“…Australian teenagers are more socially aware than ever, are passionate about human rights, ethical shopping and protecting the environment, but almost two-thirds lack the basic knowledge required to become informed and active citizens in our democracy.
The latest Civics and Citizenship report, to be released by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority today, comes as new data shows secondary students’ reading skills have failed to progress over the past decade and have gone backwards in several states.
The National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy report shows that gains by indigenous students and those from non-English speaking backgrounds have outpaced those of the broader student population, while primary school children have made “statistically significant” reading improvement.
The civics results, which Education Minister Simon Birmingham branded “woeful”, reveal that only 38 per cent of Year 10 students last year achieved at or above a proficient standard when tested on the values, institutions and practices of Australian government — significantly lower than in tests conducted in 2010 and 2013. The report also shows that, although only half of Year 10 students believe it is important to discuss politics, close to 80 per cent believe in actively supporting human rights and living sustainably through recycling and ethical shopping.
Despite endorsement of a national civics curriculum two years ago, the proportion of Year 10 students deemed proficient has fallen 11 percentage points since 2010, returning to a similar level recorded in 2004.
In comparison, 55 per cent of Year 6 students nationwide were considered proficient in civics and citizenship issues, such as government and law, democracy, citizen’s rights and responsibilities, and identity and culture. The steep decline in the elder cohort prompted a blunt warning to schools. “The findings indicate that, among Year 10 students, there has been a decline in awareness of the specific details of Australian democracy, as well as a decline in the ability to make connections between the processes and outcomes of Australia’s civic institutions,” the report noted.
“The Year 10 finding should be viewed as a chance for jurisdictions and schools to reflect upon the civics and citizenship learning opportunities provided in their schools and to take measures to address the decline.”
Senator Birmingham said the Year 10 results warranted a national approach to improving students’ civics knowledge.
“Whilst a strong focus on reading, writing and STEM subjects in our schools is obviously essential, students also need to learn the fundamentals to be able to fully participate and contribute to Australian society,” the Education Minister said.
“This includes understanding the role our institutions play, how our legal and government systems work and the important events in Australia’s history that have helped shape our society as we know it today.”
Civics and citizenship has been a highly politicised part of the curriculum in recent years, amid complaints that it harbours an “anti-Western bias”, content is vague and repetitive, and students emerge lacking substantial knowledge of government and politics.
Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey, who reviewed the civics and citizenship component of the curriculum, said she was not surprised by the poor Year 10 results. “Civics is not taught in any substantive or consistent way in the various states,” she said.
“This makes it difficult for people to understand the political system and decide how to vote, particularly in relation to referenda. It is hard to make judgments about political behaviour or proposals for change if one does not understand the system within which politicians operate.”
While the assessment tests students’ knowledge of the course content, it also includes a survey of student perceptions of citizenship behaviours, trust in civic institutions and processes as well as attitudes towards indigenous cultures and diversity.
The survey found that in Year 10, the activities rated most important by students were protecting the environment (85 per cent), voting in elections (84 per cent), learning Australian history (79 per cent) and protecting human rights (77 per cent). It also showed a dramatic increase in students who considered discussing politics to be important, up 10 percentage points to 51 per cent since 2013, and those who believed in participating in peaceful protests, up eight percentage points to 53 per cent.
While most students demonstrated overall positive attitudes to indigenous cultures, a significant portion expressed concerns over multicultural diversity, with 40 per cent of Year 10 students agreeing with the statement: “Australia will become less peaceful as more people from different backgrounds come to live here.” A further 41 per cent agreed with a further statement suggesting that multiculturalism made it “difficult for a country to be united”.
Despite this, 84 per cent claimed Australia benefited greatly from having citizens from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Year 7 student Declan Kalka, visiting the South Australian Migration Museum yesterday, said he enjoyed learning about different levels of government and how they worked but was not so interested in current events.
“I don’t know too much of the details, but I know the basic knowledge,” he said.
Year 5 student Caitlin Ball said she wanted to learn more about climate change after hearing about it at school.
More than 5600 Year 6 students and more than 4700 Year 10 students participated in the study..” Teens sliding on civics