Maria Gorbach on education for human rights: What are they not teaching in schools?

posted 14 Oct 2015, 09:10 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Oct 2015, 09:12 ]
9 October 2015

By Маria Gorbach, trainer at the Centre for Civic Education and Human Rights, a member of Youth Memorial Society, Perm region

A lot of different things have been said, a number of experiments have been carried out and a stack of books written about education for citizenship. But every day classroom teachers and teachers working with tutor groups independently seek to resolve for themselves the problem of how to nurture civic qualities in their pupils.

For us, employees of various non-profit organisations, the possibility of education for citizenship is to be seen in the active cooperation of teachers and non-profits, through collective work on various resources created for the improvement of life in our areas.

I tested one of these resources on my own child. Perhaps this was the first time my eleven-year-old son was so worried. He had to play a part in a promotional film discussing the topic “My Territory”. It all seemed to be quite simple: they explain, show, and tell you what to do, and you walk around pressing the buttons on the modern and not at all threatening gadget. But the lad got nervous, gathered himself together pensively and with all possible attention listened to the instructions of the director, the IT folk and other people involved in the process.

Then there was a tour around the local area (‘Park district’), filming an enormous pothole in the road and sending messages to the district administration via mobile devices developed by IT experts specially for the project. In the course of the shoot the theory of the project initiators was confirmed that even a child could manage to do this. But I noticed one other interesting thing, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

In today’s educational world – in laws, in federal standards, in various pedagogical programmes and textbooks on methodology – there is an abundance of correct words, such as “responsibility”, “love for the Motherland”, “citizenship” etc. These are good words. But while we are talking about them or simply mouthing them without any reference to any sort of concrete action – they are just words. Pedagogues may contradict me, demonstrating programmes on upbringing, teeming with correct measures.

But how often do our manifold inspections, look-outs, parades, and days in honour of one thing or person or another another lead to some sort of actual pragmatic results? How can we measure whether there has been a change in attitude to the constitution after the usual lesson on the parliament? Today it’s not enough to teach exclusively with regard to knowledge! Today, when everything related to information and technology has such a high priority, it is important to combine theory with practice, to give the child the opportunity to feel they themselves are able to change something, to bring benefit to the place where they live, not to be indifferent to the place, and not through words, but through actions.

Of course it’s not all that simple. Having run through all the essential procedures for submitting an application, having watched the video with myself, my kiddie did not ask the most important question and did not carry out the most simple actions: he wasn’t interested in tracing the course of the application and, all the more, didn’t send off any new ones independently. But at eleven years, this is still not so dreadful. I ask him questions, supposing that he’ll accept the simple idea that any thing you do should be seen through to the end. There you have citizenship, and responsibility in action. It’s thought that in working out the educational programme, putting into practice new federal educational standards, teachers should use their hours with the tutor group on some sort of practical work.

The “My Territory” app has been created for active citizens trying to change the quality of life in the places where they live. Using mobile apps it is quick and easy to interact with various representatives of local government. It turns out to be really interesting to find and photograph violations of the law or defects in one thing or another, choose category to which the violation belongs on the app, point out the exact location (address or some point on the map), note down the details and send off. Moreover, these simple actions draw on an enormous amount of background knowledge: here there is both practical geography and Russian language, as well as real social science. It is possible to use the app “My Territory” and the materials of the website “Accessible Perm” to get to know interesting social activists in our town, as well for carrying out various investigative projects.

The specialists who used the funds of a presidential grant to create the website and mobile app can easily be contacted and are ready to help all those interested in learning how to use these resources. Different people live in our town, and we all have different obstacles to overcome. But no matter how times change, the education of responsive and responsible citizens is one of the most important tasks of the education process. I would like to believe that a fun way of influencing what happens in our town will not be only taken up by me for my own purposes, but will also interest those for whom education for citizenship is a part of their fundamental work, one of their professional tasks.

For more detailed information on the resource “My Territory”, click HERE.

To view the short film, click HERE.

Translated by Frances Robson