For Excellence in Teaching

05 Aug

An interview with Anca-Ruxandra Pandea

Ph.D. Anca Ruxandra Pandea, an Educational Advisor at the Council of Europe (European Youth Centre in Budapest division), came to Serbia this July as a guest speaker at the National Training for Human Rights Educators.

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Her area of expertise includes developing the competences of trainers, youth workers and youth leaders, building the capacity of national and international youth organisations and cooperating with decision-makers and governments. She holds a Ph.D. in history, but her interests are much wider and include civic rights, education, gender equality, citizenship, project initiatives, management, organisational development, arts as well as culture, health, poverty alleviation and she has been involved with human rights education for more than 16 years. With her academic and training background, educational experience of teaching Human Rights at university and a keen interest in the Balkans, Ms Ruxandra was a great addition to the National training and kindly agreed to talk to us.

Know (y)our rights!

TeachingAcademy: This training is about creating human rights educators but the participants in this training are both from non-formal and formal education, such as secondary schools. You used to teach at university. Do you have any other teaching experience?

Ms Ruxandra: I am also trained as a history teacher, so I can teach in both primary and secondary schools.That module included some teaching experience and in my early days, when I was working with a lot of organisations in Romania, we used to do a lot of peer education at secondary schools. So I am quite familiar with the formal sector as well.

TeachingAcademy: Why are human rights important for teachers?

Ms Ruxandra: I think human rights are important for everyone. Teachers or no teachers, students or no students, I think everybody should know their human rights. And everybody should be able to recognise violations and have access to information in terms of what to do in case their rights are violated or if they witness such a violation in society.

There are two reasons why it’s essential for teachers to be aware of human rights and understand the values behind them. First and foremost – to protect themselves as human beings, but also, as teachers, they have a crucial role in creating a human rights culture. When you have access to children and young people, you can really effectively change society. Because if school becomes an environment where power structures are dealt with differently, then human rights are not only talked about, but are actually lived, so you have a community that is democratic, where children or young people are respected, and where dialogue is practiced. Then these people who pass through schools like this logically take this mindset outside school, into the world.

I understand that we cannot start with perfect schools, and society is constantly changing, but I believe teachers have a passion for learning which they don’t only apply in supporting others to learn but also for learning themselves. We have all been raised in a racist society, with prejudice, we all have our own boundaries and limits. Teaching human rights gives you this framework to constantly push those boundaries, one step further, and you have to learn to do it.

TeachingAcademy: Is human rights education already present at schools?

Ms Ruxandra: It is, but how much and how well it is implemented varies from country to country, and sometimes even from school to school. There is quite a huge overlap between citizenship education and human rights education, for example. I have seen schools who have very strong partnership programmes with non-governmental organisations (so they also bring outsiders to deliver this kind of education), and I have also seen teachers committed to human rights education who embed it in whatever subject they teach.

I think history is a very good example, you have human rights education elements when looking at the past and it also supports the development of critical thinking and analytical thinking and so on. Literature and human rights education work very well hand in hand. Believe it or not, I have heard of good examples dealing with mathematics, chemistry or physics, where you can build moral dilemmas with a little creativity. So, this is another layer of progress in human rights education – it is not only about one class a week any more.

TeachingAcademy: Which human rights are mostly violated in the region?

Ms Ruxandra: In the Balkans we still have a problem with discrimination. Quite a few rights are being violated, especially when it comes to certain groups, which are still on the margins of society and are still not considered equal. For example, the situation of the Roma communities. So there is a lot of work to be done, and I am afraid that access to social rights (housing, quality education, health care) is an issue we are confronted with in the region.

TeachingAcademy: What would you say is the situation like in other countries?

Ms Ruxandra: It varies. We have now this Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education that gives national governments recommendations and guidelines how to implement the charter both in the formal and non-formal sector, as well as with parents and wider communities. We do reviews on the level of implementation every 5 years, both with the government and the civil society, just to have a complete picture. And what we have discovered is a very unbalanced image in a sense. Because, although some measures taken by the government are very interesting, maybe it’s too early to say how effective they are – the charter was only adopted in 2010 and 6 years for a charter or a policy document is really not that much, especially because it covers a large area of recommendations.

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Ms Ruxandra fighting Cyber Hate – she also contributed to “BOOKMARKS”, a manual for combating hate speech online through human rights education.

There are countries where there is a longer practice of civic education, and human rights education in schools, and there are countries where this topic is just starting to be considered. It takes time to educate leaders. There have been ups and downs in every country. Human rights education reflects the situation of human rights: when it comes to human rights, there is no country in this world where human rights are not violated. But we have better systems of protection, potentially at the national level, and mechanisms to fight it than we had before.
TeachingAcademy: Where can teachers start if they’re willing to get involved?

Ms Ruxandra: There is more than one way in. For example, the Council of Europe (Educational Department and European Youth Centre) developed manuals on human rights education, which cover a variety of themes. Compass is an example of that, it gives you background knowledge, but it also provides you with activities for the class. And I think this is a good start, especially if you don’t have access to a training course.

In some countries we have teacher training centres which also provide citizenship education or human rights education. Moreover, there are a number of NGOs (children’s rights, youth or minority organisations) who would be more than happy to help teachers either in their projects, or within their training courses. At the European level, there are several programmes.

The Education department (COE) has a training programme for teachers called Pestalozzi. They pick up different themes every year, and they have international trainings, and I think it is something every teacher should look to. There is also an educational centre we partner very often with, namely The European Wergeland Centre and they organise Summer Academies, and they are now focusing on the Balkans, so I would look at it, too. It is interesting to get out of your national bubble, and also hear how others are doing it, how they are approaching different themes and how they embed human rights.

Ruxa2TeachingAcademy: How about the educators from this training? What’s their next step?

Ms Ruxandra: The expectations are that they will become multipliers. That’s why we are trying to make these training courses available in national or local languages (as not every educator is supposed to speak English or French). Another reason is that people need to have a moment at a national level to discuss what they can apply, because it is a more focused discussion than at an international training.

We expect them to go back to their work environment, be it a school, an NGO,or the TeachingAcademy and start to implement what they learned in practice so that they can pass it on. That’s why we selected people who have a capacity to multiply their knowledge and skills afterwards. That could mean that either they will start integrating human rights training elements in the trainings that they do, or that could mean new projects.That could mean a lot of things.

The other bit that we hope will come out if this course is networks. I believe we don’t have to do everything on our own, in our own bubble, and that we are more connected than we’d like to admit sometimes. We do need networks of human rights educators at a national level who are able to first of all – support each other, and learn from each other, I think this is a great way to create a community and develop the practice of human rights educators, and third – to add pressure, to advocate with the government, with other stakeholders, to help human rights education mainstream, both in formal education, but also in youth work, youth policies and in other fields. And for that you need voices that are coming from the field – you, teachers and trainers.