Human Rights Education from the Perspective of the Holistic Development of the Children
May 25,2020   By:CSHRS
Human Rights Education from the Perspective of the Holistic Development of the Children

LI Hongbo*
Abstract: Human rights education for primary and secondary school students is of great significance to their holistic development. At present, human rights education is actively carried out in China’s primary and secondary schools. Such human rights education includes classroom teaching based on the Ethics and the Rule of Law series of textbooks as well as developing hu­man rights culture in campuses and educating students in human rights practices. Human rights education in primary and secondary schools has achieved certain results, but is as yet inade­quate. In order to further improve human rights education for children, we should integrate hu­man rights education with traditional Chinese culture, make better use of information technology and modem concepts of education and build a comprehensive and deep-seated human rights educa­tion system.

Keywords:United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training ♦ ethics and the rule of law ♦ human rights education
I. Introduction

In modern society, the healthy growth and all-around development of children calls for the state to provide a complete rights protection mechanism, as well as raise children’s own awareness of their rights and ensure their ability to practice their rights. Human rights education therefore plays a significant role in the process of enhancing children's rights awareness and improving children's ability to practice their rights.

Human rights education remains a priority actively advocated in the human rights agenda of the United Nations. In 1994, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the first “United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education”, declaring that “human rights education should involve more than the provision of information and should constitute a comprehensive life-long process by which people at all levels in development and in all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of others and the means and methods of ensuring that respect in all societies”. Since then, in order to promote the development of human rights education, especially human rights education for children, in 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, in which Article 8 clearly states: “States should develop, or promote the development of, at the appropriate level, strategies and policies and, where appropriate, action plans and programmes to implement human rights education and training, such as through its integration into school and training curricula.”

In response to the recommendations of the United Nations and to promote the popularization of human rights education among children, the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2016-2020)formulated by the Chinese government clearly states that “China shall include human rights knowledge in the content of national education. The state shall make sure that human rights knowledge is integrated into the teaching activities of elementary and middle schools in flexible and diverse ways. It shall also provide human rights training for preschool, and elementary and secondary school teachers.” In recent years, China's education departments and institutions have taken positive actions to integrate human rights education into the national education system, and made remarkable achievements through various human rights education activities. This paper summarizes the current model of human rights education for children in China, and puts forward suggestions and ideas to further promote the development of human rights education for children from the perspective of education modernization and the holistic development of the children.

II. Human Rights Education in the Classroom

For children’s human rights education, the most basic means is school education, and the most important stage is the classroom. In recent years, China’s Education Ministry has actively promoted reform of the compulsory education curriculum, emphasized the introduction of human rights education into the classroom, and set up a particular course Ethics and theRule of Raw, which has become the most important carrier of human rights education in primary and secondary schools. In 2016, the education department changed the original textbooks of compulsory education, such as Morality and Life, MoralEducation, into Ethics and the Rule of Law. There are altogether18 volumes comprising the Ethics and theRule of Law course, including 12 volumes for primary schools, whose content can categorize into six fields that are close to children’s lives. In each of these fields, the relevant content is presented in a spiraling way according to rising difficulty. There are six volumes for junior high school, focusing on the individual, family, school, society, country and the world. The Ethics and the Rule of Law course focuses on children and covers content in the fields of morality, politics, law and culture. Human rights is one of the main themes, and human rights education is one of the important tasks and goals.

As a unified course for national compulsory education, Ethics and the Rule of Law carries the great responsibility for high-quality human rights education in primary and secondary schools. The human rights education in primary and secondary schools in the Ethics and the Rule of Law course is mainly carried out based on the following two aspects.

First, concentrated human rights education in the special volume of law. As a comprehensive course,Ethics and the Rule of Law covers many fields. In order to ensure the systematic legal education, the textbook compiling department specially set Volume I for the grade of primary school and the Volume II for the 8th grade of junior high school as the special volumes on legal education, focusing on the content of the Constitution and civil rights. The goal of the rule of law is to protect human rights, and one of the basic principles of the Constitution is “the state respects and safeguards human rights”. Therefore, the two textbooks of the rule of law in primary school and junior high school, to some extent, are also the textbooks of the special volume of human rights education. According to the physical and mental development of children in different stages, the special volumes of the rule of law introduce the connotations and values of the Constitution, the basic rights of citizens, including personal rights, property rights, the rights to education, political rights and economic and social rights, introduce the system of the People’s Congress, the functions and powers of administrative organs, judicial organs and supervisory organs, and convey the political ideology that the power of the state comes from the people, serve the people and is supervised by the people. It is expected that by reading the special volume of the rule of law, the children will understand the Constitution, and the purpose and intention of protecting human rights in the Constitution, so as to establish the concept of human rights and cultivate patriotism through learning the Constitution (see Table 1).


