Put your hands up if:
You have ever felt like you have been treated unfairly?
You have not been given an opportunity to defend yourself?
You have ever been blamed for something you didn’t do?
You asked for help and someone refused to give it?
These were my opening questions in a year 8 assembly to inform them about the new Amnesty International Club I was setting up at my school.
Hands shot up and were held high, among students and teachers, as they angrily remembered and reflected upon occasions in their lives where they felt an injustice had taken place, and they had been treated unfairly. It was wrong. And it should have been made right.
That’s what Amnesty International is all about. I am passionate about my subject specialism (geography), but I 100 per cent believe that education is about more than knowledge-based learning. I strongly feel it is part of a teacher’s role to promote empathy, compassion and understanding. Human rights education can be applied to all subject areas. There are no excuses.
If you disagree, please read this quote from an unknown author: “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicists. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education.
“My request is: help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”
Joining the Amnesty Teacher Programme and establishing an Amnesty International Club in my school in east London was a way to build a connection between the students, between students and teachers, and to engage the students in important wider issues.
The Amnesty Teacher Programme was a fantastic way to meet like-minded people working in similar fields. Everyone had different backgrounds and were at different levels of experience. This meant collaborative work was interesting and lively, and the discussions were full of differing opinions – all of which leant itself to raising the standard of professional dialogue and realising the importance of the role we had given ourselves as Amnesty Teachers.
My Amnesty project was based around the theme of “Love is a Human Right” and “Respectful Relationships”. I developed sessions which enabled students to take ownership of the club and decide which direction they wanted it to take (with plenty of guidance!).
The student-chosen motto of the group was “Small steps can make a Big Difference”, and we always thought of this as we discussed what action we could take to create awareness of an issue.
As a club, we spread our ethos through positive messages, art work and singalong flash mobs. The success of the club led to Amnesty-focused Learning Days being developed for whole year groups to spread the messages even further.
As an educator, I believe, human rights education is an excellent way to engage students and build relationships with them that will ultimately improve a student’s chance of achieving their potential.
The students, who participated in the Amnesty Club and in Amnesty Learning Days, were engaged, inspired and proud of what they achieved in each session and each lesson.
They were working towards something bigger than themselves and they were trying to make a difference. What more can anyone do?
I would highly recommend the Amnesty Teacher Programme as a great way to develop your knowledge of human rights education. From developing my practice with Amnesty International, I have had some memorable moments – plenty of fun, lots of eye-opening learning experiences, and countless proud moments for my students and myself.
Amnesty Teacher Programme
The Amnesty Teacher Programme is an interactive experience which begins with a simple question: “What human rights issues are faced by young people in your school or community?”
It could be issues around refugees, racism, bullying or homophobia. Throughout the course you develop your own education project, which could be anything – developing a documentary film project, organising a drop-down day, planning a scheme of work.
No matter what their form, the projects encourage students to awaken their sense of injustice in the world and help them to take action. For many young people involvement in such projects can be transformative as they discover a passion for fairness, and capacity to speak up against injustice.
The course matches teachers with educational experts who can support educational projects and support teachers in integrating human rights education into their subject area.
The Amnesty International Teacher Programme runs over three Saturdays at Amnesty’s UK headquarters in east London. The closing date to sign up is October 14 and you can register online.
Ciara McGuane is a geography teacher and leader of learning at Sarah Bonnell School in Stratford, east London. She is one of the first teachers to graduate from the Amnesty International Teacher Programme. Follow her on Twitter @ciaramcguane.