Elections in the classroom

by Megan McCrone, Electoral Education Officer, AEC Canberra

Why do we need to teach about elections?

Australia is a representative democracy. This means the citizens of this country vote to elect representatives to speak and make decisions in the Commonwealth Parliament on their behalf. Every three years a federal election is held to determine these representatives. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is a statutory body whose role, outlined in The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, is to provide Australians with an 'independent electoral service that meets their needs and enhances their understanding of, and participation in, the electoral process'.

Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) outcomes and subject matter, are elements of each State and Territory's Social Education curriculum. CCE encompasses knowledge of the structures and processes of Australia's democratic system of government; this naturally enough includes principles and processes relating to elections. An important aspect of CCE is the knowledge and understanding of how to make the views of Australians known through engagement in the electoral processes. Concepts of representation and participation underpin the structures and processes of a representative democracy. This illustrates a clear connection between the AEC and CCE.

What concepts/knowledge are involved?

The role of the AEC, and the resources it provides, can be viewed under the heading of 'choosing our representatives'. Broadly speaking the AEC core business covers:

  • Australian electoral history/franchise
  • altering the Australian Constitution
  • representation
  • preferential and proportional systems of voting
  • stages in federal elections
  • constitutional referendums
  • participating in the electoral system.

These areas can be identified across a broad range of levels with the CCE curriculum. Examples vary from identifying a class representative or forming a class parliament, to the study of the history of our nation or the laws and politics of Australia.

What can the AEC provide?

Federal legislation specific to the AEC allows for the provision of identifiable outcomes in relation to electoral education. A key outcome is the opportunity of having an 'informed community'. Enrolling and voting are compulsory in Australia, so it makes sense that if the government continues to support compulsory voting that serves to engage the entire population, the means to understand the process in which the nation is involved must be provided.

The AEC's Education Section meets this challenge of 'informing the community' through the provision of the following.

  • Purpose-built Electoral Education Centres in Canberra and Perth where groups can visit, and through audio-visual and interactive displays, discover how the election process works.
  • Staff from AEC offices across Australia visit schools to present information sessions on voting
    and enrolment.
  • 'Your Vote Counts' is a professional development program that provides useful classroom strategies and ideas for teaching electoral education as part of Civics and Citizenship programs.
    A two-hour session is also available for trainee teachers.
  • Free and comprehensive educational resources. The AEC website (http://www.aec.gov.au/) has pages dedicated solely to education which offers information on AEC education resources including classroom magazines, videos and a teachers resource book - all available nation wide.

In conclusion the AEC is a stakeholder with which the education community can actively engage and accomplish desired learning outcomes/goals of the CCE.