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WAB Grade 4 Students Learn about Human Rights

June, 2015
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wab-human-rights-3Western Academy of Beijing’s Grade 4 students engaged in a unique lesson to help them build empathy and understanding of real-world experiences for marginalized groups.

The unit, ‘Who we are’, was developed by teacher Jo Kirk for the study of human rights and prejudices in the world today. Students were assigned to one of five different groups, organized by colors, each with a specific set of rights, restrictions and rules based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Students in more privileged groups had the right to use computers, go outside during breaks or lunch periods, and even demand that students from more restricted groups complete tasks on their behalf. Other groups had to follow strict sets of limitation. Different groups were forbidden from things such as using their lockers and being forced to carry all of their belongings with them throughout the day. Others were not permitted to share their opinions or contribute to group work. Some had no leisure or playtime, even at recess or lunch, and had to do meaningless labor. And, possibly the most difficult, was the pink group, in which students were required to complete tasks for other students and had to participate last in every activity.

“One of the experiences that I had was that the oranges work as slaves doing child labor. Today we had to work hard and fast by passing stones around to make a road, if we weren’t working hard enough then we were yelled at,” blogged one student who was part of the orange group, which involved completing simulated child labor. “I think this experience is connected to equality and the rights of human beings because this happens to a lot of people, including children, everyday all over the world.”

Gathered in a classroom during the week after the event, one class of Grade 4 students had the chance to reflect together upon the lessons they learned.

“We only experienced it for three days, but I think the teachers wanted us to know what some people have to do every day and experience how they feel,” explained one student who was part of the green group, which was forbidden from sharing thoughts and opinions and could only speak with other students also in the green group.

“I love asking and answering questions,” she explained, adding that she was frustrated because she knows she is smart and capable of participating, but could not because of the rules of her group. “It was very frustrating.”

For other students, witnessing child labor had the biggest influence on their experience. In discussing their lessons learned after the unit, many students brought up the fact that they would refuse to support companies that exploit children for labor, despite being aware that it is often difficult to know if a company uses this practice.

“We have the power as consumers to choose what companies we buy from,” one student explained, to the agreement of her classmates.

When it was all done and students were back to having an inclusive, respectful and equal opportunity classroom environment, many lessons had been learned. 

 

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