The New Civics Education: An Integrated Approach for Australian Schools

Murray Print

The past three years have witnessed a dramatic revitalization of civics education for use in Australian schools. In this brief period, Australian educators have participated in a major national inquiry into civics education, initiated a national curriculum materials project, commenced research to create a substantive teacher knowledge base, developed centers of civics education, and constructed programs for teacher preparation. While this revitalization is not yet well grounded in Australian schools, the situation should change dramatically in the very near future.
These developments in Australia should be seen as part of a renewed worldwide interest in civics education. The disintegration of the former communist bloc in Eastern Europe has stimulated the need for citizenship education within new democratic contexts. Domestic problems within many Asian and African nations have also highlighted issues of citizenship and spurred renewal of civics education. Meanwhile, successful democracies such as the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia are reflecting upon the nature of citizenship and the role of civics education within the new world order. As people in these countries seek to answer the question, What does it mean to be an American? a Canadian? an Australian?, fundamental issues of civics education are coming to the forefront.

The New Civics Education
Despite its recency, the new civics education in Australia has already taken a clearly definable shape. It is broader and more comprehensive than earlier efforts. While knowledge of government, the constitution, citizen rights, civic responsibility, and Australian political history remain pivotal components, they are only a part of the total learning in which students will partcipate.
A central plank of the new civics education is learning about environmental issues and the need for ecological sustainability. Australia's, and the world's, fragile environment poses many problems and requires protection by an informed and active populace. All Australians, and particularly the young, need to address these issues both locally and globally.

To become effective citizens of their democracy, Australians need to be informed and critically active participants. Currently, little opportunity exists for young Australians to learn to be participating citizens through the school curriculum. Yet Australian society expects all adult citizens to fulfill their civic duties, and voting is compulsory.

In learning the role of citizen, Australian students need to look beyond the confining strictures of nationalism. The new civics education argues for multiple perspectives of citizenship, meaning that people may play civic roles at local, national, regional, and international levels. Thus, while the legal concept of citizenship is confined to a single country, Australians may perceive citizenship as being national (for elections and sporting events), regional (for defence and trade), and global (for environment and economic stability) without feeling uncomfortable or unpatriotic about their views.

The new civics education takes an inclusive position within the school curriculum. It seeks to involve all groups living in Australia, including indigenous and ethnically diverse peoples, in living together in a harmonious manner. To consider alternative options is untenable. For Australians to continue to co-exist peacefully amongst themselves, ethnic and cultural tolerance is paramount.

An essential feature of the new civics education is the deliberate treatment of values education. The curriculum emphasizes the responsibilities as well as the rights of citizens, and encourages political participation-in a liberal democratic context-both nationally and internationally. The new civics examines issues of social justice, tolerance of others, the common good, majority rule, and other value positions essential to an effective democracy.

In our modern society, many aspects of civic life valued in the past seem to have faltered. One such vital aspect is the relationship of individuals to the community. The new civics education is grounded in the principles of a civil society, the essence of which is to provide opportunity for individual interests to flourish within the constraints of societal demands. The new civics seeks to promote civility between peoples, and to enhance the effectiveness of the community as a cohesive support vehicle for its members.

Finally the new civics education will play an integrative role within the school curriculum. The Civics Expert Group, which was instrumental in creating the new civics, argued against making citizenship education a special school subject (CEG, 1994). Rather, the group saw greater value in integrating it with history, social studies, economics, and other subjects within the learning area known as Studies of Society and the Environment (SOSE).

The new civics education is conceptualized as functioning across many learning areas, across many school years, and even across the entire school. A school-based environment project, for example, could encompass all classes within a school. To help achieve the goal of integration, the Civics and Citizenship Education Schools Curriculum Materials Project (CCESCMP) will provide teachers with opportunities to integrate civics education.

In sum, the new civics education won't be the traditional civics, that is, a study of government institutions and political processes liberally laced with adages about being a good citizen. The old approach is insufficient for educating people to become effective citizens in a modern democracy. Similarly the new civics education is not designed to be taught in a rote, pedantic, and expository manner, with heavy dependence on a conservative textbook. The new civics education provides an opportunity for a revitalization of pedagogy as well as curriculum in Australian schools. This will be the challenge for Australian teachers, if it is to succeed.

Reaching Critical Mass
To understand why the new civics education has evolved in Australia, two questions need to be posed. Why has a critical mass of interest and support for civics education been achieved? And, second, why now? Although some researchers have been aware of a lack of opportunity to study civics-and a resulting "civics deficit" among Australian youth-for some time (Phillips, 1989; SSCEET, 1989), little was done to amend this situation in an already overcrowded curriculum. However, a critical mass of factors has led to the point where citizenship is perceived as a crucial educational issue, one demanding immediate resolution and one already receiving support from significant politicians, pressure groups and educational administrators. What factors contributed to achieving this critical mass of support?
Changing international political conditions have produced profound concern with issues of democracy, citizenship and civic roles in Australia and elsewhere. The democratization process in the former communist states of Eastern Europe; the emergence of powerful trading blocs such as the European Community and the North American Free Trade Association; the reunification of the German peoples; the active role of the United Nations as an international peace and policing agency; the bloody dismembering of the former Yugoslavia; the globalization of the world economy; the potential of communications technology to break down barriers of space and time; and the unprecedented movement of peoples across traditional national boundaries: all have affected the way Australians and their government officials have come to see themselves.

