The Centre for Civic Education and Human Rights has been working with an audience that is often left outside the field of human rights education – schoolchildren and students. Your centre has been created over ten years ago. Please tell us, why exactly this audience was chosen and which projects you implement with them.
On the contrary, this audience has been traditionally wider represented in human rights education. When we started our work in the late 1990s, educational activities of NGOs were highly popular. We got involved in them. It had to do mostly specifically with students. Of course, we also conducted training sessions for NGO activists. The students have always been an important well-represented target audience. Certainly, we also worked with teachers who were our main target audience at that time already. They keep being such an audience now, since they are the ones, who would later work with children. Our further target audiences are smaller in size, activities with them are carried out from time to time. In contrast, we have been working with teachers and students throughout all 17 years of our professional activities.
Please tell us, which specific projects you implement, which knowledge do you bring to students and teachers?
If we talk about teachers, we train them to provide human rights educational programmes at school. It may be a separate course, if the teacher is ready for this and it has been agreed with the school. These may be lessons within any academic subjects – such as social studies or history, literature, etc. These may be extra-curricular classes – such as class meetings. These may be school events, etc. When we train teachers, we, certainly, pay attention to theoretical aspects of human rights to give them an understanding of what they are. And afterwards, the procedure is as follows: They work with their students. We do not have much work directly with children. From the very beginning, we had a lot of training activities, as we were accumulating learning techniques. Sometimes, trainings may be arranged within various projects. Systematically, these are competitions aimed at enabling students to use knowledge of human rights. Every year for the past fifteen years, we have organised regional Human Rights Olympiad for high school students. For eight years, we held an essay contest on human rights for students "I Have Rights". We haven’t carried out this in last two years, because we felt that that competition, unfortunately, didn’t attract such interest as it used to be before. Besides, there are сompetitions that we started holding recently – a contest of amateur films on human rights. Basically, we operate within a frame of competitions – something that is not addressed directly to students. We have in mind that their tutors work with them.
You admit something has changed in 17 years, for example, there is no former interest in the contest on Human rights. Has much changed in the course of this timeline in the area, where you have been working?
Not much has changed, and the changes are different. In our reality, we often experience negative changes. However, there were positive changes as well. In the course of the last year, we have monitored human rights. Prior to that, we held a similar monitoring a decade ago. Comparing the results, we see that the participants of the educational process – teachers, children, and their parents – have obtained more knowledge on human rights. We record that schools have fewer violations. The perception of students’ rights among the teachers’ community moved a little towards the understanding of the need to respect those rights. However, human rights, unfortunately, have become the "school of unnecessary things" in our lives, so the interest in human rights issues is reduced among both the students and the teachers. Human rights are getting less popular. There are less opportunities, which remained to defend them. As a result, it is logical that there is no great enthusiasm for working in this field.
When I asked you about the changes,I had in mind, first of all, positive changes. The Centre adapts to the new conditions, new formats: Not only seminars but also webinars have been held now. The next webinar is planned for the nearest future. What will it be about?
We strive to use all distribution channels, which are available. It is clear that it was simply impossible to imagine providing webinars 10 years ago – for various reasons. Today, with development of scientific and technological progress, such a possibility exists. In March, we will be holding a webinar for teachers. It will focus on the problems of correlation of the formation of the new educational standards with democratic citizenship at school. A feature of any remote communication is that it is still not live communication, and it seems to me it does not give such an effect as communication throughout seminars or competitions, where the competition takes place here and now. A webinar, despite the fact that the participants see each other, does not allow such a great involvement. It allows you to widen the spatial framework but does not have such a powerful impact as direct communication at the same time.
Your organisation has belonged to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum for several years already. What was the reason behind this decision to join the Forum? Why is it important for you to be its part?
There are several reasons. On the one hand, it is important to keep Russia in the European legal, political, and economic space, so that Russian citizens would be able to communicate to the citizens of European countries to make these exchanges mutually beneficial. In this regard, the situation is pretty depressing now – with increasing self-isolation of Russia, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with isolation of Russia by its European partners. The existence of shared values in Russia and Europe means the possibility for citizens for a better self-actualisation. For me, it would be important to take part in this process. In addition, it is an opportunity for solidarity actions on this and other occasions, in particular in the field of civic education. I have taken part in many General assemblies of the Forum. At first, I tried to initiate a Working Group on civic education, which initially did not find a response from my colleagues. 1.5 years ago, I found out that there were quite many organisations – members of the Forum, who were interested in issues of civic education. As a result, a Working Group was established. Our activities in the field of civic education are in compliance with the work of our colleagues. Co-operation within the Civil Society Forum allows us to obtain additional resources for development, including, primarily, successful partnerships.
In your opinion, which challenges does the Forum face today?
I have mentioned one of them already: It is the growing isolation of Russia, which became possible due to a variety of reasons, primarily, incomprehensible to me, irrational both internal and external politics of our government. In addition, it seems to me there is a misunderstanding of the problem and the risks even for Europeans, the governments of some European countries. We must look for every possible way to stop this process, to find these or other areas, where you can escape from isolation. We should do everything possible to draw attention to these problems. It is clear that there is a problem of increased pressure on non-governmental organisations in Russia. It is important to involve the Forum mechanisms to somehow help Russian NGOs to solve this problem. Nevertheless, it is not very clear how, taking into consideration the lack of reasonableness of the government’s politics.
What would you like to wish to the members of the Forum?
I wish us good luck.
The interview was prepared on 13 February 2015 by Sergei Tereshenkov, PR Co-Ordinator of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum