Call to all NSW MP's to review the draft NSW History Curriculum

The Rule of Law has a long history of advocating for compulsory civic education

For over 10 years the Rule of Law has highlighting the importance of ensuring students develop an understanding of the law, and the way in which Australia’s democracy operates.

In 2012, our Submission on the Draft Shape Paper on Civics and Citizenship regarding the Australian curriculum stated:

“Values of tolerance, equality, like the rule of law, are abstract ideas. How are they to be achieved in a practical sense? Legal mechanics are essential, however, and the values behind them must reflect those of society.

For citizens to decide what is important and participate in democracy they must have an understanding of the following elements which are essential in a society under the rule of law:

1. Right to be brought before a court
2. To be heard by an independent and impartial judge
3. To challenge the actions of the government and other citizens through the courts
4. The freedom to express political opinions and contribute to government

These four elements are the core rights and freedoms which support the rule of law in Australia. Despite much discussion on the rule of law becoming anchored in politics, there is almost universal support for these elements across the political spectrum.

The rule of law should be the guiding principle from which students learn about essential rights and freedoms that assist them to participate in democracy, and to feel confident in their right to seek out legal remedies to their problems or disputes.”

Under the draft syllabus, NSW students will not receive sufficient civics education

On 23 November 2023, we emailed all NSW MP’s asking for them to take action to review the NSW History Curriculum and make changes to ensure students in NSW are provided explicit civic teaching to ensure they understand and are committed to Australia’s democratic system of government, law and way of life.

Our email stated:

Education Plays a critical role in shaping the lives of NSW’s citizens.

The Rule of Law Education Centre with its sister organisation, the Rule of Law Institute of Australia has a growing membership of 2,400 Australians, 71% of whom are teachers. Our members have expressed great concern regarding the lack of civic education in New South Wales and request your support in ensuring all NSW students are provided explicit civic teaching to ensure they understand and are committed to Australia’s democratic system of government, law and way of life.

In NSW, the History Syllabus is currently under review. It is in the History Syllabus that the NSW Education Standards Association (NESA) incorporates most of its civics and citizenship material for NSW students. The content that is included in the NSW History Syllabus is the key indicator of what NSW’s citizens will learn regarding our system of government, rights and responsibilities. It provides most of the essential knowledge, skills and understanding to ensure NSW students are necessarily equipped as active and engaged citizens, able to maintain a democracy and participate in Australia’s civic life.

Our submission to NESA on the Draft History Syllabuses for K-6 and 7-10,, highlights our concerns, particularly that the Draft Syllabus, much like the existing syllabus (in place since 2012) lacks consistent, continual, compulsory and explicit teaching of key concepts related to Australia’s democratic beliefs, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

The Syllabuses as they stand, and the newly developed draft:

  • fail to build knowledge and develop critical concepts consistently over time,
  • fail to teach students key concepts and relevant, precise terminology vital to deep understanding,
  • fail to provide an understanding of key events in Australia’s democratic heritage, and
  • include these key elements as optional rather than compulsory learning by their incorporation into the elective Commerce subject and amongst a range of suggested topics for teachers to consider.

In summary, our current and Draft History Syllabus in the NSW curriculum fails to provide NSW students with the essential civics learning to be active and informed citizens in our democracy.

Multiple reports since 2004 have highlighted this issue, meaning we now have young teachers ill equipped and unprepared to teach these concepts. The recent 2019 National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship Report showed only 38% of year 10 students have a proficient standard of civic knowledge, meaning young Australians are ill prepared to understand the importance of civic participation.

The review of the NSW History Syllabus is an important opportunity to ensure future citizens in NSW have a strong understanding of and commitment to the systems of the democratic principles. Now is the time for action.

We ask that you also review this draft Curriculum to create positive change for the students of NSW to develop them into informed and active citizens that support and uphold democracy and the rule of law in Australia.