Compass: A manual on human rights education for young people

The authors work for the project "Historical Learning Meets Human Rights Education," implemented in cooperation with the Friedrich-Meinecke-Institut (Didaktik der Geschichte), Freie Universität Berlin, and the Human Rights Education Associates. The two women have already worked for several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, UNESCO and the German Institute for Human Rights. The joint initiative is called right now | Human Rights Consultancy & Training.

By Else Engel and Lea Fenner

Anyone trying to orient themselves in the area of practical human rights education consults Compass, the best-known international educational manual for young people in or outside the school setting. The manual doesn’t just provide lots of exercises; it contains an introduction to human rights education, tips for practical human rights training and suggestions as to applying what has been learnt and background information on key human rights themes.

Compass was first published by the Council of Europe in 2002 and thereafter translated into more than 30 languages, including German. In 2012, a revised and updated edition was released, but until now this has only been available in English; a German version is expected this year (2015).

Useful in all contexts

It’s certainly worth taking a look at the new edition. It provides about 60 exercises and methods, more tips, especially for schoolteachers, and an improved overview, which at more than 600 pages is a welcome feature. Alongside rights for people with disabilities, freedom of religion and belief, other subject areas such as remembrance have been included for the first time.

Compass is aimed at an international community of educators in a variety of teaching contexts. Whether it be extra-curricular education, school, university or vocational training, the manual has been useful in all contexts. For work with the 7–13 age group, Compasito, the "younger sibling" of Compass, has been developed. The German edition of Compasito appeared in 2009.

Each of the Compass excercises contains information on the subjects and the human rights covered, on objectives, complexity, group size, time requirements, and necessary learning materials. Although, or rather because many of the exercises have very detailed descriptions, it is necessary to tailor them to the context and the needs of the students. This is a challenge for the educational facilitator, particularly as Compass claims to be suitable for educators regardless of experience or prior knowledge. While the manual does provide information on many aspects of practical education, in practice, however, what’s often required is detailed knowledge of, for example, human rights.


Take the exercise entitled Dosta! It addresses the subject of memory in connection with discrimination. The idea behind the exercise is to heighten public awareness of the persecution of the Roma and Sinti during World War II. It aims to create an awareness of all victims of National Socialism, of human dignity and justice, while developing skills that can be used in human rights work. The complexities inherent in issues of discrimination, genocide and historical background assume a significant level of prior knowledge on the part of the educator. What’s more, unlike political and intercultural education, for instance, historical learning is not treated as a related discipline, however convincing the connections to it may be. Work on another international manual is being carried out at present, under the direction of Didaktik der Geschichte at the Freie Universität Berlin. This manual is explicitly dedicated to human rights education and historical learning and could supplement Compass on this subject in the future.

Another example is the exercise "Let’s talk about sex": the choice of terminology – admittedly not always easy – is inconsistent and often inappropriate. The exercise has participants reflect on attitudes toward sexuality and homophobia, using an anonymized version of the fishbowl method. However successful the exercise might appear as a whole, the concrete choice of terminology in the description of the goals is questionable. Paula Gerber (2013) points out the inappropriate use of the term "sexual preferences," as it is now universally recognized that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. On the other hand, in the chapter entitled Discrimination and Intolerance, the term "sexual orientation" is used. Even use of the expression tolerance is not unproblematic from a human rights point of view; in this context it is much more a matter of respect and recognition.

The manual’s action-oriented focus fortunately ensures that it never loses sight of the main goal of human rights education: to foster a culture of human rights. There is even an entire chapter dedicated to possible activities and the practical application of lessons learned by way of initiating changes beyond the actual learning situation.


As the Compass authors state, the manual sets out to provide orientation only, and cannot map out the path educational work should take, nor does it wish to do so. That task remains – despite all the practical tips and information gathered in one publication – a formidable challenge for educators and practitioners.
The first Compass has grown into an international family of publications on human rights education, with many offshoots and generations. Though this might be confusing, it is a positive sign of a growing interest in human rights education and of the many ways the content in Compass can be implemented.

Literature and links

Compasito: Manual on Human Rights Education for Children. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Europarat, Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte, 2009.

Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People. Europarat, 2nd revised and updated edition, Strasbourg 2012.

The first version of Compass (2002) is available in English, German, French, Russian and Arabic.

Freie Universität Berlin: Historical Learning meets Human Rights Education - Exploring the History of National Socialism.

Gerber, Paula. Review of 'Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People' by Patricia Brander et al, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 2012, 19(1) Australian Journal of Human Rights 199, 2013.

Kompass: Handbuch zur Menschenrechtsbildung für die schulische und außerschulische Bildungsarbeit. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Europarat, Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte, 2005.

The joint initiative of Lea Fenner and Else Engel is called "right now."


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