Monash University
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Human rights education: transformative learning through student participation in extracurricular activities at school

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posted on 2017-02-28, 23:43 authored by Hall, Genevieve
This research involved a comparative case study analysis of the informal extracurricular human rights education programs in a school in Australia and a school in Asia. The research questions explored how and why schools implement teaching and learning about human rights; the impact that learning about human rights through informal extracurricular activities has on the development of student skills, attitudes, knowledge and understanding as cosmopolitan citizens; and the extent to which learning about human rights through participation in informal extracurricular activities achieves transformative learning for students. The research methodology involved qualitative approaches to data collection through interviews and observations of students and teachers in the two school settings. The data was analysed by building an explanation about the particular cases through thematic analysis and by reference to the pedagogy of human rights education (Tibbitts, 2002) and the theory of transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991). Although the case studies did not provide examples of transformative, widespread social changes about human rights as a result of the actions taken by students in the extracurricular groups in the two schools, they did provide examples of personal transformative learning which occurred for students in terms of their skills, attitudes, knowledge and understandings about human rights issues. There was also evidence of an increased understanding of the practical and institutional barriers to undertaking meaningful action in the area of human rights. The case studies also demonstrated that because these activities were implemented within the informal realm, rather than as part of the formal classroom curriculum, students were given the opportunity to have control over what and how they learned that crossed subject curriculum boundaries. This enabled students to participate in learning that was meaningful for them because they were interested in the human rights issues, and provided an internal motivation to learn because they had a stake in the outcome. Another finding from my research was the importance of the role played by the teacher. Despite the fact that the groups in the case studies were student-led and students enjoyed the autonomy and peer support that this provided, there were many examples where the guidance and resources provided by the teacher gave the groups a focus that enabled transformative learning to take place. However, there were also instances where the students felt disempowered by the teacher and were denied ownership over the successes and failures they experienced. Therefore a recommendation from this research is that increased professional development be provided to teachers involved in human rights education programs, in order to develop their understanding of the more equal power dynamic that needs to exist between students and teachers in order to ensure its successful implementation.


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Principal supervisor

Elizabeth Tudball

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Master of Education

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Faculty of Education

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