Approaches to Civics and Citizenship
The Civics and Citizenship domain focuses on developing students’ knowledge and understanding of civic institutions and processes, community engagement and practice of democracy. Student learning is enhanced by providing opportunities and links to events and issues that are real and relevant for students and the community. The following advice provides examples and strategies for:
- using contemporary events
- using current issues
- providing democratic classrooms
- developing opportunities for school and community engagement.
Use contemporary events
Schools mark events that are significant to the school, the community and the nation. Such events provide opportunities to teach students about significant aspects of our democracy, practise skills and enact and question democratic values. Events often incorporated into the school calendar include:
- Australia Day
- Anzac Day
- Rememberance Day
- Clean up Australia Day
- Queen’s Birthday
- Harmony Day
- National Flag Day
- May Day
- International Women’s Day
- World Environment Day
- Celebrating Democracy Week
- NAIDOC (National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee) Week.
As well as these, there are celebrations that are significant to particular groups that make up the Australian nation such as Chinese New Year. These provide students with an entry into understanding the histories, cultures, beliefs and values that are part of our modern multicultural nation.
A basic approach to these events would see the following questions considered:
- Why does our community celebrate or mark this occasion?
- Why is it significant in terms of our nation’s history, culture, values and beliefs?
- Why is it significant for us today?
- How do we celebrate this event in our school, our community and nation?
- How do Australian citizens participate in these events?
- What opportunities are there for our school?
- How can our students participate?
There are many examples available of learning programs that schools provide around these national events. See Resources.
Use current issues
Current issues and events provide a way for students to understand civics and citizenship. They are a means of linking what students already know from the media to the theory about democratic political and legal institutions and values such as fairness, equality, representation and accountability that underpin a democracy. A focus on contemporary issues also provides a means of developing students’ thinking and critical capacities. They also provide models of the ways that citizens can activity participate, question and improve democracy.
Some regular events that provide such opportunities include:
- local planning issues and citizens’ rights
- leadership changes
- legal cases, debates over changes to the law and legal rights of citizens
- annual government budgets and fairness
- international events and crises and Australia’s role as a global citizen
- international protocols in areas such as carbon emissions and whaling and Australia’s reaction as a global citizen
- ethical debates relating to science and technology.
Provide democratic classrooms
Effective learning about democracy requires that students not only learn about democracy but also act on the basis of their understandings. The classroom provides a key means through which students learn the practice of democracy. The culture, processes and protocols of the classroom will provide students with democratic understandings which are transferred to the playground, their home, the local community and national and global contexts.
There are a range of classroom practices which will support and enable students to practise democracy. Some of the key aspects include:
- teaching the language of democracy (including values such as inclusion, equality, fairness, freedom, respect, responsibility, care) using the language and have students use it in the classroom
- providing opportunities for students to make decisions about what they will learn and how they will go about it
- having students negotiate classroom rules and protocols – and rights and responsibilities
- creating opportunities for student responsibility – for learning, class resources, representing others in the class and contributing to school events
- providing learning contexts which emphasises collaboration and develops skills such as listening, asking questions, responding, negotiating, developing plans, assuming a range of roles – cooperative skills that underpin a community
- providing links to the student’s world and the world outside of school by focusing on the significance of their learning in terms of real events and issues
- encouraging students to develop informed points of view about issues
- providing students with opportunities to explore a range of perspectives in their learning and recognise that there are many points of view about issues that affect communities and groups.
Develop opportunities for school and community engagement
The involvement of students in a range of school governance and broad school and community programs is an essential part of learning about society, developing skills and practising what it means to be a responsible citizen in a democratic society.
Specific teaching and learning programs and extra-curricular activities provide opportunities for students to develop:
- civics and citizenship understandings and skills including understanding identity and roles in the community and the rights and responsibilities of citizens
- understanding of the school and wider community and their own connections to it
- values which underpin democratic communities such as freedom, equality, responsibility, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusion
- skills and knowledge in making judgments, forming conclusions and making plans for action
- a sense of school, community and civic engagement, participation and contribution
- connection to the school and community
- personal responsibility and self discipline
- personal and social skills such as managing their own learning, building positive social relationships, working in teams and values such as respect for others, care and compassion
- a sense of confidence, achievement, self-esteem and identity which complements the learning that takes place in the classroom.
Schools provide opportunities to develop these knowledge, skills and behaviours in activities such as:
- participation in school's governance including class and year level representation
- sports coaching
- participating in school sports programs
- school environmental programs
- social service activities
- student-run assemblies
- transition programs
- enterprise and service learning programs
- volunteer programs and partnership programs with local council and employers.
These programs develop understanding and skills across all strands and in domains such as Health and Physical Education, The Humanities and Thinking Processes.
The value of these programs is such that they are important for all students and should be structured into all school programs.
Knowledge Bank (www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/knowledgebank)
There are a range of ideas and models of how Victorian schools develop civics and citizenship learnings.
A number of case studies relating to civics and citizenship education in schools have been published in the ‘Whole School Improvement’ and ‘Community, Involvement and Partnerships’ sections of Knowledge bank. These include:
- SCRAYP – Youth Arts with an Edge (Primary and Secondary)
- Bicycles for East Timor (Secondary)
- The City Project – Moving In (Secondary)
- Old Mates: An intergenerational Project, Bringing Two Generations Together in Learning (Primary and Secondary)
- Harmony Week – Celebrating Our Diversity and Increasing Student Well-being (Primary)
Discovering Democracy Resources
All Victorian schools have been provided with a range of resources under the Discovering Democracy Program (1997–2004). Teachers will find that there are a number of units and resources in the Discovering Democracy materials that support the learning focus and standards in Civics and Citizenship.
Learning materials and activities in the Discovering Democracy units are designed with a strong focus on stimulating students' interest and active engagement. The material incorporates a range of approaches to teaching and learning including:
- the use of focused inquiry, including investigation, communication and participation
- the use of historical narrative in supporting students' critical thinking about past and present-day issues
- analysis and interpretation of primary and secondary source material, including written texts, pictorial images, statistical tables, graphs and maps
- building on students' existing knowledge, skills, values and interests
- research skills including the use of evidence in support of a particular perspective
- presentation of different interpretations of people, events and traditions
- analysis of relevant prose, poetry, artwork, film and music
- active citizenship approaches, both at school and in the wider community.
The resources include:
Discovering Democracy Kits
Discovering Democracy Australian Readers for Lower, Middle and Upper – Primary and Secondary.
- Discovering Democracy Through Research which covers research investigations in the community.
- Discovering Democracy Assessment Resources for Middle and Upper Primary and Lower and Middle Secondary.
Discovering Democracy (www.curriculum.edu.au/ddunits/units/units.htm) units are available online. Teachers will also find a range of teaching and learning activities at this site.
Other valuable resources:
The Big Australia Day Book, (2004 Curriculum Corporation):
For lower primary students it covers themes of identity, harmony and diversity through stories, songs, poems and pictures.
Being Australian, (2005 Curriculum Corporation):
For upper primary students Themes of heroes, symbols of Australia, identity, harmony, multiculturalism.
Access Asia resources: Japan Diary, The Really Big Food Project, Australian Kaleidoscope and others (Themes of intercultural understanding and Australian identity. See: www.asiaeducation.edu.au)