Primary school learners' understanding of human rights teaching–and–learning in classroom practice
Simmonds, Shan Robyn
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The National Curriculum Statement (2002), in line with the South African Constitution (1996), views human rights, inclusivity and social justice as priorities in all learning areas of the curriculum. However, a document such as the Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy (2001) illustrates the complexities of addressing this in practice. One of the reasons is that there are misconceptions about how the concept of 'human rights' should be interpreted in the educational realm. This study sets out to explore how primary school learners understand human rights teaching-and-learning (from a moral and value stance) and what factors influence this. The intention is to rethink and redefine human rights teaching-and-learning from a learner's perspective as well as to investigate the notion that regards human rights as 'misunderstood'. This research offers a new perspective on human rights in that it focuses on primary school learners. Therefore this study will provide another lens through which to consider human rights teaching-and-learning in classroom practice. A literature study and empirical research have been undertaken to investigate how learners understand human rights teaching-and-learning. The literature study explores ontological, epistemological and methodological perspectives of human rights teaching-and-learning. Qualitative observation, written narratives and focus-group interviews formed the bases of this empirical research. Ongoing triangulation is used to ensure that the research findings are valid and trustworthy. It seems that primary school learners do have an understanding of human rights teaching-and-learning, which is characterized by an emphasis on legal rights and the contextualisation of human rights within South African, value and educational contexts. Educational and societal factors are two of the factors that influence this understanding. It is clear that learners' understanding of human rights teaching-and-learning is not one-dimensional. However, there are certain ontological ambiguities in the views that learners hold of the significance of human rights teaching-and-learning -both within and beyond the curriculum. An indication of this is that learners' responses reveal that they are often uncertain about why they have to learn about human rights and the contexts and/or learning areas (other than Life Orientation) in which human rights teaching-and-learning should take place. Recommendations highlight the need to gain a better understanding of classroom practices so that teaching-and-learning can infuse a culture of human rights; to acknowledge that human rights teaching-and-learning should be more flexible; to use an implicit way of generating an understanding of human rights; to make human rights teaching and learning in classroom practice more authentic; and to consider 'a human rights beyond the curriculum approach'. This study also identifies areas in which further research should be done.
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