21st century learning environments and new kinds of human rights issues

Education as a human rights issue

Imageof students using laptops
Virtual Learning Spaces

Image source www.seatlepi.com

The subject of human rights is a broad one. Its constituents evolve, collide with one another and stretch across disciplines, making it difficult to distinguish what really constitutes a human rights issue and what does not. I am particularly interested in the concept of education as a human rights issue especially with regard to evolving literacies, and in the context of Botswana.

The free dictionary.com defines human rights as “the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are considered to be entitled, often held to include the rights to life, liberty, equality, and a fair trial, freedom from slavery and torture, and freedom of thought and expression”.

This definition perfectly serves the purpose of this post as will be demonstrated in the given examples. I will go further in my discussion of the subject to include one important aspect of human rights that is, ‘how human rights are made a reality (and not just a fantasy) and who is responsible for making them achievable.’ It sounds like a fantasy already. I need to draw on some bit of history to put things into perspective.

A glimpse at the rear view mirror!

The right to education is one of the fundamentals in human rights history. Off the top of my head two countries and two characters come to the forefront: The United States of America and The Republic of South Africa; Martin Luther King (Jr) and Nelson Mandela respectively. These countries once stood out as ‘epitomes’ of human rights violation. In both countries the eras of oppression were characterized by segregation along racial lines which took away from the Blacks the right to quality education. The characters on the other hand gained their statuses as icons of freedom because of their unwavering fight to end segregation, promote integration and ultimately liberation of the marginalised. It took some level of human rights consciousness to address issues that present a threat to human rights.

I dare speculate that while it might not be the only factor, lack of education breeds a passive, disempowered, angry, irresponsible and reckless population. Premised on this, I further argue that quality education is a powerful tool in the emancipation from all sorts of limitations.

It’s what ‘Quality’ education does

It should be noted that in both the apartheid and segregation regimes Blacks were not completely denied the opportunity to go to school, however they could only attend schools that were built for Blacks.  The problem here is the unfair distribution of resources which placed Blacks in a disadvantaged position as far as obtaining quality education was concerned. On the contrary, in the context of education in the 21st century the inequality is not born of deliberate violation of human rights but results from the digital divide. Education authorities need to address this if there has to be equality in access to quality education. Responding to the problem should begin with a different type of human rights consciousness, which compels us to ask the question “what constitutes education in the 21st century.”

Education is not just about going to school and getting a qualification, but being equipped with skills to make decisions that can enhance chances of success, and enable one to navigate through life. How about a little test to check out your navigation skills based on the following facts?

Social activities, business, human services, global economy and indeed education have gone digital

The internet, accessed through mobile networks, wireless and Local Access Networks (LAN) has radically altered the way we communicate and connect with family, friends, and colleagues, and even the way we conduct everyday business.

Image of Online Banking Log In Page
Online Banking Log in page

Internet banking is one of my favourites, considering my fear of queues and filling in forms. Apart from that…

I want to experience products and services online first before I can make a purchase, by going through ratings and comments on various sites. I guess I am not the only one. Businesses are doing their best to take advantage of online presence of customers.

Various institutions (private and public) are transforming service provision to leverage on the connectivity of customers and offer e-services and mobile services. I should find out how much e-government and mobile-government are being utilised in Botswana.  Whatever the case may be, thumbs up to our government for moving with the times! Even if it’s at a snail’s pace.

 Now to the crux of the matter

The Academic fraternity has not been left behind in the pursuit of efficiency through use of the internet and digital platforms. Well, to begin with the internet has always been a tool associated with academics and research before gaining wide adoption into every facet of human interaction. There has been a major shift in the publishing industry too as authors choose digital publishing over print and bypass the intermediary aka publishing institutions. Consequently, academic institutions and libraries have digitized their content. It’s googlescholar.com all day everyday for me.

As a member of staff in an academic institution I must say we have made very little progress on this matter. In view of the UN declaration on the right to information, I perceive it as a disadvantage when learners are not given the resources that will enable them to seek information and contribute in knowledge creation and information dissemination.

Academic staff needs this support too. Their contribution to the body of knowledge through research and other publications hinges on their ability to access information, an exercise that could be made easy by institutions subscribing to various publishing institutions.

21st century learning spaces do present new kinds of human rights issues. Perhaps we could benchmark from developed countries like the US where access to the internet has become a human rights issue. Check out the UNESCO 2013 report on Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education For All Agenda, A Report by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Education. 

We do not just need access to the internet. It’s got to be fast internet.

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