Solving some Civics and Citizenship Education conundrums

by Suzanne Mellor, Australian Council for Educational Research Project Manager for the IEA Civic Education Study and MCEETYA Civics and Citizenship Assessment Project

In April 1999, the State, Territory and Commonwealth Ministers of Education, meeting in the tenth Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), agreed to the new National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century (the Adelaide Declaration). Two of these goals reference Civics and Citizenship outcomes.

Adelaide Declaration Goal 1.3 states that students should 'have the capacity to exercise judgement and responsibility in matters of morality, ethics and social justice, and the capacity to make sense of their world, to think about how things got to be the way they are, to make rational and informed decisions about their lives and to accept responsibility for their own actions'.

Adelaide Declaration Goal 1.4 specifies that when students leave school they should be 'active and informed citizens with an understanding and appreciation of Australia's system of government and civic life'.

National assessment in Civics and Citizenship

In early 2003, MCEETYA let the contract to develop and trial assessment instruments in Civics and Citizenship for the national sample assessment of students in Years 6 and 10, to be conducted in October 2004. Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) has gained a serious and permanent profile on the national education scene.

Not all sections of the education community have realised this significant enhancement in the profile of CCE. Those experienced in CCE are wondering how to best proceed with resolving the conundrums associated with CCE in the light of this increased, and slightly changed, profile of CCE. Until the Assessment Trial Report is presented to the Performance Measurement and Reporting Taskforce (PMRT) of MCEETYA in March 2004, uncertainty is likely to remain high.

The author hopes that some clarification of some aspects of CCE and its implementation may be of assistance to those who are considering what they should do in preparation for the national sample assessment, titled the Civics and Citizenship Assessment Project. The questions posed in the headings that follow are the most commonly asked, and are those to which answers are needed when a school is trying to implement CCE. A feature of CCE is its interconnectedness, thus a 'whole-school' approach produces the best learning outcomes. But even partial implementation of what is suggested in this article is certainly going to be better for students. The fuller the implementation the more effectively will students learn, and the better they will be able to demonstrate their learning in the national sample assessment in Civics and Citizenship in 2004, and in subsequent years.

Are Civics and Citizenship the same animal?

No. And it is very important to recognise this fact.

For the national sample assessment, MCEETYA has made very clear that there are important distinctions to be made between Civics and Citizenship. It has required that assessment instruments be constructed that will distinguish between the two areas. Separate scales are to be developed, with student outcomes represented on both scales. The two key performance measures are:
KPM1: Knowledge & Understanding of Civic Institutions & Processes; and
KPM2: Citizenship: Dispositions & Skills for Participation.

What is the difference between Civics and Citizenship learning outcomes?

The short answer is that Civics relates to civic knowledge and Citizenship is dispositional (attitudes, values, dispositions and skills). Interpretation lies at the heart of Civics and Citizenship Education.

Civics is the more defined of the two. It is the study of Australian democracy, its history, traditions, structures and processes; our democratic culture … the ways Australian society is managed, by whom and to what end. Even these simple definitions indicate contested areas which will be encountered in the teaching and learning of Civics.

On the other hand, Citizenship is the development of the skills, attitudes, beliefs and values that will predispose students to participate, to become and remain engaged and involved in that society/ culture/democracy. A rich and complex set of understandings, based on civics knowledge and attitudes or values, plus the opportunity to experience, to practise civic competencies, is required for effective citizenship education. Without civic knowledge and a disposition to engage, a person cannot effectively practise citizenship.

Must Civics and Citizenship Education always be 'problematic'?

Yes, they should be. The staff and students will need to practise a problematising approach in the teaching and the learning of Civics and Citizenship. As a result of the problematic and contested nature of much of Civics and Citizenship, teachers will need to model and manage an open classroom environment. Students will need to learn how to manage difference of opinion, and develop attitudes and skills in regards to difference and contestation.

But Civics is about facts and narrative, and these bases must be laid and understood by all. The decision-making processes that underpin much of the management of a democratic society are complex, and require an agreed body of evidence to be in place before options can be canvassed or exercised. Each time a new narrative or issue arises or is addressed, the basic evidence of the narrative should be evaluated before positions on the issue are taken up by teachers or learners.

