Background/Context: Human rights education has proliferated in the past four decades and can be found in policy discussions, textbook reforms, and grassroots initiatives across the globe. This article specifically explores the role of creativity and imagination in human rights education (HRE) by focusing on a case study of one non-governmental (NGO) organization’s program operating across India.
Purpose/Objective: This article argues that human rights education can and should be creative and innovative in its approaches to ensure access and sustainability of programs that seek to transform the learning experiences of marginalized students. Evidence from India contributes to the discussion of HRE by presenting teachers’ and students’ experiences with one particular human rights education program in India that incorporates an array of strategies to secure support and contextually-relevant curricula and pedagogy for poor children. Research questions that guided the larger study from which data are presented here included (a) How have differentiated motivations for, conceptualizations of, and initiatives towards HRE operated at the levels of policy, curriculum and pedagogy, and practice in India? (b) What impact has HRE had on Indian teachers and youth from diverse backgrounds who have participated in one NGO program?
Research Design: The larger study from which the data are drawn is a vertical case study utilizing primarily qualitative methods. Participants in the larger study included 118 human rights education teachers, 625 students, 80 staff and policy makers of human rights education, and 8 parents. Observations of teacher trainings included hundreds more participants. The majority of student respondents came from ‘tribal’ (indigenous) or Dalit (previously called “untouchable”) communities, both comprising the most marginalized sections of Indian society.
Design and Methods: This study was primarily qualitative and was carried out from August 2008 to August 2010 (13 months of fieldwork during that period). Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 118 teachers, 25 students, 8 parents, and 80 staff and officials of human rights education in India. 59 focus groups were carried out with an additional 600 students. Observations were also carried out of teacher trainings in human rights and human rights camps for students. Follow up data were collected on subsequent, but shorter, field visits from 2011-2013.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The study found the following: (a) Human rights education that is creative, contextualized, and engaging offers a meaningful opportunity for educators, families and students to critique and interrogate social inequalities. (b) Non-governmental organizations can provide a unique perspective on human rights education by drawing on diverse creative approaches if they are able to engage effectively with students, communities, educators and schools. (c) Research on human rights education must attend to how local communities, activists, artists and educators make meaning of normative frameworks (like human rights) in order to understand how creativity, imagination and innovation are engaged and ‘indigenized’ in productive and transformative ways.
Further attention to creativity and imagination in human rights education can illuminate how HRE influences—and is mediated by—existing community realities and societal structures.