A gender perspective on human rights education

The Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ), has made an assessment of learning outcomes in higher education on human rights; men’s violence against women and domestic violence; and violence towards children within five Swedish programmes in medicine and in social welfare.

Five programmes were selected for analysis: medical programmes (physicians); programmes in nursing; programmes in occupational therapy; programmes in psychology; and programmes in social work. These programmes all have human rights included in their national qualitative targets.

Higher education must provide knowledge and skills

Professionals who through their work are likely to get in contact with survivors of abuse must have solid knowledge of human rights in order for these rights to be protected. Higher education has a vital role in providing students with the knowledge and skills necessary to deal with situations they may encounter in their future careers when human rights are violated or threatened.

In this report, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ), in cooperation with researchers from Karolinska Institutet (KI) and representatives from the European Students’ Union (ESU), examine in what ways higher education institutions in Sweden work to ensure that students in medicine and social welfare develop these skills.

Three human rights areas in focus

The analysis focuses on three areas:

  • human rights;
  • men’s violence against women and domestic violence;
  • violence towards children.

Information was gathered through a national survey, which also served as the basis for the selection of good examples.

Most programmes include teaching about human rights

One of the main conclusions is that almost all programmes included in the survey include teaching about human rights, and that a clear majority (roughly 85 per cent) of programmes include teaching about violence against women and domestic violence and violence towards children. This is by and large a positive finding, although there is still room for improvement regarding the latter two areas.

Explicit learning outcomes not always formalised

Another main conclusion is the following: When human rights related content is included in teaching, it is not always formalised in terms of explicit learning outcomes. The specification of learning outcomes is essential, not least from a constructive alignment point of view, as it allows programme directors and teachers to effectively design all aspects of teaching (including teaching methods, examination, competence development of staff, etc.) concurrent with the learning outcomes.

Furthermore, formalisations of learning outcomes is crucial from a student-centred learning perspective, enhancing the transparency of the curriculum and thus making it possible for students to take an active role in the learning process. There is room for improvement in the formalisation of programme content regarding all three areas, especially violence against women and domestic violence and violence towards children.

Qualitative targets interpreted differently

Another conclusion is that programmes interpret the national qualitative targets about human rights in different ways. Some make the interpretation that these national qualitative targets by implication include violence against women, domestic violence and violence towards children, but others do not.

Variety of teaching methods in human rights

Furthermore, the results from the survey show that a variety of methods of teaching are used, and that this frequently includes both theoretical and practical aspects of human rights issues. Two thirds of respondents state that the teaching includes practical aspects, i.e., teaching about how students are to relate to, make assessments and take human rights into account in their future professional careers. A positive finding is that a clear majority (70%) of respondents conduct dialogue with representatives from professional life as a way of ensuring that learning objectives are relevant from a working life perspective.

Another finding concerned development work. Of the respondents, 32 per cent singled out men’s violence against women and domestic violence as an area in need of development – somewhat more than was the case for the other two areas. This could be an indication that processes to integrate this area in teaching are generally at an earlier stage compared with the other two areas.

The report was presented at an European conference in Stockholm in September 2017. You can watch the presentations and discussions at our YouTube-channel.