Rayla Melchor Santos, president of I am S.A.M. Foundation and founder of Cyber Kids Best (CKB168) discussed the four components of I AM SAM: human rights, children’s rights, child abuse and self-worth at the United Nations Conference on Teaching Peace and Human Rights (UNTCHR) held at Chestnut Hill College, 9601 Germantown Ave. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Technology has changed the way education is being taught both inside and outside the class room.

“Using communication technology as an educational tool for global change is much under-used,” said Wayne Jacoby, co-founder of Global Education Motivators (GEM). “GEM works hard to change that.”

GEM, which is headquartered at Chestnut Hill College, is a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose goal is to teach peace and human rights in a multicultural world. Recently, GEM held its annual United Nations Conference on Teaching Peace and Human Rights (UNTCHR) at Chestnut Hill College, 9601 Germantown Ave. This year’s conference was entitled “The Future We Want: A Better World through Human Rights Education.”

Jacoby said 185 educators participated in a live video conference for more than five hours from five different sites around the world – Burnaby School District, British Columbia; Colegio Carol Baur, Mexico City, Mexico; American International School, Kuwait City, Kuwait; Department of Education, Makati, Philippines and Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Jacoby said he hoped educators would use the video conference to “learn from each other across cultures, form collaborations and make pedagogical decisions that bring a broader perspective to students regarding human rights.”

“Human rights education is a lifelong process that builds knowledge and skills, as well as attitudes and behaviors, to promote and uphold human rights,” Jacoby said. “As teachers and educators, we are called daily to reinforce respect for human rights and to live for a culture of peace. We live in an age where we can truly be part of the solution.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Stephanie Hodge, education officer at UNICEF. Other guest speakers included Ella Torrey, UNA of Greater Philadelphia and Rayla Melchor Santos, founder and president of McKinley International School and Leadership Academy for Children, Lipa, the Philippines. She is also president of I am S.A.M. Foundation and founder of Cyber Kids Best (CKB168).

Torrey, former public relations information officer for Eleanor Roosevelt, said Roosevelt played a crucial role in helping to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which passed unanimously in the General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948. Torrey said Roosevelt, who was known as the First Lady of the World, believed that everyone had the right to education. She said that education is a “key first step in building foundations for peace.”

Hodge reiterated this statement. She said teachers have an essential role in educating students about the importance of human rights and teaching them how to build a culture of peace both inside and outside the classroom.

“We must find ways to combat the forces of racism and class-ism in advocating for children’s rights and to successfully develop inclusive, sustainable and global curriculum,” Hodge said.

“It is very important that we make our children conscious that they will have to be working toward the achievement of human rights,” said Dr. Sandra Maldonaldo from Mexico. “It’s something you have to work on everyday.”

Maldonaldo announced that Mexico’s constitution was recently translated into 10 indigenous languages – Chol, Chontal, Mixtec, Azpotec, O’odham, Tarahumara, Tepehuan, Yaqui, Mayan and Zoque – to promote rights for indigenous peoples. She said it was an important first step in addressing discrimination against indigenous people.

Maren Lien, an English and humanities teacher at American International School in Kuwait City, said they “try to look at curriculum through the lens of human rights issues.” She discussed briefly the state of human rights in Kuwait. Lien said in Kuwait there are several areas of human right violations, but there are four main ones. She said that native nomads because of their nomadic roots are not given citizenship in Kuwait. Freedom of expression is severely limited in Kuwait. Lien cited a man who recently went to jail for saying negative political comments on Twitter against leaders of Kuwait. Another issue is labor issues. She said there is a lack of a labor standards, especially for migrant workers. Lien added that women have very limited rights and were only recently given the right to vote in Kuwait.

“We discuss issues of human rights based on literature we read,” Lien said. “That’s how we get away with it. We try to push the students to make connections so hopefully they can see it here where they will one day be leaders.”

Lien said students perform research on various human rights issues in the world. For example, students read first hand accounts of the devastating effects of armed conflict on children in Sub Saharan Africa.

“Human rights is often a topic that is not discussed in the classroom,” Lien said. “We are attempting to change that by incorporating human rights in our curriculum. For instance, students study WW II and discuss the violations of human rights and defending human rights. Rather than memorizing facts and dates, students examine specific case studies and discuss ways society can address and solve those issues.”

Jacoby said the goal of the international video conference was to help teachers design curriculum that addresses cross-curricular concerns that focus on global inter-dependence, issues and events.

This year’s participants were invited to present their suggestions and findings in 2014 to the United Nations. The cost of UNTCHR was partially funded by registration fees and subsidized by GEM and Chestnut Hill College.

A youth speaker from Mexico summed up why Human Rights Education is essential to our future:

“There is only one race – the human race,” he said.