Sunday, 19 March 2017

Teaching human rights through language

During my years teaching I have learnt that teaching adults is by no means a one way process. It certainly isn’t about me bringing knowledge to the classroom for my students to gratefully absorb and walk away with. Teaching is about what we all bring, and share and learn. I’ve learnt about the history and geography of the countries my students grew up in. I’ve learnt about different political systems, religions, customs, clothes and family life. My favourite lessons are the ones where we all bring a dish and learn about food from other countries. I’ve also learnt about determination, motivation and resilience and I am inspired every day by my students’ attitude and aspirations.
I have been given the opportunity recently to take my teaching and learning in a new direction and to get involved in a project looking at teaching human rights in language. This is a topic that is both new to me, and at the same time is something that has always underpinned how I live and teach and work.

It is easy to take our human rights for granted, or to think that human rights are not something we need to concern ourselves with. My daughters' right to education is not threatened; I have never felt the need to consider my right to be free from torture as I have never experienced or been afraid of being tortured; I was free to choose who I wanted to marry, or not marry; I always exercise my right to vote and feel safe to do so. These, and many more are set out in the universal declaration of human rights. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to take these rights for granted, and that's where the thinking behind the teaching of human rights through language came from. Recently arrived migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, will be offered the chance to participate in courses to learn the language of human rights and the laws of the countries they are now living in.

“Human rights in language” is funded by a European funding programme which seeks to prevent violence and protect the rights of women, young people and children. I spent a few days in Berlin last week meeting with language teachers from other European countries where we shared our experiences of teaching migrants and took part in workshops looking at how we can teach human rights in language classes. We all came away inspired and motivated and with firm plans in place to start teaching these classes in our settings in 5 European countries, including three locations in the UK.

Teach is maybe the wrong word though, because I know, as all teachers do, that teaching any topic in a language lesson is about sharing, enabling, giving and receiving. It’s humbling to realise that your students’ experiences are far greater that yours and their contributions teach the rest of the group far more than the person with the certificate and the teacher’s hat on standing by the whiteboard. I hope that I can help my students to learn the language they need to talk about human rights, and to gain the skills and confidence to take that language out of the classroom. For by doing this, we are together doing our bit to make the world a better, fairer place for all of us to live in. And at the end of the day, that’s what my job is all about.

If you would like to know more about how you, or someone you know, can get involved in human rights in language classes in Newcastle feel free to get in touch by leaving a comment below.

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