A brother and sister at our school asked us to organise a day for Ukraine, so saddened were they by the crisis. Sunny yellow and blue fills our school today, to match the sunshine and blue skies outside and there’s a feeling of coming together for peace. Yet, as adults, we sadly know that this refugee crisis isn’t a new one. All over the world, refugees are fleeing wars or persecution whether it be Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine…the list is endless. 91% of the world’s children attend primary school (UNESCO 2015) yet for refugee children that figure drops to 61% (UNHCR UN Refugee Agency 2016).
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, states: ‘The world’s growing refugee crisis is not only about numbers. It is also about time. For millions of young people, these are the years they should be spending in school, learning not just how to read, write and count but also how to inquire, assess, debate and calculate, how to look after themselves and others, how to stand on their own two feet. Yet these millions are being robbed of that precious time’ (2015).
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written by the United Nations and today, they remain as relevant as ever: “Education is a right. 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.”
If you’re not familiar with all 30 human rights, try the children’s picture book: ‘We Are All Born Free’, first published in 2008. 30 popular children’s book illustrators have created a page each to accompany each human right. As John Boyne, author of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ says: ‘Believing in them, acting on them, promising never to break them, that’s how we make the world a better place. It’s how we make ourselves better people. It’s not all that complicated when you think about it, is it?’
So how do we, as educators, strengthen children’s respect for human rights and freedoms? Will lengthy lectures from teachers in assemblies telling children to care about others they’ve never met do the trick? We don’t think so. If you want children to care, they need to step into the shoes of others and see the world from their point of view, so we find a good place to start is with a book.
We have bought a range of books, around the plight of refugees, some suitable for 4 year olds and others right up to 11 year olds that help to explain this message. Each book tells a different story and it is the art of storytelling that encourages children to see things from different perspectives. It’s about them feeling something inside when they are urging a character on to find hope or when they are turning a page hoping that the character's life will be different in the future. That’s how we get children to care and how it might change their behaviour towards another in the future. Next term, we will be sharing our book lists with our parents, so that these books will lead into discussions which will keep the hope and human rights of all children alive.