Speech by Ms. Leda Koursoumba, Commissioner
It is indeed with great pleasure that I accepted Head Teacher Deborah Duncan’s kind invitation, on behalf of the English School, to be with you here tonight as the key – note speaker of the Founder’s Day Prize - Giving Ceremony.
My feelings are not irrelevant to my long relation with the school. Not only my own daughter was a student of the School, but I spent more years than her affiliated with the English Scholl – first as the Chair of ESPA and then as a Member of the Board of Management. I’ m proud to say that I consider The English School – the oldest and one of the best private schools in Cyprus - to be my school as well.
Ladies and Gentlemen
My dearest Children
Canon Frank Darvall Newham, the founder of English School, was no doubt, one of those inspired people who believed in the power of education, not only as a means to emancipate individuals and empower them to achieve to the maximum of their potential, but also to forge a better society. The commitment of Canon Newham to make the English School a welcoming multicultural learning environment that would motivate all students to give their best, both socially and academically, was based on his full respect for the value of education at a time when very few in Cyprus – and not only – had the opportunity to enjoy that particular commodity .
In the years that have elapsed since, Education retained its value and its power to lead to a better world. Furthermore, the concept of Education has been enriched, having been acknowledged as a universal and an inalienable human right.
My speech this evening will focus on Education as a human right.
The right to education has been globally recognised since 1948 with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This instrument, conceived as a ‘common standard of achievement for all people and all nations”, proclaimed education as a fundamental right.
“(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” (Article 26)
The right to education since then has been enshrined in a range of international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), The Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979) and, certainly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). In all, Education is approached, not only as a goal to be achieved for the whole population - a right in itself –, but also as an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. General Comment No. 13, 21st Session, 1999, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Respecting the time constrains, I will confine myself to the discussion of the right to education on the basis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, commonly referred to as the “CRC”.
The CRC, adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 20th of November 1989, marks an ideological shift in the perception of childhood. It reconceptualizes the child, from being a vulnerable object in need of protection, to an active subject of rights; and it recognizes children as persons in their own right entitled to inherent dignity and full respect.
The CRC, (devoting two separate articles on the right of education), underlines that the entitlement to education is not just a matter of access but also a matter of content General Comment No. 1, 17 April 2001, Committee on the Rights of the Child.. More precisely, Articles 28 and 29 spell out the responsibilities of State Parties in providing education and define the aims that should drive any educational system.
Article 28 of the CRC, affirms the right of the child to education and stresses the need for this right to be achieved “progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity”. States shall make primary education compulsory and free to all children, and encourage the development of secondary education for all children as well. Authorities are also required to take measures to ensure regular attendance and reduce drop-out rates. This implies that, schooling needs to be perceived as a worthwhile experience and not a threatening or demoralizing one Osler, A. and Starkey H. (1998). Children’s rights and citizenship: some implications for the management of schools, The International Journal of Children’s Rights 6, 313 – 333. . By providing that: “State Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administrated in a manner consistent with child’s human dignity and in conformity with the (present) Convention”, Article 28 depicts the framework within which each child must enjoy his/her right to education
Article 29 of the CRC is more extensive and specific with regard to the aims of education in relation to the development of a child’s personality. Education is about developing the full range of abilities and talents of young people, and carries a responsibility to encourage respect for the child’s family, cultural identity, language and values. It, also, specifically aims at developing ‘respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The school should help the child to prepare for a “responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin” CRC, Article 29. Furthermore, Article 29 underlines that, Education should contribute to the development of respect for the natural environment.
A hallmark of the CRC is the indivisibility and interdependence of its provisions. CRC, as any other human rights international instrument, is not a mere list of articles embodying divergent or independent principles, but a coherent and well structured text. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in an effort to secure a holistic approach to children’s rights, has identified four Articles which should be considered as “general principles” and taken into account in the implementation of all other provisions of the Convention.
These principles are:
(A) Non-discrimination (Article 2). Children, without any exception, should enjoy their rights; no child should be discriminated against or excluded from opportunities irrespective of “the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”. In relation to education, this means that, all children should have access to a “child-friendly, inspiring and motivating the individual child” See note ii education without discrimination. At the same time, Education should be inclusive and anti-discriminatory. Educational programmes should challenge all aspects of discrimination and prejudices and should promote an understanding and appreciation of the values enshrined in all human rights instruments, including respect for differences.
(B) Best Interest of the Child (Article 3). The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions and decisions affecting children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies. Thus, school curricula, rules and regulations, administrative and disciplinary decisions, among other, should primarily aim to serve the best interest of the child/children concerned.
