Human Rights in Early Childhood Care and Education: Recommendations and perspectives

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1 Human Rights in Early Childhood Care and Education: Recommendations and perspectives Summary of a joint publication of the German NGO association Human Rights Forum and the German Commission for UNESCO published in June 2011 Introduction The publication formulates recommendations on how to establish early childhood care and education (ECCE) in Germany comprehensively on the basis of human rights. The publication is the result of an expert meeting hosted by the German National Commission in September It supplements a previous joint publication of the Human Rights Forum and the German National Commission which in 2006 formulated standards in human rights education in primary and secondary schools. The new publication mainly addresses legislators, administrators and instructors at training institutions for ECCE professionals. The publication does not promote teaching human rights content at ECCE level; instead it focuses on why and how to establish a culture of human rights in preschool institutions. At a pragmatic level, it demonstrates the close connection between human rights and three discourses with regard to quality education which currently are important in Germany: language acquisition and language diversity, inclusive education as well as education for sustainable development. Its point of departure is that in increasingly pluralistic societies, human rights provide the only legitimate and non-arbitrary framework of values. All social relations and actions must be based on the respect and protection of human dignity, achieved through the binding standards enshrined in human rights conventions. The internationally agreed human rights standards are main points of reference for the entire educational system. The child s right to quality education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of

2 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 and this includes the right to quality ECCE. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, ratified by almost all countries worldwide, furthermore introduces children as rights holders in their own right. Accordingly, they do not only have a right to education in terms of access, but also in terms of quality. Education must be based on the child s best interests and the principle of non-discrimination. The Convention of 1989 also upholds that the child has the right to be heard in all matters affecting it and that its views must be given due weight in accordance with its age and maturity. In order to help member states to implement these standards, the United Nations and UNESCO have adopted several plans and programmes. In 1974, UNESCO adopted its Recommendation concerning education for international understanding, co-operation and peace and education relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms. In 1993, the International Montreal Conference agreed on a world plan of action. The United Nations continued these efforts, proclaiming 1995 until 2004 as Decade for Human Rights Education, followed by a world programme from 2005 onwards. The German legal system and the actual practice are to a very large extent in conformity with the principles underlying human rights law. However, this is not enough human rights must also be actively addressed and promoted. This is a core demand of all human rights conventions; states must explicitly promote human rights; it does not suffice to only respect all obligations emanating from the conventions or to pursue human rights violations by third parties. ECCE has a particularly important and very often overlooked role to play in the promotion of human rights. The explicit impact of international human rights conventions on ECCE institutions has been quite small so far in Germany; in educational practice at ECCE level, human rights are usually not considered as particularly relevant. The publication demands to increase efforts to found ECCE explicitly on human rights, and, to that end, to utilize all ongoing efforts for improving quality of ECCE in order to achieve synergies. In this context it is relevant to note that binding national quality standards for ECCE institutions have not been established in Germany so far. Also, the important role of ECCE for 2

3 Germany s future economic potential is just beginning to be fully appreciated by relevant stakeholders; meaning that this is translated into action. For pragmatic progress in the immediate future, it is considered useful to focus in particular on improving the training of ECCE professionals and to found it explicitly on human rights Early Childhood Care and Education in Germany The German ECCE system since long has been characterized by a holistic approach to education, integrating care and education. At the same time, the German ECCE system is highly diversified due to the federal structure of Germany and a competence of the municipalities in ECCE. During the last years, substantial reforms have been carried out. All 16 German federal states have set up education plans for their respective ECCE systems. The important contribution of ECCE to a skilled workforce and thus to Germany s future economic performance is increasingly recognized, as well as the substantial role of ECCE in promoting social integration. Due to changing employment structures with a higher number of mothers working, there is a quantitatively increased demand for ECCE offers today. Thus, the challenges for the German ECCE system at present are twofold: to expand ECCE services and to increase their quality. For both tasks, further investments are urgently needed. Germany is one of the few European countries in which ECCE professionals are mainly trained at vocational schools. Recently, several academic study courses on ECCE have been set up as well, but a common framework and standards for curricula have not yet been approved. The key to improve ECCE quality is to offer better vocational training to future educators and better training on the job to already practising ECCE professionals, be it in an academic or in the traditional vocational school setting. Working conditions must also be improved, among other things by decreasing the ratio of children per educator. 3

