Seoul hosts meeting of rights educatorsA group of educators, human rights activists, civil servants and UN officials from around the world got together in Seoul last week from Wednesday through Friday for a symposium on the issues of terrorism, peace and human rights security.
The conference, which was titled “Intercultural Understanding and Human Rights Education in the Era of Globalization” and focused on conflicts and cooperation, was organized by Unesco’s Asia Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding.
The opening speaker on the first day, Linda King, a chief of section for education for peace and human rights at Unesco headquarters in Paris, talked about the organization’s perspective on intercultural education and multiculturalism, stressing the need to “emphasize the universality of human rights whilst maintaining cultural differences.”
“Concepts of difference and diversity can also present tension, between the practice of offering one curriculum for all children in a country, as opposed to offering curricula which reflect different cultural and linguistic identities,” she said. “The challenge for intercultural education is to establish and maintain the balance between conformity with its general guiding principles and the requirements of specific cultural contexts.”
The notion of “cultural heritage” was previously defined by Unesco’s World Conference on Cultural Policies as “including the works of its artists, architects, musicians, writers and scientists and also the work of anonymous artists, expressions of people’s spirituality, and the body of values which give meaning to life.”
As one of three main panelists in the first session, Werner Wintersteiner, a professor and teacher trainer at Klagenfurt University, Austria, clarified the social meaning of intercultural differences.
“Intercultural differences are not so much about philosophical principles, moral values and ethical codices,” he said. “Indeed, they are quite often a matter of simple and banal experiences in daily life.”
Georges Tsai, vice rector at the UN University for Peace, Costa Rica, stressed the difficulties of providing meaningful human rights education to people.
“Can we teach peace? Can we learn peace?” he asked. “Is education for peace just wishful thinking, or is it a powerful tool that can help humanity build peace in a sustainable manner for future generations? They may be tempted to argue that trying to achieve peace through education is, at best, a well-intended but essentially ineffective activity, at worst, a totally misguided objective and a waste of resources.”
On the second day, Liam Gearon, a professor of Roehampton University in Britain, focused on the notion of tolerance for religious education.
“In the aftermath of tyranny and totalitarianism, tolerance was not only a guiding political principle but an emergent educational one,” he said. “However, this approach, with its emphasis upon universally shared values, has tended as a result to neglect cultural particularity and especially religious difference within wider political as well as educational contexts.”
Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, a co-director of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, focused on the needs and barriers of human rights education.
“Human rights education is essentially about empowerment,” she said. “It moves beyond passive learning about human rights and embraces learning that is actively for human rights. Human rights education is not an end, but rather a means through and by which we can transform systems of oppression, institutionalized racism and discrimination.”
On the third day, the symposium centered on the challenges of human rights due to migration and globalization.
Chin-sung Chung, a professor of sociology at Seoul National University, focused on the feminization of poverty and women migrant workers in the labor industry, using migrant workers currently in South Korea from Asia and Russia as case studies.
“The situation in the sex industry is the same,” he said. “This is also the target of the transnational feminist movement. Thus, globalization of domestic and sex work has become a new phenomenon.”
On a similar topic, Pranom Somwong, a coordinator of the Migrant Assistance Program Foundation in Thailand, also discussed her research on migration, labor rights and women.
“The issue of forced labor in development projects deserves to be addressed separately,” she said.
by Park Soo-mee