(C) The Right to Life, Survival and Development (Article 6). State Parties recognize that “every child has the inherent right to life” and “shall ensure, to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of the child.” In this context, development should be interpreted in a broad sense to mean, not only physical health but also mental, emotional, cognitive, social, moral, spiritual and cultural development, and must be promoted thought education.
(D) The right of the child to freely express his or her views and have them given due weight in all matters affecting the child (Article 12) - i.e participation rights. Children are no longer considered to be merely passive recipients of adult’s experience, simple consumers of adult’s opinions and ideas, but active social agents, purposefully engaged in their surroundings from an early age. Participation is a human right for all children – and as such, it is not a gift or privilege bestowed by adults on children, but the right of every child capable of expressing a view. The Committee on the Rights of the Child states that “the overall objective of education is to maximize the child’s ability and opportunity to participate fully and responsibly in a free society” See note ii and underlines that “the respect for the right of the child to be heard is fundamental to the realization of the right to education” General Comment No. 12, 20 July 2009, Committee on the Rights of the Child.. The modern pedagogical approaches, based on the values enshrined in the CRC, are linked to a democratic school-governance and a participatory learning environment, aiming at a child-centered education, that provides resources and possibilities for students to enjoy of their rights.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child clearly highlights that “[c]hildren do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates” See note ii. The right to education does not exist in vacuum, but is intrinsically related to the whole spectrum of human rights See note ii enumerated in the CRC. Perceiving children not just as students in the learning process, but as bearers of rights, is a major precondition for the full realization of the right to Education.
The CRC elaborates an understanding of the right to education in terms of universality, participation, respect and inclusion UNICEF, A Human Rights – Based Approach to Education for all, p. 8 and, thus, sets the foundation for the establishment of “a school for children with rights”, a term first adopted by Thomas Hammarberg, the current Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Hammarberg, T. (1997). A School for Children with Rights. Florence: UNICEF International Child Develpoment Center . Paraphrasing the words of the UN Committee we could say, in brief, that a school for children with rights is any school which makes available to its students an education designed to “provide the child with life skills, to strengthen the child’s capacity to enjoy the full range of human rights and to promote a culture which is infused by appropriate human rights values” with the main goal “to empower the child by developing his or her skills, learning and other capacities, human dignity, self-esteem and self-confidence.” See note ii
The school for children with rights is not just another fancy expression or a legal conception, void of any educational content. On the contrary, it is a progressive educational institution that is founded upon strong pedagogical principles, a school that can offer education of the highest quality.
The school for children with rights -
· promotes respect for children’s rights, and human rights in general, and recognizes and respects each child as unique in characteristics, interests and needs.
· it is a child-centered school, in which all children are encouraged to express their views, to be listened to and taken into consideration, to seek information, to challenge their beliefs, to share ideas, to be creative and take initiatives.
· It is a democratic school, where children are active participants rather than listeners. It is a school underpinned on democratic – participatory procedures and approaches, both at the educational level within the classroom during lessons, and also at the administrative level.
· It Is a violence - free school, which makes use of preventive procedures and programs, designed to support a positive pedagogical environment inclusive for all children.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A school for children with rights is an effective school. It is a school that enhances lives, and provides children with the opportunity to develop life-skills, such as critical thinking, ability to make balanced decisions and skills necessary to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Skills, which empower children and enable them to take an active role in social, economic and political decision-making as they transition to adolescence and adulthood.
A school for children with rights, is a school which can pave the way to a better future and contribute to the building of a truly democratic, more equitable and efficient society founded on the principles of human rights.
A school for children with rights, is the school where all children have the right to attend to; and this should be the goal of any public or private educational initiative.
My dearest children,
I can imagine the effort you have put and all the sacrifices you have made to be here tonight. I’ m sure you have earned this honor because of your hard work and strong commitment. I extend to you my warmest congratulations and my best wishes for many more distinctions in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen
Hard work and strong commitment led these students to excellence. They deserve their prize and our congratulations. I have no doubt that their parents and their teachers are extremely proud of them, as they have every right to be!
However, and allow me to conclude with this remark: many other students, who are not among those honored tonight, may have worked as hard and may have shown the same commitment without the same success. These students also deserve, at least for the effort they have put, our respect and admiration.
I’m sure that the warm school community of the English School supports the right pedagogical environment which enables all its students to feel welcome and provides them with opportunities to engage in a variety of activities; and always rewards the effort of every child!
for Children’s Rights, at The English School
Founder’s Day Prize – Giving Ceremony
Monday 17th October 2011, 7:30 p.m.
Pallas Theatre Nicosia
Education as a right!
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