component of HRBA.

What is HRBA?

In Frequently Asked Questions on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development Cooperation, HRBA is defined as a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. UN agencies have agreed to three essential attributes to constitute the HRBA:

  • As policies and programmes are formulated, the main objective should be to fulfill human rights;
  • a human rights-based approach identifies rights-holders and their entitlements and corresponding duty bearers and their obligations, and works towards strengthening the capacities of rights-holders to make their claims and of duty bearers to meet their obligations;
  • principles and standards derived from international human rights treaties should guide all programming in all sectors and in all phases of the programming process.

The idea behind HRBA in schools is centered on the human dignity of the child. The general framework for the HRBA is typically adapted from UNICEF's A Framework for Rights-Based, Child-Friendly Schools. UNICEF outlines the core mission and values of a rights-based school and provides an excellent starting point for schools seeking to implement the human rights-based approach to education. 

For an overview of the HRBA to education—its definition, implementation, and related issues, see Claudia Lohrenscheit, A Human Rights Based Approach to Education. HREA's Executive Director Felisa Tibbitts also provided a summary of the HRBA in schools during a 2006 conversation on the Global Human Rights Education List.

The Right to Education and the Right to Human Rights Education (HRE)

children learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (source: UN Photo)Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realising other human rights. By promoting a rights-based approach to education, HRE enables the education system to fulfill its fundamental mission to secure quality education for all.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stipulates:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

As the UDHR states, a human rights-based approach to education recognises first and foremost, the right to education in general. This may seem obvious, but educational opportunities are not always extended justly and equitably. In order to implement HRBA, education in general must be enjoyed by all—regardless of ability, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, sexual preference, class, or any other identifying factor. In addition, such an education—as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child—must be structured in a way that respects the dignity and fundamental human rights of students.

For more user-friendly information on the right to education and its surrounding issues, we urge you to utilise the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative's (NESRI) webpage, The Right to Education. See NESRI's Human Right to Education Fact Sheet for a quick summary of the key components of the right to education.

A key principle that is central both to human rights and the human rights-based approach is non-discrimination. In the schooling sector the ramifications are multi-fold, including equal access to quality education with special attention to vulnerable or marginalised groups.

For more on Inclusion and Equal Education as a Human Right:

Global Rights, The Justiciability of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in the U.S.— Domestic Implementation of the Right to Equal Education — A Plan for Action.

Felisa Tibbitts, Guest Editorial: The Rights-based approach to education

Right to Education Project

Human Rights Education as a key component of the HRBA

In addition to the "right to education", the UDHR and the Convention on the Rights of the Child also call for the right to human rights education (HRE). For a school to develop an all-encompassing human rights-based approach to education, it is first necessary to build a foundation of human rights knowledge—what does it mean to have rights? What rights do we have exactly, and why do we have them? How do we claim our rights, and what are our responsibilities that go along with these rights? 

All of these questions are difficult, but necessary components within the process of human rights learning. There are no right or wrong answers. Different interpretations must be examined at length within any institution establishing a human rights-based approach. In order for the language and values of human rights to permeate every level of the school environment, the school must understand what it means to both live and teach human rights.

See the Journal of Social Science Education editorials by Felisa Tibbitts and Karl-Peter Fritzsche, on the interpretations, benefits, and challenges of teaching for human rights.

In her handbook, Human Rights in Education as a Prerequisite for Human Rights Education, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Katarina Tomaševski, summarises the complex interactions between the right to education in general and the implementation of human rights in education, and through education. She also outlines some of the philosophical, legal, and pedagogical challenges that still face human rights education, and how they may be overcome.

For more HRE resources, see HREA Publications and the on-line HRE Library for a comprehensive selection of HRE documentation.


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Related e-learning courses

Introduction to Human Rights Education

The Right to Education

Related resources

PodcastPodcast with Felisa Tibbitts on human rights education (6 December 2010)

For a comprehensive selection of HRE teaching and training resources:

on-line HRE Library

HREA Publications

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