Second, decentralized human rights education in other volumes of the Ethics and the Rule of Law course. In addition to the systematic human rights education around the Constitution in the special volumes of the rule of law, human rights content is also distributed throughout the other 16 volumes for the Ethics and the Rule of Law course. For example, in the part on life education, there is content on the right to life in the textbooks, which guide students to love their own life and respect the lives of others; in the part on security education, the content on self-protection is designed to cultivate students’ self-protection ability; in the part on labor education, students are guided to understand labor rights, labor security, the value of labor and the honor of the labor; in the part on class management, the textbook takes students’ campus life as an example to introduce democratic rights and subject consciousness, such as the right to participate, the right to be informed, and the right to supervise; in the part on people and society, it emphasizes that there is a boundary between rights, that everyone is equal, and that the exercising of rights should be based on respect for the rights of others and safeguarding the interests of the collective and the country; in the part on the big world stage, it introduces the United Nations and its human rights conventions, which enables students to gradually understand the concepts of the international protection of human rights and a community with a shared future for humanity.

In the compulsory education system, human rights education is not only for specific courses or textbooks, it should be the main line that all courses and any textbooks should adhere to. “All teaching materials, not only the teaching materials and auxiliary materials directly aimed at human rights education, should be examined from the perspective of human rights education in order to implement the spirit of human rights education”.1 In addition to the course of Ethics and the Rule of Law, other courses, such as Chinese and History, have also taken on the important functions of human rights education from their own points of view. For example, in Chinese teaching, the image of characters in literary works can be used to carry out human rights education for students. For example, Xia Yan’s reportage on Indentured Laborers in the high school Chinese textbook exemplifies good material to use for personal rights education, labor rights education and other rights education. The rights and dignity that students experience in literary works may be easier to understand and go deeper into their hearts. In the process of learning the historical development of human beings in the course of History, students will gradually realize that the history of human civilization, at the same time, is a history of better protecting human rights, a history in which the freedom and dignity of a person are constantly respected and demonstrated.

III. Cultural Atmosphere of Human Rights and Practical Education on Human Rights

Human rights education is generally carried out with the teaching materials in the classroom, but there are also defects and deficiencies in doing so. Children may forget what they have heard, but they may truly understand and agree to what they have done. Therefore, in order to achieve effective human rights education for children, in addition to classroom education, there should be external human rights atmosphere and human rights practice. Upon the value of human rights cultural atmosphere and human rights practical education, the project of human rights education promoted by the United Nations clearly states that “these are not just lessons for the classroom but lessons for life – of immediate relevance to our daily life and experience. In this sense, human rights education means not only teaching and learning about human rights, but also for human rights: its fundamental role is to empower individuals to defend their own rights and those of others. This empowerment constitutes an important investment for the future, aimed at achieving a just society in which all human rights of all persons are valued and respected.”2

In order to help students understand human rights and their values, improve their awareness and ability to protect their own rights and respect the rights of others, the relevant government organs and primary and secondary schools in China are also shaping human rights cultural atmosphere, carrying out human rights practice, and helping students experience human rights and practice human rights in life through various extra-curricular activities in various forms.

