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National Curriculum Development

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While the move towards a national curriculum started in the 1970s (see R. Moroz, 2000), a renewed push in the 1980s came about with the evidence of increased mobility of families between the States. However, more importantly, the role of education in national economic policy planning became a focus with the rise of ‘economic rationalism’ and ‘globalisation’. 

  A national curriculum framework has been developed and integrated with an approach that has replaced specific subject content syllabuses with learning areas, generalised outcome statements, and a framework of sequential standards of achievement indicative of student growth through the entire period of compulsory education.

 In addition, a truly national curriculum not only has to overcome State boundaries but also the government/non-government divide, especially when the latter group accounts for between 20-30 per cent of compulsory enrolment. This comprehensiveness needs to be effected through State Curriculum Council Acts. 

The process in the 1990s was also associated with the introduction of ‘managerialism’, strategic planning, quality assurance and the devolution of professional decision-making from centralised bureaucracies. 

It appears that there is more than one thing here. There is a whole raft of changes with the potential to radically alter Australia schooling systems. Any evaluation of civics and citizenship education has to be considered within such a context.

 The main federal initiative concerned a nation-wide curriculum. In 1986 the Australian Education Council, comprising all Ministers of Education, resolved to support the concept of a national collaborative effort in curriculum development. Later, in 1989, the Australian Education Council accepted the ten common goals for schooling in Australia known as the Hobart Declaration. Eight learning areas were identified and the writing of statements and profile for each was commissioned. 

The seventh common goal was:

To develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which will enable students to participate as active and informed citizens in our democratic Australian society within an international context (Marsh, 2001, 167).

Between 1988 and 1993, statements and profiles were completed with Commonwealth facilitation and supervision, but the publication and implementation were left to the States. Welsh comments (1996, 82) that misgivings among some states persisted about the extent of federal intervention in what had historically and constitutionally been a State matter.

After 1993, the federal tier of government lost interest in the initiative and the States have modified the earlier consensus (see Marsh, 2001, 180-191).

In particular relation to the teaching of civics and citizenship, there is continuing concern that the Society & Environment learning area focuses on the generalisations from the range of social sciences but that history as one of the humanities loses its continuous narrative status and is fragmented to illustrate particular themes and case studies. Many would prefer to see a ninth learning area called Australian Studies where Australian history, geography, literature and the arts can be correlated to illustrate the importance of the particular (idiographic), leaving Society & Environment to develop general laws (nomothetic). Only the current Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, seems to have the will to act here but note that LaTrobe University is planning a first degree in Studies in Western Civilization. 

The second and separate initiative for citizenship education from the federal tier of government came from the Senate.  In 1989, the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training conducted an inquiry, Education for Active Citizenship, which indicated that young people lacked knowledge of, and were ignorant about, politics and bureaucratic systems (Print et al, 2001, 3).  In 1991, the Senate Committee called for more research into the motivation of individuals to engage in active citizenship.

These issues were linked to the Australian republic push by the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, when he established a Civics Expert Group to investigate the education of Australians about the federal Constitution.  The Group’s Report, Whereas the people…(1994) found a low level of understanding and called for more systematic civics and citizenship education linked to the National Goal Seven. 

Further, and despite a change of Government, in March 1996 the Federal Government in its May 1997 budget allocated $25 millions to establish Civics Education programs in educational institutions and in the community. The Civics and Citizenship Education Program was renamed the Discovering Democracy project.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.