4 Recommendations addressing legislation and administration Educational programmes for ECCE facilities should obligatorily aim at a culture of human rights, incorporating the principles of non-discrimination and participation and giving more weight to human-rights-related topics such as language diversity, inclusion and sustainable development. At each ECCE institution, human rights must come alive, must be experienced as selfevident, unalienable rights of all children, educators, principals and parents. In order to achieve such a culture of human rights, fundamental structural changes are necessary, beyond the possibilities of individual institutions. Thus, legislative and administrative bodies in Germany must lay the foundations for improving the quality of ECCE institutions by changing the structural framework and providing more financial resources. For example, it is key to enable educators to offer individually tailored education, addressing each child based on its individual needs and abilities. Therefore it is important to reduce the ratio of children per educator. There is also an urgent problem of access. Restrictions continue to exist for children in several special situations, such as children with an unsure residence permit status, handicapped children and children from socially/economically disadvantaged families. Legislation and administration must also set the stage such that ECCE stakeholders (educators, administration, principals, parents and children) may cooperate more closely in active networks and accept their respective responsibility. Also, parents and children must be involved more directly in the elaboration of educational plans and programmes. Legislation and administration are also called upon to improve the quality of vocational training programmes for ECCE; federal states should agree on binding national quality standards. 4

5 Recommendations for the vocational training/training on-the-job of ECCE professionals So far, human rights in its contents and methods have not sufficiently been included into vocational training courses for ECCE professions. All reforms targeting educational quality should at the same time use the opportunity to promote a human rights perspective. When introducing human rights in concrete training courses, merely historic or legal approaches should be avoided instead, educators should be inspired and thrilled by human rights, by learning to see them as achievements in the fight against injustice and oppression; and by experiencing them as a universally valid, shared framework of values for all ECCE stakeholders, whatever background they might have (religion, migration, etc). Beyond empathy and enthusiasm, early childhood educators should acquire a reflected basic knowledge on human rights, especially as regards the rights of children as enshrined in the UN Convention of Any knowledge conveyed must not be theoretical, but must come alive through group discussions, practical experiences and the development of individual skills and competences. Preferably, educators should understand that the vision of the child of human rights conventions is in fact very similar to that of many educational theories popular today. Educators should also become aware of their own prejudices, discuss ways of avoiding discrimination and learn how to strengthen the children s right of participation. Apart from that, educators must be encouraged to see the educational process from the child s perspective, which enables better respecting the child as holder of its own rights and appreciating children based on their strengths and not on their weaknesses. Beyond providing better quality training based on human rights to future educators, there is urgent need for training on the job for active ECCE professionals. In training on the job, educators should reflect on their own working experiences from a human-rights perspective and critically analyse their own ECCE facilities, asking themselves if human rights are sufficiently respected and promoted by them and by their institution. It is especially such comprehensive, human-rights-based training on the job that would contribute substantially to the realization of a culture of human rights in ECCE institutions. 5