On the one hand, the construction of human rights cultural atmosphere inside and outside the school campus should be carried out so that students can feel the respect of their rights and the dignity of human beings in real life. For human rights education, if what students read in books is inconsistent with what they see in life (for example, it says in the book that the personnel of school management should listen to students’ opinions, and drivers crossing the road should give way to pedestrians, however, in reality, the school is the only one that makes the rules of school management, and drivers on the road make desperate efforts to rush before pedestrians), then such human rights education will not succeed. Therefore, the human rights education for children requires a good external environment and a culture that respect human rights. First of all, it puts forward requirements for school education management. School administrators must have human rights awareness and grasp the concept of the ruleoflaw. They should respect students’ rights and teachers’ rights, and improve the right relief system,soas to educate people through a good human rights environment in all aspects of school education, management and service. Human rights elements should be integrated into the campus culture through bulletin boards, posters, famous sayings, recreational activities and other campus cultural carriers to promote human rights knowledge and the human rights spirit and create an atmosphere for human rights education on campus. Second, it also puts forward requirements for government management. Government departments should act in strict accordance with the law, respect civil rights and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens. In particular, the education, civil affairs and judicial departments that are related to children’s lives should establish the awareness of respecting children’s human rights and effectively safeguard children’s rights. For example, in the judicial trials involving children’s crimes, the judicial organs adhere to the combination of punishment and education, implement trials in camera, provide legal aid for the children involved, seal up the juvenile criminal records, and provide special protection and assistance for the juvenile victims, which in itself is a new form of human rights education and will help create a good human rights atmosphere.

On the other hand, practical education on human rights should be launched in various forms. Within the school, mock courts, legal debates, legal drama, mock National People’s Congress and mock Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference could be used to practice and improve students’ ability to resolve disputes, safeguard rights and participate in public affairs, so as to understand and abide by rules in public life. At the same time, external forces and resources should be introduced to participate in and support human rights education. In Japan, the police will teach children how to protect themselves and protect their rights and interests in the online world through websites or practical teaching;3 in Singapore, 14 “police and youth” clubs are established for the police commissioner to organize police officers to carry out various educational activities to teach children how to avoid crime and protect themselves.4 China’s education department also attaches great importance to the practical education of human rights. In 2016, the Ministry of Education and other seven departments issued Opinions on Strengthening the Construction of the Practice Base of Legal Education for the Youth, which puts forward that by 2020, about 60 national-level practice bases for legal education will be built in different regions, and at least one practice base that meets the standards shouldbeestablishedin themedium-sized cities, andcorresponding practice bases shouldbeestablishedin counties (cities, districts, banners) through measures suiting the local reality. These legal practice bases should be mainly used to carry out human rights practice education, provide practical and interactive education through various educational technologies and means to improve the right awareness and ability of primary and secondary school students.

IV. Some Suggestions on the Promotion of Human Rights Education for Children

With the implementation of the strategy of the comprehensivelaw-based governance, the state and society have put forward higher requirements and expectations for young people’s human rights education. In this context, the human rights education of theyouth with primary and secondary schools as the core should be integratedwith the local human rights culture, and a comprehensive human rights education system should be established by means of modern education to improve the over-all effect of human rights education.

A. Focusing on human rights culture and education in China

Human rights education for children, on the one hand, should follow international standards, while on the other hand, it should be connected to the local culture. Any human rights education without local connotations is empty and rootless, alien and external. It can neither enter into children’s minds, nor be integrated into their real life. Every country can and should develop human rights education with its own national characteristics. In this regard, Article 5 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training stipulates that “Human rights education and training should embrace and enrich, as well as draw inspiration from, the diversity of civilizations, religions, cultures and traditions of different countries”, so as to develop human rights education with diverse characteristics. In short, human rights education should take into account different political, economic, social and cultural environments. All countries and regions should take the initiatives to integrate the general norms of the United Nations with local culture and local realities to show the diversity, locality and applicability of human rights education.

At present, China’s human rights education for children must focus on the exploration of local resources of traditional human rights culture, which is not only the proper meaning of China’s human rights education for children, but also an important manifestation of confidence in Chinese culture. If the human rights education for a country mainly follows the Western pattern with other countries’ resources, it may cultivate people who are alienated or even despise their national traditions and become culturally homeless. In fact, there are abundant human rights resources in Chinese traditional culture to be cherished and developed. For example, Guan Zhong put forward the idea of “people-oriented” governance; Confucius stressed that “The Human is valued in the nature of Heaven and Earth”; Mencius put forward that “the people are the most important, the state comes the second, and the monarch is the least important”, and “the way to win the world is to win its people”; Xunzi pointed out that “Heaven chooses the monarch toservethe people”. All of these sages explained this idea of human rights: people are the foundation of the country, while the country has the responsibility to protect the rights and interests of its people. This has formed the cultural gene of emphasizing the importance of human rights for the country and the responsibility of the country to protect human rights in modern times.5 Objectively speaking, in the current education of children’s human rights, we have not paid enough attention to the traditional human rights resources of China, and we have not done enough to carry forward and inherit them. Therefore, while drawing on the experience of other countries, China’s educators for human rights must make good use of our own human rights resources, explore the local human rights ideology, human rights system and human rights culture, and carry out their evolution in line with modern needs. The educators “should implement, expand and innovate human rights education, following the principle of absorbing the essence of the world and basing on our local culture, to establish the systems of the forms and contents of human rights education with Chinese characteristics”.6

B. Application of modern human rights education methods

The most significant goal of human rights education for children is not to teach human rights knowledge or explain the human rights system, but to improve children’s rights awareness, including the ability to safeguard their own rights, respect other people’s rights, and solve disputes rationally, and guide children to form the human rights awareness of confidence, self-esteem, freedom, equality, and justice. In order to achieve this goal, the human rights education for children must follow the modern education concepts and adopt effective modern education methods. On this, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Trainingstates that “Human rights education and training should capitalize on and make use of new information and communication technologies, as well as the media, to promote all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The arts should be encouraged as a means of training and raising awareness in the field of human rights.” In order to achieve a good effect of human rights education, the concept of modern human rights education should be implemented and modern educational means should be actively utilized.

We should respect children’s subjectivity and emphasize children’s participation. In human rights education, we should pay attention to the main role of students, introduce children into situations of rights value dilemmas, and offer guidance to help them make correct choices independently. For example, in terms of children’s rights education in France, in order to cultivate the ability of citizens to participate in the deliberation and administration of state affairs in the future, a  “Juvenile Parliamentarian’s Day” activity has been designed, which is deeply loved by students; on “Juvenile Parliamentarian's Day” each year, students from all participating schools elect a “parliamentarian” in each class, and the “parliamentarians”  chosen will have the opportunity to go to the National Assembly Building in Paris for a meeting with the drafts of law on the “Juvenile parliamentarian’s Day” of the following year, representing the “electors”. These “parliamentarians” have to lead their classmates to study the legal provisions and discuss the drafting of the draft law.7 In China, various activities such as mock court, mock CPPCC, mock National People’s Congress, mock hearings, mock United Nations debates are often held in primary and secondary schools, which are of positive significance to cultivate students’ ability to participate in problem-solving, and their awareness of rules, responsibilities and equality. In addition to these mock activities, schools and teachers can also guide students to experience the connotations and values of human rights in the practice of school life according to the actual situation of students, cultivate the concept of human rights, such as supporting students to establish human rights interest groups, human rights practice communities, etc., so that students can study human rights issues and participate in human rights practice in an appropriate way.

The modern means of education shouldbe applied in telling the story of human rights. Children’s thinking is different from that of adults, and human rights education requires teachers to deeply understand children’s psychology in order to tell the story of human rights with modern educational methods and techniques. In human rights education, teachers should play down simple and crude “duck-stuffing” teaching methods, and instead adopt a variety of teaching methods such as teaching through stories, scenario simulations, role-playing, case studies, etc. Based on the consideration of the cognitive characteristics of students, real human rights cases can be introduced into classroom teaching, so as to cultivate students’ ability to think about human rights; it is necessary to make full use of information technology, integrate and improve various human rights education resources and forms to form a learner-centered education environment, guide students to learn independently, and cultivate students’ interest in acquiring knowledge about human rights. Special attention was paid to the application of modern education technology in the education of the rule of law and human rights in the United States. For example, a website about the education of rule of law in Florida has launched an app called “Just Adulting”, which is linked with the relevant websites and apps of the Bar Association of the state, to help the middle school students who are about to enter the society, changing from children to adults, from students to citizens. In addition to a Legal Survival Guide for New Adults and a Legal Survival Guide Quiz, the app also provides real time connections with volunteers who provide legal services such as troubleshooting and emergency rescue for minors.8 In China, considering the characteristics and needs of children, human rights education for children should also adopt modern technology, and provide effective human rights education in a way that meets the demands of  children.

C. Establishing a comprehensive human rights education system

Children represent the future of the nation. Human rights education for children is not only the responsibility of schools, but also the responsibility of the whole society. Human rights education for the holistic development of children requires a comprehensive system as well as a systematic project, which calls for the active participation of all sectors of society. Upon this, Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training states: “1. All parts of society, such as educational institutions, the media, families, local communities, civil society institutions, including non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and the private sector, have an important role to play in promoting and providing human rights education and training. 2. Civil society institutions, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders are encouraged to ensure adequate human rights education and training for their staff and personnel.”

