Engaging key and respected agents of change in the development and training of a human rights curriculum

The Indonesian government, in cooperation with academics, the National Commission on Human Rights, Department of Education, and Department of Religious Affairs, set up a National Working Group for Human Rights Dissemination and Promotion (NWG) to implement nationwide human rights education. The core human rights curriculum developed by the NWG is being integrated into the education system at all levels, in both the public and private sectors and the non-formal sector. Human right values have been integrated into the curricula for civics, social sciences, religion, geography, and sociology, with 1000 teachers, community and religious leaders trained in their use and guidelines and reference materials are being published.

In order to create support for such a human rights curriculum that also encompassed religious educational institutions, the NWG engaged key and respected leaders–community and religious leaders as well as teachers–in the development and training of the human rights curriculum. By taking the time and effort to engage opinion and religious leaders in the process, the NWG was able to develop their critical support and integrate their needs and concerns in order to overcome barriers and challenges to human rights education.

In 2000, Indonesia was moving forward as a fledgling democracy. The goal was to help future generations to better deal with age-old as well as emerging community and ethnic issues from a rights-based perspective in order to stop the kind of violence which has occurred in the past.

Thus, a strategy for engaging the broad Indonesian public in a fuller understanding of human rights issues was pursued.

It is a challenge to break customary fixed frameworks and introduce new concepts, particularly regarding issues such as family planning and family welfare. The successful adoption of human rights curricula throughout the Indonesian education system was made possible through a consultative process that accommodated and meaningfully incorporated religious and cultural values. Concurrently with the development of human rights curricula in education, outreach and involvement of “opinion leaders” and influential figures in a community, local human rights committees were set up as part of the national human rights plan. From these authoritative agents, the community, as a whole, gains new insights and aspects of human rights values embedded with the unique traditional, cultural and religious components found in Indonesia. Their efforts create a favorable background for the education program.

The political movements toward democracy enabled the National Working Group (NWG) to engage with the “opinion leaders” without much fear from the government as well as the ability to publicize their activities by using media. The NWG created teaching materials and guides and provided training to aid educators in disseminating the human rights education and integrating these new concepts into the traditional framework. As a result, the NWG has been able to create an effective way to re-frame human rights education to gradually permeate the value system in society.

Under the regime of President Soeharto, Indonesian military and police had tortured minority political parties. They forced educators and community leaders to join the Golker party—the government party, which violated the human rights of freedom to choose one’s own political party. Because of the Indonesian government’s abusive action, Indonesia had had a bad record of human rights violations and was considered the most politically corrupted country in Asia. The effort of International human rights organizations’ pressure, combined with the stakes of providing financial aid, the government started to show its interest in human rights issues and began to change their stance. Therefore, concurrently, it is easier to adapt human rights in a community and its education system.

To promote further adaptations of democratic government and broader meaning of human rights, the National Working Group (NWG) focuses on the religious and community leaders as an agent to mobilize people and to educate Indonesians with more integrated human rights values. After human rights values were officially adapted and accepted in 1999 by the government, religion is recognized as the foundation of moral values and encouraged to embed it in people’s lives. Further, the society has been adopting decentralization, promoting that community level action is significant. Those leaders’ voices are influential and credible to the people and provide an effective means to deliver the message as well as to introduce the human rights concepts.

The challenge the National Working Group (NWG) confronts is building a relationship with the religious leaders. Further, it needs to break the misconception of “human rights” as imported from the West and not sufficient to serve Islamic society. Religious leaders strongly believe that the Qur’an holds an absolute power. They also believe Islam covers the protection of human rights. To resolve the misunderstanding, a series of discussions and exchanges of ideas are required in order for religious leaders to recognize that adopting democracy does not replace traditional values, yet it incorporates local culture and religion. For instance, when the state government has used this tactic on family planning in the past, it approached the issue by reframing the Islamic teaching on promoting children’s living condition and to respect the rights of women to lead a healthy life.

Education shapes people’s lives and their perceptions. The National Working Group (NWG) supports education on integrating human rights in civics, social sciences, religion, geography, and sociology courses. Education is important to empower people and develop their knowledge. The NWG designs teaching materials, including textbooks as well as guidebooks, for human rights trainers in formal and non-formal education sectors. In addition, 1000 civics teachers have been trained on human rights and the way to teach those materials.

Engaging key and respected agents of change, such as religious leaders and teachers, in the development and training of a human rights curriculum was an effective tactic for bringing human rights awareness to the community at the very beginning of the process. To further advance the tactic, the NWG engaged a media campaign (TV, radio, newspapers) to publicize their activities as well as promote the religious and cultural understanding of human rights.


For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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