The State of Civics and Citizenship Education in NSW
Comparison between the NSW and Australian Curriculum
The Rule of Law Education Centre advocates for and educates Australian school students and the wider community about the history and foundations of Australia’s democratic structures including Magna Carta, the Rule of Law, and human rights. Teaching these foundations is generally done as part of civics and citizenship education and is dependent upon civics and citizenship material being present and explicit in the curriculum.
Each state has its own curriculum requirements, managed by a state or territory-based education standards authority. These governing bodies, under the control of the state or territory education Minister, provide advice and guidance to schools in the relevant jurisdiction regarding what curricula must be adopted in classrooms, which can include, at the discretion of each Minister, state and national curricula.
The Australian Curriculum, Version 9, has been endorsed by all state and territory Education Ministers as of April 1st, 2022 (The Educator online, 2022). According to each state’s education standards authority websites, content from the Australian Curriculum has been wholly or significantly adopted and incorporated into state’s education requirements for every state and territory in Australia except one, NSW. NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) specifically states that it supports the Australian Curriculum content and adopts elements into its state curriculum using an ‘adopt and adapt’ approach.
With current media attention focused on the revisions to the Australian Curriculum, there is no consideration of the curriculum being taught in NSW, the most populous state in Australia, and whether the ‘adopt and adapt’ approach within the NSW Curriculum provides sufficient civics and citizenship education.
This report compares the explicit civics and citizenship education within the NSW Curriculum with version 8.4 of the Australian Curriculum (currently taught in schools) to highlight the significant gap in Civics and Citizenship Education in NSW.
Key Insights of the Report
The Australian Curriculum, through the Civics and Citizenship strand within the History and Social Sciences Key Learning Area, provides the opportunity for students to learn Civics and Citizenship Education from year 3 to year 10. The Australian Curriculum also provides a limited opportunity within the History strand to understand the events that have influenced how Australia’s democratic society has been formed over the past few hundred years. (Note: The Rule of Law Education Centre made a previous Submission regarding the shortcomings of the Proposed ACARA Humanities and Social Sciences Curriculum regarding the History Strand).
In the Australian Curriculum, the Civics and Citizenship strand specifically considers government and democracy, law and citizens, and citizenship, diversity and identity.
In contrast to the Australian Curriculum, there is no mandatory, comprehensive, discrete or explicit aspects of Civics and Citizenship Education in the NSW curriculum.
NESA provides broad statements that civics and citizenship skills and concepts are considered an important part of learning for students. Civics and Citizenship Education is identified as important learning for students and is included in its syllabuses listed under ‘other areas identified as important learning for students’. Unlike the main ‘cross-curriculum priorities’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and sustainability, which receive significant attention within the NSW Curriculum, the priority of Civics and Citizenship is relegated to the bottom of the list (11 of 13) and given little attention or elaborations within the curriculum.
In NSW, Civics and Citizenship Education concepts are represented throughout different mandatory (History and Geography) and elective (Commerce) subject areas and may or may not be covered dependent upon school/teacher engagement with the syllabus. Flexibility is built into syllabuses to give schools/teachers the ability to choose topics areas based on student needs and interests in order to maximise student content engagement. Although based in good intention, Rule of Law Education Centre believes this flexibility has also inadvertently created a system that is heavily reliant on teacher interest, knowledge and ability, steering student knowledge to areas of teacher interest rather than those based in creating active and informed citizens
As a result, where Civics and Citizenship Education is integrated within school subjects such as History and Geography, it lacks identity, consistency and effectiveness to support student understanding. As seen in this Report, where Civics and Citizenship Education is incorporated as an ‘important learning area’ rather than a cross-curriculum priority or an independent and separate subject strand, students are not provided sufficient opportunities to learn key concepts that underpin deep learning.
Consequently, in New South Wales, it is possible for students to experience no, or very limited, exposure to civics and citizenship ideas in a historical or contemporary Australian context throughout their entire New South Wales schooling.
To address this shortcoming, it is recommended that the New South Wales Curriculum be reviewed to either include civics and citizenship content as a main ‘cross-curriculum priority’, as a discrete subject strand as is done in the Australian Curriculum, or as a compulsory subject in the NSW Curriculum.
Furthermore, there must be investment and resources allocated to teacher training to support existing and future teachers in gaining deep understanding of Civics and Citizenship Education concepts and links. This must also include teacher professional development opportunities for learning about and understanding Australian history regarding the development of democratic and human rights in Australia.
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