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20 February 2015
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Programme 5 - Human Rights at School
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Comprehensive Resources for this Programme
This programme looks at the attempt of some students from Malone College, Belfast to compile a Bill of Rights with help from their teacher, Mrs McEvoy. The 13 member Human Rights Commission receives submissions from teaching staff, non-teaching staff, governors and pupils and incorporates these into their Bill. The Commissioners hope that the school's principal will adopt the Bill as school policy - this is by no means guaranteed.

The programme begins with a discussion of human rights in Chatsworth Secondary School, Durban, South Africa. One of the pupils, Varusha Joory, describes what she feels are the most important rights for young people.

From the South African classroom we move to a science room at Malone College, Belfast where students are working on their draft Bill of Rights which they hope to get adopted by the school’s governors. We learn about how their Human Rights Commission came about and are introduced to three commissioners, Nichola Kane, Nicholas Tate and Halley Ramsey. The programme follows their campaign and their reflections on the rights and responsibilities of members of the school community and on their journey’s success.

The Human Rights Commission will invite submissions from all members of the school community from students, teaching and non-teaching staff and governors. These submissions will be incorporated into their draft Bill of Rights with the help of Mrs McEvoy and then presented to the Principal Mr Leonard. If he agrees the Board of Governors will probably accept.

A parallel comparative case study within the programme is the students of Sacred Heart College, Johannesburg, South Africa. Even before the end of apartheid this school welcomed students from all backgrounds. It is unusual in other ways - many of its students come from very wealthy backgrounds compared to most South Africans.

We make two visits to the Johannesburg school within the programme and hear from two 16-year old students, Bebe Mothopeng and Nina Bremner Feldman. They explain the situation in South Africa regarding rights and responsibilities and highlight the contradictions between "theoretical" rights as they may be recorded on the statute books and the harsh reality for most people in the country who live in dire poverty.

Towards the end of the programme the work towards the Bill of Rights reaches its climax as the students prepare for the big meeting with the Principal. They already feel that he may have problems with some aspects of the Bill, in particular the wearing of emblems and symbols under the right to cultural expression. This indeed proves a problem in the meeting and is turned down.

The programme concludes with reflections on the importance of the process itself and on the awareness of rights. The experience and significance of Malone is juxtaposed with that of Sacred Heart and Chatsworth Secondary schools.
Key Issues
  • Young people have the right to express opinions on decisions which effect them.
  • Responsibilities can be just as important as rights for everyone in society
  • The expectations which young people have can vary from country to country and even from school to school.
Before Viewing
The class could discuss what they feel are their main rights and responsibilities in the classroom, in the school and in the community. They could also consider the rights of others. Are there any rights which are mutually exclusive?
After Viewing
These quotations from the programme may be used to stimulate further discussion
  • "Everybody has rights to certain things - we have rights to proper education, everybody is entitled to that. We have the right to come to school. Although some people do not think that education is very important we have the right to demand that we have a proper education, a proper education as in teachers, facilities, books. And everybody has a right to be themselves - most of all to be themselves, because each person is different in what they do and what they say." - Varusha
  • "I wanted to be a human rights commissioner because I thought I could do the job and do it well I think a lot of people would like to be a commissioner but they have the fear of speaking out loud - I don't have that problem." - Nicholas
  • "I wanted to be a commissioner because I felt that our school needed a Bill of Rights and I wanted to be a part of the Bill of Rights and to help draw it up. Human rights are important because they are basically what make us a democracy" - Nicola
  • "I wanted to be on the Human Rights committee for the people who were coming into our school - you know we were all different and it was strange and they didn't know what they were getting into and if they were too shy to do anything they could come to one of us." - Halley
  • "It's the child's right to get food, it's the child's right to be in a secure environment where they can play and grow. We don't have to worry about those kind of things but there are a lot of people out there who don't even know that that is their right, you know, their right is constantly being infringed." - Nina
  • "I have rights and I think people in this school and in this community have rights, but a lot of people don't. Like people in squatter camps, they don't have, they have the rights but they don't in the practical sense. You know in a book somewhere they have the rights but they don't have a house, they're not going to school, and they go to bed hungry." - Bebe
  • "The most important right for teachers is the right to be able to teach a class without having to worry about one or two pupils holding them back and failing in exams then that would reflect badly on the teacher." - Nicola
  • "I think the most important right for teachers would be respect and privacy. Teachers have to get up in the morning to come in here and teach us and for doing that they shouldn't have to take any cheek from anyone, and if there's a meeting on in the Staff Room they should be able to run out and leave their classroom door open and leave their keys their personal telephone numbers on the desk and no-one would go in and touch them." - Nicholas
  • "Change isn't going to happen if you just leave it up to someone else to do what has to be done. I think it's up to all of us to kind of push for change. I mean we can't sit back and complain about the crime and everything that's going on around us if we're not going to do something ourselves. So I think it's important for me to help our country to become better. I kind of know what's happening and how people in my small environment make a better place for themselves." - Nina
  • "Our parents, not all of them knew their rights and now you see that when certain things happen they don't know how to react, whereas we as young people have to know our rights, we have to know that if something happens to us we can bring up our rights and say that we want this to happen we want that to happen, we have the right to do this and nobody can maim or hurt us in any way." - Varusha
Director's Comments
In dealing with The Human Rights Commission we saw maturity and creativity, a very keen awareness of responsibilities and of the need for tolerance of others and their views. Consultation was real and meaningful where students truly listened to each other and acted upon what was heard. One thing that was really impressive was the good-natured and respectful way that sessions and debates were held. Rather than always confronting each other in terms of religion or politics or gender, the students tried to get a consensus, to agree a solution - not to impose one, so the group could always speak with one voice.

We are grateful to the school’s community for allowing us to do a twelve week process in three and for putting up with the disruption a television crew can cause. The students will have learned much about the media during our filming. A good lesson to learn is that what appears on Television is always someone’s perception of how things are.

It is always someone else’s view - and it is never neutral or unbiased. We recorded many hours of material for a programme which is only 23 minutes long. I decided, as producer, what should be in and what should be cut. If someone else had edited the same pictures they could have told a totally different tale.

It may be worth thinking about that the next time you are watching a documentary or even the news. Who’s view is it? what are they trying to say? - and why are they trying to say it? Anyway, I hope that I captured the heart and spirit of the work being done at Malone College for Human Rights - and it is work.
  1. Is television a good way of recording reality?
  2. Does TV distort reality - would the events have been different without the camera?

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