Convictions about what constitute important matters underpin Citizenship. Many of the concepts inherent in Citizenship, such as identity and engagement (personal, familial, local, national and global) are intensely individually held, and yet they are also socially shared. How shared, to what degree, with whom and why are the kinds of issues addressed in Citizenship. Clearly there are many options to be explored here, and few right answers. Central is that participants openly explore their convictions and gain competency in engagement.

Is Civics and Citizenship a subject?

The short answer is no. Because teaching Civics and Citizenship will generate learning outcomes that relate to a range of issues and skills, it can be meaningfully connected to any learning area. It is possible to have CCE learning outcomes built into all curricular and extracurricular activities and programs. All jurisdictions have CCE learning outcomes listed in their curriculum documents. There are commonalities in these jurisdiction curriculum documents. Some are more all-encompassing than others, but the possibilities are endless, and practitioners should feel free to adopt an approach that suits their clientele and the agreed learning outcomes/goals.

Is there a nationally agreed core Civics and Citizenship curriculum?

No. But for the MCEETYA national sample assessment trial the project team has had to generate a document which defines the assessment domain. This has been done with the active involvement of CCE curriculum experts from each State and Territory, through the PMRT Review Committee.

How is it best to deliver the problematics of CCE?

Within the guidelines provided by the appropriate education jurisdictions, a school community can decide what CCE learning outcomes it wishes to deliver. Unlike other educational fields, since in CCE there are few unequivocally right answers, stakeholders in the educational community can actively decide how the school community thinks it should proceed. How does one prioritise the civic knowledge to be taught? (Rules and laws, or the history of unions or federation, or parliamentary processes, or the role of civic and political institutions? The list is almost endless.) What is considered important, for whom, and why? What does our school value here?

Civics and Citizenship Education requires that a conversation take place between all stakeholders, on an ongoing basis. An audit of existing programs for their CCE components is useful, and they should be linked to a consideration of the preferred outcomes, the mission statement, if you like, of the school. Explicit identification of CCE learning objectives, for groups and individuals, must be written down. The programs in CCE need to be evaluated against those goals. If the school has a will to resolve issues within its body politic, then CCE is the way to go. Participation in school governance can be an excellent vehicle for achieving Civics and Citizenship learning outcomes.

If this stakeholder conversation is not maintained, the CCE program's goals will not be met. The potential for conflict over the content and delivery of CCE is bound to bring the programs to grief. Additionally, by engaging in this conversation, stakeholders are modelling citizenship, which is all grist to the CCE mill. It is essential to recall that students are one of the key stakeholder groups – regardless of age or level – and they need to be involved in the decision making.

Is this CCE product best delivered in or out of formal classrooms?

The answer here is that CCE is most effectively delivered through both. Premium delivery requires a synthesising of the whole life of the school around the larger educational goals. It should involve classroom teaching, modelling of democratic school governance, and out-of-classroom activities. Only in this manner can the learning outcomes of both parts of the assessment domains be met.

How do we link the extracurricular activities with the classroom curriculum?

To date, in Australia in CCE deliver, schools have generally favoured either a stand-alone classroom curriculum unit or an outside-classroom activity program, and have failed to link the two. Little evidence exists of such programs providing long-lasting effects. So this approach will not suffice in the future, because it does not result in civic learning outcomes, even where some citizenship learning outcomes occur. Without the contextual or evidential bases, students do not learn. For effective CCE learning a program linking both extracurricular activities with the classroom curriculum is necessary.

How do we avoid student cynicism about CCE and school governance?

Schools need to provide all students with opportunities to actively participate, in classrooms and in school governance. Teachers need to model good citizenship, and schools need to provide models of, and practice in, democratic decision making. The core of Citizenship education is that all stakeholders be empowered, and once schools teach the substance of such a curriculum, they will find that students will want opportunities to practise what they've been taught about democracy and governance, about participation and engagement. To deny them this is to risk cynicism in students.

