Notes for teachers 1: Background to teaching democratic values

1. Discovering Democracy and democratic values

The Discovering Democracy schools materials promote the teaching of values that underpin our democratic society such as tolerance, acceptance of cultural diversity, respect for others, the rule of law and freedom of speech, religion and association. The inculcation of civic values and attitudes was part of the Discovering Democracy programme from its inception in 1997.

Students will learn about the importance of principles such as:

  • democratic decision-making
  • government accountability
  • civility, truth-telling and respect for the law
  • the value of individual and collective initiative and effort
  • concern for the welfare, rights and dignity of all people.

The project also presents opportunities for students to make informed decisions about issues of importance to themselves and others. While assisting teachers to promote broadly agreed democratic values, the Discovering Democracy materials suggest ways that teachers can approach contested issues through disciplined inquiry and reflection. Students are encouraged to formulate defensible stances as a component of developing citizenship skills necessary for effective participation in a democracy.

(Introducing Discovering Democracy: School Materials Project, Curriculum Corporation, 1997, p 8)

2. The National Goals for Schooling

The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians promotes quality education in Australian schools and is the guiding document for the development of the Australian Curriculum. Goal 2 of the Declaration is: All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.

All States and Territories have recognised that civics and citizenship education is central to effective schooling and have incorporated civics and citizenship education into their curriculum documents and school practices.

Read the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. [PDF]

3. Core values for all Australians?

Donald Horne, in writing for the NSW Centenary of Federation Committee, outlines as a talking point ‘... to encourage a discussion on “being Australian”’ (p3) the values that underline his adaptation of the Australian Compact offered by the Australian Citizenship Council for the Centenary of Federation.

The full text of An Australian Compact? What Are the Core Values That All Australians Might Respect? (2002) is available from

The following are brief summaries of the underlying principles and values described by Donald Horne in An Australian Compact?

  • To maintain the rule of law
    The rule of law means that each citizen is equal before the law, that laws must be predictable and known to all, that laws must be fair and apply equally to the government as well as the governed. This includes openness of courts, independence from government and presumption of innocence. Finally laws must be democratic in that ultimately citizens make the law.
  • To strengthen Australia as a representative liberal democracy based on universal adult suffrage and on freedom of opinion
    The notion of representation means that Australians delegate power to government through elections. Regular elections ensure that all legal power comes from the people.

    While Australia does not have a formal statement about rights and freedoms most people believe that freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom of assembly, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of association are essential for freedom of opinion in a democracy.

    Universal adult suffrage is the right of all citizens to vote. In addition the voting system must be fair.

    A liberal democracy encompasses a high level of individual freedom and checks on the power of the government through the independence of the judiciary, a multi-party system, separate Houses of Parliament and a federal system of government.
  • To maintain the ideal of equality under the law of all Australians
    As well as equal civic rights and equal rights of legal access and treatment by the courts this encompasses the notion of no discrimination based on race, skin colour, ethnic and national origin, sex, age, place of residence, sexual preference and marital status as well as equality of opportunity.
  • To uphold the ideal of Australia as a tolerant and fair society
    Fairness might cover such things as a fair go for minorities, a fair go in expressing opinions and a fair share for the less fortunate, while tolerance encompasses the acceptance of diversity.
  • To recognise and celebrate Australia as an inclusive society of multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-racial origin
    Australia has become a society that has successfully brought together immigrants from many nations, races, religions and ethnic groups. To sustain this society we need to recognise its richness and at the same time encourage the notion of core civic values that all Australian citizens might hold in common.
  • To continue to develop Australia as a commonwealth devoted to the wellbeing of its people
    Wellbeing covers issues such as social justice for all Australians which includes areas such as welfare for the disadvantaged and the right to jobs.
  • To respect and care for the land we share
    The land we share is a civic idea in that it is a symbol for all Australians and it is in our national interest to sustain it.
  • To value the unique status of the Indigenous peoples
    This principle calls for recognition that Australia is the homeland of Indigenous peoples and it was a homeland where they had their own rights and customs. Further, this recognises that Europeans displaced the original inhabitants and these actions disturbed the cultures of Indigenous peoples and their societies.

4. The Values Education Study

In 2002, the Commonwealth commissioned a national Values Education Study (VES) to inform the development of a national framework and a set of principles for values education in Australian schools. The following vision statement emerged from the work of this study:

All Australian schools provide values education in a planned and systematic way by:

  • articulating, in consultation with their school community, the school's mission/ethos;
  • developing student responsibility in local, national and global contexts, and building student resilience and social skills;
  • ensuring values are incorporated into school policies and teaching programmes across the key learning areas; and
  • reviewing the outcomes of their values education practices.

National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools, Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training, 2004, p 5)

National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools

Nine Values for Australian Schooling have now been identified for this National Framework. They emerged from Australian school communities and from the National Goals for Schooling in Australia in the Twenty-First Century. They are presented below in alphabetical order and not in any rank order of importance.

These shared values such as respect and 'fair go' are part of Australia's common democratic way of life, which includes equality, freedom and the rule of law. They reflect our commitment to a multicultural and environmentally sustainable society where all are entitled to justice.

Nine Values for Australian Schooling


Care and Compassion
Care for self and others


Doing Your Best
Seek to accomplish something worthy and admirable, try hard, pursue excellence


Fair Go
Pursue and protect the common good where all people are treated fairly for a just society


Enjoy all the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship free from unnecessary interference or control, and stand up for the rights of others


Honesty and Trustworthiness
Be honest, sincere and seek the truth


Act in accordance with principles of moral and ethical conduct, ensuring consistency between words and deeds


Treat others with consideration and regard; respect another person's point of view


Be accountable for one's own actions, resolve differences in constructive, non-violent and peaceful ways; contribute to society and to civic life, take care of the environment


Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion
Be aware of others and their cultures, accept diversity within a democratic society, being included and including others

Overview | Notes for teachers 1 | Notes for teachers 2 | Notes for teachers 3 | Notes for teachers 4 | Student handout 1 | Student handout 2 | Student handout 3 | Student handout 4 | Student handout 5 | Student handout 6 | Student handout 7 | Student handout 8 | Student handout 9 | Student handout 10