The Role of Catholic schools in Australia in educating for human rights and social justice: An overview

Wolf Legal Publishers
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Religion, Law and Education: Tensions and Perspectives, 2017, one, one pp. 251 - 268
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The Role of Catholic Schools in Australia in Educating for Human Rights and Social Justice: An overview " .. a human rights act will not, alone, magically create a rights aware, and rights-respecting culture … We’ll also need a strong ongoing national program of human rights education." The role played by schools in educating for human rights and social justice cannot and should not be underestimated. Both the content of formal schooling and the manner in which schools behave, provides a crucial template for the life of citizens and the welfare of the nation. The notion of educating about human rights has formed part of an international human rights framework since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the urging of State Parties by the United Nations to disseminate the Declaration and to educate citizens about its contents. All major UN human rights treaties since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have incorporated human rights education. The international focus on human rights education culminated in 2011 with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, and the inception of the three phases of the World Programme for Human Rights Education with the Third Phase to be undertaken from 2015 to 2019. In Australia, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) provides, within its two overarching goals, for an education system which promotes equity and equality and ensures that all young Australians become active and informed citizens. A number of recent initiatives, the National Human Rights Consultation in 2009, and the Australian Human Rights Framework of 2010, acknowledge that human rights education in schools is essential to achieving this aim. Despite these ideals, research in Australia shows an absence of concerted government drive for human rights education. However Catholic schools, which now make up 20% of the Australian compulsory education sector, continue to play a strong role. This is particularly through their practices which evidence a commitment to social justice and to principles of inclusion. While curriculum and classroom teaching are at the centre of formal teaching in any school environment, a school comprises a myriad of relationships and it is those relationships that, it is argued, are vital to education for human rights and social justice. Put simply, it is how all members of the school community interact with each other and the culture of the school, which provides the blue print for future relationships within society. Importantly, the focus should not be just on teaching, but school communities generally must embrace the norms set out in international human rights instruments, and in domestic legislation. These set out the parameters for the way we treat each other in the wider society and an understanding of these values must come from school practices. This article draws on the findings from two research projects which considered practising citizenship and human rights education in the compulsory school sector in New South Wales, and in the national Australian education environment. This included research in a cohort of Catholic schools. It considers the contribution of Catholic education towards the development of an equal and just society, with a strong awareness of the essential part played by human rights and social justice in ensuring the health and wellbeing of the nation.
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