How do we address the pedagogical challenges?

The most intense pedagogic CCE conundrum lies in Citizenship in secondary schools. How can schools and teachers ensure that students learn in a negotiative way what they need to know about democracy when most students say they are not interested in knowing anything about it? The IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) Civic Education Study demonstrated that students care about democracy but that they don't like politics or civil rights. Of course kids have to learn lots of things in school they neither like nor appreciate until later when they understand their relevance. Similarly in CCE, only here it is harder, because we are asking them to care as well as learn. It is a very big ask if they have not already gained some civic knowledge in primary school, and realise that democracy can be weakened by disengagement. It helps a lot if students believe they can make a difference in their own place. They need to feel engaged and practise engagement in their school life.

When outside-classroom CCE opportunities, such as participation in school governance, are provided, student interest in formal civic knowledge generally increases, as it is seen to be more relevant to them. Considerable evidence exists to suggest that student beliefs in the value of their democratic institutions rises as their civic knowledge increases.

Which Australian teachers can teach CCE?

There are two issues to be distinguished here. One is that Australian teachers, as a cohort, do not possess the required civic knowledge, and few teacher training institutions are prioritising pre-training in the area. The IEA Civic Education Study demonstrated that only 1% of teachers surveyed (and they were predominantly teachers in the areas of English and Social Education) had studied civics in their undergraduate degree, and only 3% had a postgraduate diploma with a civics component. Of the twenty topics they deemed central to Civics education, up to one-third of the Australian teachers surveyed reported they felt not at all confident to teach them.

If a school is intending to implement a CCE program it will need teachers competent to teach it. In the light of teachers' description of their competence to teach Civics, each school should seek out a lead teacher with an interest in the area, and provide them with professional development. In the last seven years, hundreds of Australian teachers have received CCE professional development, funded through the Discovering Democracy program. Schools should find their trained teacher and have them professionally develop the rest of the staff.

The second issue relates to the importance of enhancing the open-classroom pedagogic capacity of the teaching profession and the development of skills in meshing classroom and whole-school activities in order to meet the learning outcomes referenced in the National Goals. It relates to the need for teachers to better understand the importance of modelling democratic behaviours in teaching their students CCE competencies and knowledge. This pedagogy is not intuitive to most teachers, especially secondary teachers, and many tend to believe that CCE is just part of SOSE! Professional development will help with this foolishness!

What resources are there?

They are everywhere, but not catalogued as we would expect with a regular curriculum. The discipline-based textbooks are the teachers' starting point for civics knowledge, law, politics, history, culture and so on. The media is jam-packed with materials that students need to get their heads around. This is where the Civics and the Citizenship can start to come together. Students have opinions and like them to be canvassed and respected. What they don't know will become evident to an alert teacher, who will add to their civic knowledge. Connect has case studies of how students in other schools engage in decision making in their schools, and it contains information that is crucial for both teachers and students. The Discovering Democracy materials are a useful source for some aspects of CCE, and every school in Australia already has them, so they need to be located and used.

Why should schools bother to deliver CCE?

Because it matters. If citizens of the future are to be fully engaged in the democratic process they must have a solid understanding of the democratic institutions that underpin that process. Schools can both teach and model such learning. Research evidence demonstrates that schools benefit from having more knowledgeable school citizens. In this democratic society we cannot afford for schools to fail to encourage CCE learning outcomes. The national sample assessment of students in Civics and Citizenship in 2004 will give Australian educators their first indication of just how well primary and secondary schools are delivering both aspects of the CCE product.

Connect: Supporting Student Participation is available from Roger Holdsworth on (03) 9489 9502 and at

Kennedy et al May 2003, Teachers Talking Civics: Current Constructions of Civics and Citizenship Education in Australian Schools, Australian Curriculum Studies Association.

Mellor, S, Kennedy, K and Greenwood, L 2002, Citizenship and Democracy: Students' Knowledge and Beliefs – Australian Fourteen Year Olds and The IEA Civic Education Study, Australian Council for Educational Research. Available as a download at