6 Synergies with other discourses on quality education These days, three discourses are particularly relevant for educators in this context: language acquisition and language diversity, inclusive education as well as education for sustainable development. All three discourses share a vision of the child that is in line with the global human rights standards. By themselves, they should be given more weight in the vocational training of ECCE professionals because they enable educators to apply their knowledge on human rights directly in their daily work in order for that to happen, their human rights-dimension must be clearly articulated. Language acquisition and language diversity ECCE institutions play an important role for acquiring language skills because linguistic abilities are decisively formed during the first years of one s life. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the language and culture of every child must be respected and discrimination on the basis of language must be avoided. At the same time, the language skills needed for successful educational paths, integration and participation in a given society must be supported. For the case of German society, where German is the lingua franca sine qua non, pre-school institutions necessarily must develop the German language skills of all children in order to guarantee equal opportunities for all children living in this society. At the same time, educators must value the cultural identity and mother language of every child, as well as value, in more general terms, the considerable cultural and language diversity, which de facto exists in Germany, especially in cities. Valuing diversity helps the child to form a positive identity. ECCE facilities must not regard language diversity as a deficit, but as a cultural resource and opportunity. This means a double strategy: supporting the development of German language skills and promoting the use and development of mother languages other than German. Beyond supporting multilingualism from a human rights perspective, there are functional arguments: Research has shown that children with a good command of their mother language learn other languages more easily; multilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive development. 6

7 In their vocational training, ECCE professionals ought to learn how to value multilingualism and how to balance promoting German language skills (as a first language for some children and as a second language for others) and supporting other mother languages. It is essential that future educators also learn how to recognize and prevent language discrimination and marginalization. Inclusive Education Inclusion is no arbitrary concept, but a human right enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. With its Salamanca Declaration of 1994, UNESCO has been cutting-edge in demanding that all educational systems be inclusive. An inclusive educational system will be the basis for an inclusive, tolerant society, providing quality education and equal opportunities for all children, regardless of their gender, religious beliefs, ethnic or cultural background, special needs or social and economic conditions. In Germany, the realization of inclusive education differs significantly from one federal state to another. However, it is fair to say that very much remains to be done in nearly all federal states to reach the objectives of an inclusive system. Children with special needs are often taught in specialized institutions and not in regular schools and they attend ECCE institutions less often than other children. Inclusive education requires educational institutions to adapt to the individual child and put its rights and needs at the centre. In their vocational training, educators must acquire additional skills for catering to children with particular needs, in particular handicapped children and children with a migrant background. Educators must be trained on cooperative problem solutions with parents and partners from social welfare. Educators should be encouraged to critically reflect their own behaviour, to dismantle their own stereotypes and to focus on the children s individual strengths and potentials and not on their deficits. In training on the job for ECCE professionals, the children s diversity should always be presented as a resource. 7

8 Education for Sustainable Development The overall challenge of the 21 st century will be to organize societies based on the principles of sustainability. The idea of sustainable development has a strong human rights dimension; it means respecting the rights of people from all parts of the world and those of future generations. It implies that their rights to lead a life in dignity must not be limited by an irresponsible consumption of limited resources, global warming, loss of biological and cultural diversity or social inequality or accumulation of debt. Until 2014, the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) attempts to integrate these issues into educational systems. In Germany, ESD is frequently associated with environmental education human rights aspects are underrepresented so far, although ESD integrates social, cultural, economic and ecological issues. Today, ESD is not yet standard in German ECCE institutions. But it should: values and skills appropriated in early childhood determine people s future behaviour and attitude; vis-à-vis themselves, their fellow human beings and their environment. Many specific issues which are part of ESD can also contribute to human rights education: In dealing with biological diversity, water, energy, housing, consumption, nutrition and health, specific human rights can be easily related to one's own life. Both approaches are about empowerment, both are about life skills. For the purpose of sustainable development and human-rightsbased education, ESD should thus firmly be established as part of the activities and educational practice in ECCE institutions. It should also be enshrined in the curricula of the vocational training of ECCE professionals and in on-the-job-trainings. The Forum Menschenrechte (Human Rights Forum) is a network of more than 50 German human rights organisations, including for example Amnesty International Germany, Human Rights Watch Germany, and many foundations. Among its members is the German Commission for UNESCO which has for many years closely cooperated on human rights education. English Summary: German Commission for UNESCO, 2011 Full text of the publication in German language: 8

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