Rosa María Torres
(Texto en español: Carta abierta para niños y niñas que van a la escuela)
There are many things you should know about, and I am going to tell you about these things in this letter, so that you know what to do in school, and what to expect from it, from your teachers and classmates.
You have probably been told what you are supposed to do, that is, what your duties are: behave yourself, respect your teachers and classmates, do your homework, keep your notebooks tidy and up to date, come to class clean, be nice to everybody. But here we won't talk about your duties but about the things that others must do for you. We are going to talk about your rights.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A CHILD
No one should pull your ears, hit you or hurt you. No one should make fun of you, put you down, embarrass you in public, tell you to stand in a corner of the classroom, or be rude to you. Children must be loved and respected. You should always go to school happy and without fear. The most important people in school are children, not adults.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE POOR
Being poor is not a crime ans is not your fault. Your teacher is probably poor, too. Everywhere in the world, most children are poor, and most poor people are children. If there are so many poor people, it is because there is injustice. It is our societies and our governments that are wrong, not you.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE OF YOUR COLOR
In the world there are different nationalities, cultures, languages, religions, skin colors. No race, culture or language is better than the other. No one should make you feel badly because of the color of your skin or the language you speak. We all deserve the same respect and the same opportunities.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN
Boys and girls, men and women, have the same capabilities. Don't allow anyone to ignore you and leave you behind, to force you to accept the least, to prevent you from developing all your potential, to give you false advantages because you are a girl. Don't allow anyone to make you believe that women are inferior to men, because it is not true.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE YOU HAVE A PHYSICAL
A handicap is not something terrible, and it isn't your fault to have one. Even children who are blind, deaf, mute, or who have a serious disease, can learn if they are given love and proper attention. Children with problems, precisely because they have them, must be treated in a caring, special way.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE YOU COME FROM ANOTHER PLACE
No one should make you feel bad because you come from a different country, city, or town. Maybe you have a different language, different way of speaking, different likes, customs, and ideas. But being different is not a problem. Everyone is unique, different from the rest. We all have to learn to understand and respect what is different from what we are or have.
NO ONE SHOULD MISTREAT YOU BECAUSE YOU DON'T LEARN FAST
Each child learns in a different way. Some are good at some school subjects while others are good at others. If you don't learn fast, maybe there is nothing wrong with you, but with those who teach you and with how they teach you. Nobody can learn if they do not understand what is being taught, or if they don't find it interesting or useful, or if they are constantly threatened and punished. It is difficult to learn if you are hungry, tired, have not slept well, or have no time to play. Don't allow anyone to call you dumb, ignorant, or stupid. If you don't understand something, ask. You have the right to ask questions and to demand that teachers explain to you and teach you well. That is why there are schools. That is why there are teachers.
Dear children: school was created for children to be together, to play, to learn, and to be happy. If you feel sad or uncomfortable, there is something wrong with the school, not with you.
Dear children: don't allow people to only remind you of your obligations. Stand up for your rights. Start learning to speak up for your rights now, as a child, so that you defend them better when you grow up.
* Originally published in English in: Education News, Nº 11, UNICEF, Education Cluster, New York, January 1995. Published in various countries and languages, in international bulletins and journals. Printed on the back cover of the textbooks for Bilingual Intercultural Education published by the government and UNICEF in Bolivia (1993). Also included in the Libros del Rincón Collection published by Mexico's Secretary of Public Education (SEP), and distributed to all rural schools in the country. Edited and distributed as a small booklet in Ecuador in 2003, while I was Minister of Education and Cultures.
To know more:
Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNICEF)
Rosa María Torres, Children's right to basic education
Rosa María Torres, Children of the Basarwa ▸ Niños Basarwa
Rosa María Torres, Child learning and adult learning revisited