In order to build a comprehensive system for human rights education, relevant departments should carry out unified planning and arrangements, extensively organize and mobilize state organs and social forces to support and participate in human rights education for the youth, and establish a network system of social human rights education. The legislative branch and education department should promote the incorporation of human rights education into the national strategy and the revision of national legislation concerning school education, push forward the revision and compilation of teaching syllabus and textbooks, and carry out the training of human rights and human rights education for teachers; the state organs such as the people’s court, the people’s procuratorate, the public security organ, and the judicial administration organ, as well as social organizations such as the lawyers association, should carry out human rights publicity and education in schools to guide students to protect themselves and stay away from harm and crime through various forms and ways, such as appointing vice presidents for the rule of law and counselors for the rule of law; legal workers like judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as researchers of law schools should actively participate in human rights education for youths, help schools develop human rights education courses, provide resources and supports for human rights education and activities in schools; media and enterprises such as newspapers, radio and television, and the internet enterprises should shoulder their responsibilities for human rights education, and create a child-friendly social atmosphere through books, periodicals, online games, animation works, children’s programs and other cultural products with the spirit and concept of human rights; organizations such as Women’s Federation, China Communist Youth League, village committees, and neighborhood committees should pay more attention to the protection of children’s rights and interests, especially vulnerable groups such as girls, left-behind children and disabled children, so as to create a good environment for children's healthy development.

V. Conclusion

The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Trainingstipulates that “Everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms and should have access to human rights education and training.” Human rights education and training are keys to promoting universal respect for and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, especially for children. In the process of comprehensive law-based governance of the country, realization of the modernization of education and promotion of the development of human rights, we must attach importance to the human rights education for children with a deep recognition of its value and significance, change the ideas and mechanism, and update the means and methods, so as to further improve the human rights education for children, and enhance each child’s awareness and ability of rights through high-quality human rights education for the healthy and holistic development of each child.
(Translated by DONG Lianghe)

*LI Hongbo(李红勃), Professor of the School of  Law, China University of Political Science and Law, Researcher of the Human Rights Research Center of China Foreign Affairs University, and Expert of the Revision Group For The Curriculum Standards of Ethics and the Rule of Law, the textbook for compulsory education compiled by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.
1. Liu Huawen, “Reflections on Human Rights Education among Children”, Human Rights 4 (2017): 52
2. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Teaching Human Rights - Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools”, accessed October 20, 2019, www.un.org/china/hr/abc.The main contents of this manual include: (1) fundamentals of human rights education, such as the process of human rights education, contents and methods of human rights education; (2) human rights topics for preschool and lower primary schools, such as confidence and social respect, resolving conflicts, confronting discrimination, creating classroom rules, fostering confidence and self-esteem, etc.; (3) human rights topics for upper primary and secondary school, such as protecting life, government and the law, freedom of thought and expression, engagement in public affairs, the right to privacy, social and cultural welfare, business and human rights, understanding the United Nations, etc.
3. Wang Bei, “Japanese Experience and Enlightenment of Reform of Legal Education for Youth”, Party Building and Ideological Education in Schools 10 (2015):92-94.
4. Du Dong, Wang Shanshan, “Enlightenment from Overseas Legal Education for the Youth”, Chinese Communist Youth League 3 (2015):61-62.
5. Wang Xigen and Chen Xiaoxiao, “Comparative Analysis of Values of Human Rights Education in Taiwan and Chinese Mainland”, Journal of South-Central University for Nationalities (Humanities and Social Sciences) 4 (2018):133.
6. Pan Yong, “Human Rights Education: Laying a Harmonious Foundation for Modern Civil Society”, Global Education 1 (2012):49.
7. Wu Di, “Publicity of the Rule of Law from the Perspective of Civic Awareness Education: A Case Study of French Education of the Publicity of the Rule of Law for the Youth”, Chinese Communist Youth League 11 (2015):61-62.
8. Li Xiaohui and Lin Hongchao, “Participatory Education Rule of Law for Youth Based on Information Technology”, China Educational Technology 5(2019):3.

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