As part of this process, Australians have begun to reflect upon their own national identity. Fundamental issues have been raised about the relationship between European and indigenous Australians, particularly over the issues of reconciliation and land. The relationships between European-descended and more recent immigrants to Australia-particularly those from Asia-also demand consideration.

Australia is no longer a country where the great majority of people claim some form of Anglo-Celtic heritage. Official government policy, reflecting the profoundly changed demographic structure of our people, now proclaims Australia to be a highly multicultural society. Yet many recent immigrants have little experience with an effective, working democracy, a situation which has been identified as in need of attention (Kennedy, et al, 1993; CEG, 1994). This recognition has produced further reflective questioning of who we are, where we wish to go, and how we wish to get there.

Traditional loyalties and values that forged the development of our country and our self-image are also being rigorously questioned. Australians are increasingly looking away from Great Britain and Europe, and toward Asia and the United States, for our economic, political and cultural future. Nowhere has this been more powerfully expressed than in our relations with the British monarchy. The rise of republican sentiment, fueled by an aggressive Prime Minister, has focused national attention on civic matters and is challenging traditional ties. Should Australia continue to support constitutional monarchy or become a republic? This debate has some distance to travel, despite inexorably growing republican support that reflects our demographic changes.

Without doubt, the most influential factor in galvanizing a critical mass of interest in civics education has been the work of the Civics Expert Group. Their widely accepted report, Whereas the people .... Civics and Citizenship Education (CEG, 1994), has become the cornerstone of the new civics education. In analyzing the conditions of citizenship and civic education in Australia, the report found a major civics deficit to exist amongst Australia's young people. As mentioned earlier, the report did not advocate making civics a separate school subject. Nor did it recommend injecting more citizenship education into the final years of schooling, which are dominated by powerful external examinations (CEG, 1994; Print, 1995; Kennedy, 1996).

However, the report did recommend substantial support for civics education to be concentrated in Years 5-10 within the K12 curriculum. Support for the new civics education includes the preparation of specifically-developed and technologically-current curriculum materials, as well as substantial professional development for Australia's civics teachers. These projects are now underway with widespread educational support to ensure their continuance. After three decades of neglect, Australia now stands poised to participate in the new civics education.

Issues for Civics Educators
Implementing the new civics education will be problematic for civics educators. Recognition of the new civics education in Australian schools and classrooms is likely to be somewhat contentious due to the recency of its development. Furthermore, as the major thrust is coming from the government and educational systems, Australian schools will soon experience a typical center-periphery curriculum issue. Major curriculum innovations, such as the CCESCMP, will be implemented to address the widely perceived need for more adequate civic understanding. Whether or not they succeed, and become institutionalized within the Australian school curriculum, will largely reflect teacher support over the next few years.
For teachers of civics, the deliberate addressing of values education in the new civics education will be a major issue. Traditionally, teachers have eschewed purposeful values education, and now they must face teaching such values as individual rights, social justice, tolerance for others, appreciation of diversity, and majority rules and participation within a democracy (CEG, 1994; Boston, 1996).

A significant issue for teachers is their level of preparedness for teaching the new civics education. Given the critical role teachers will play (CEG, 1994; Print, 1995b, 1996; Boston, 1996), professional development has been acknowledged as a vital component in the new civics education and funded appropriately. Whether it will be sufficient is problematical, as teacher knowledge and pedagogical skills for implementing the new civics are a matter of major concern (Print, 1995b; Boston, 1996; Kennedy, 1996).

Like educators in other countries, Australian civics educators are concerned that student assessment should be appropriate. We need to devise authentic assessment techniques for the new civics education, so that the measures of performance reflect the nature of the programs. Through an integrated approach to the new civics education, we can expect graduates of Australian schools to be able to:

An exciting future awaits Australian educators as they address the development and implementation of the new civics education. This will be a civics curriculum that none have taught before, and which-given current contexts-will prove extremely challenging. Many hurdles must be overcome before the new civics education is an accepted component of the school curriculum. Yet this will be a rewarding experience.

Boston, K. "Civics and Citizenship: Priorities and Directions." Unicorn 22,1 (1966): 84-88.Civics Education Group (S.Macintyre, chair). Whereas the people ... Civics and Citizenship Education. Canberra: Australian Government Printing Service, 1994.Kennedy, K, O. Watts and G. Macdonald. Citizenship Education for a New Age. Toowoomba, Queensland: University of Southern Queensland, 1993.Kennedy, K. (ed). New Challenges for Citizenship Education. Canberra: Australian Curriculum Studies Association, 1996.Phillips, H. "Political Education in Australia: Well-being for Youth." Australian Journal of Teacher Education 14, 2 (1989): 21-34.Print, M. Political Understanding and Attitudes of Secondary Students. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 1995a.Print, M (ed). Civics Education: Issues from Research and Practice. Canberra: ACSA, 1995b. Print, M. Conceptual Design for the Civics and Citizenship Education Schools Curriculum Materials Project. Melbourne: Curriculum Corporation, 1996.Senate Select Committee on Employment, Education and Training. Active Participation in Citizenship Education. Canberra: AGPS, 1989.Senate Select Committee on Employment, Education and Training. Active Participation in Citizenship Education Revisited. Canberra: AGPS, 1991.

Murray Print is Director of the Curriculum Research and Development Center in the Faculty of Education at the University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.