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Preparing Teachers for a Civil Society

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Between 1970 and 2000, teacher education was deeply affected by a number of changes coming from the State and federal governments, the universities and the profession itself. These changes include:

·         removal of teacher education from employer control;

·         university takeover of the whole process;

·         extension of teacher education preservice period from two to four years;

·         lack of clarity over the emerging roles of teachers:

·                curriculum designer

·                manager of learning

·                manager of student behaviour at school

·                role model as life-long learner;

·         the role of professional socialisation processes within universities;

·         depletion of the cultural life of the new universities;

·         universities slow to respond to changes in schools following State legislation to establish the Curriculum Council and new School Education Act.

These changes have yet to be absorbed by the education system and new policies on civics, citizenship education and the appreciation of a civil society and values education cannot be implemented without a full awareness by teacher education institutions. 

As already indicated, schooling for a civil society should follow the cycle of plan, do and review. It should start with the determination of the curriculum by as comprehensive a group of stakeholders as possible, including teachers. Then should follow the selection and preparation of the teachers who will implement the curriculum. Finally, all the stakeholders evaluate the outcomes. In other words, while teachers are trained in curriculum theory involving the development, implementation and evaluation of curriculum, their specific professional role rests with the implementation stage. 

The implementation stage involves the teacher in knowing content and in being able to design appropriate learning activities, including the selection of resources. Courses in teacher education and professional socialisation must involve a study of:

·         The nature of the society and culture in which schooling is instituted;

·         The nature of the curriculum and knowledge;

·         The nature of the child, childhood and youth; and

·         The nature of the learning processes.

The basic professional disciplines include philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, linguistics, psychology, and the study of teaching as both an art and a science. In addition, there are the content areas relevant to the learning areas and teacher specialisations. 

There have been major changes in the processes of teacher education over the past 30 years in response to changes in society itself but, in particular, the increasing demand for much higher levels of educational achievement across the whole society. 

In 1870, Western Australia tried to introduce English-style local School Boards which would have been an interesting step towards a civil society but the small and scattered nature of the population and the multiplicity of religious denominations made this almost unworkable. (By 1920, the community consultation role of the School Boards had been taken over by the more restricted role of the Parents and Citizens Associations.) In 1890, full internal self-government was granted and education became one of the four original ministries of the new government with the Education Department established in 1893 charged with the introduction of ‘free, compulsory and secular’ education between the ages of six and 12 years (later 14) for all non-Indigenous children in Western Australia. 

Within 20 years of responsible government the basic context for teacher education was established; compulsory primary education 1893, Perth Technical College 1900, Claremont Teachers Training College 1902, the first State high school (Perth Modern School) 1909, and The University of Western Australia in 1911. A pattern of teacher education was soon established that was to last until the 1970s. For primary teaching there was a preservice two-year Teachers Certificate, and for secondary teaching a university degree in one of the basic disciplines (English, French, German, History, Geography, Economics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics etc), followed by a one year graduate Diploma in Education. To matriculate into the teaching profession at either the University or Teachers College, students typically had to pass seven subjects chosen from the list above and studied at secondary school for five years. Secondary education was selective and only a tiny minority completed the five years. 

In relation to the teaching of civics and citizenship there were a number of significant features. All primary teachers were expected to have studied some Australian history (largely political and economic) and some Australian geography (largely physical and economic). If they had not studied these at secondary school level, they had to study at least one unit of history or geography content as part of their Teacher’s Certificate course. Secondary teachers of history were expected to hold a degree with a major in history and to teach a content established by the Public Examinations Board which comprised subject committees led by university specialist staff. 

In addition, students at the teachers’ colleges participated in interest clubs and voluntary associations which were self-governing and provided a training experience for the teachers as community leaders and for their involvement in voluntary associations. Students also participated in various rituals, communal activities and assemblies as part of the process of professional socialisation. Finally, all students received training in pastoral care by being allocated a staff mentor with whom they met regularly. These aspects of teacher education were not always valued for what they were. 

For secondary teachers, the four-year degree plus diploma meant that for three years they were not in a process of professional socialisation but were free to participate in the clubs and associations which were found in the universities of the time. However, the one-year diploma became a compacted year of teacher preparation. The content they taught in secondary schools was the content they studied in their undergraduate courses. 

All this was to change in the 1970s, but before we leave this period it is worth noting that the contribution of the State teachers colleges and the state primary and secondary schools toward an Australian identity, citizenship and a civil society has not really been acknowledged. For most Australians of the period 1870 to 1970 the local State primary school was the only common cultural experience in addition to the common language. 

From 1970 through to 2001, teacher education has been subjected to fundamental challenges from without and the authority of the curriculum has been undermined, content has been ignored in the promotion of process, and ‘education’ has been pushed aside by an emphasis on ‘training’. 

In 1972, the teachers’ colleges (Claremont 1902, Graylands 1955, Secondary 1968, Mount Lawley 1970, and Churchlands 1972) were excised from the control of the Education Department and given autonomy, access to federal funding and all academic positions were made subject to open advertisement. Each college was given a governing board under a loose Western Australian Teacher Education Authority. In addition Curtin, Murdoch and The University of Western Australia were allowed to offer full preservice degree courses as well as postgraduate courses. 

In 1982, the colleges were amalgamated into the Western Australian College of Advanced Education which thus became the educator of most of the State’s teachers. Finally, with the Federal Government’s decision to do away with the binary system of higher education by creating 38 public universities. WACAE was designated as Edith Cowan University.

Associated with these changes were a numbers of others that have affected the ability and willingness of the schools/faculties of teacher education to respond to the changes in educational expectations. Firstly, the length of preservice teacher education has doubled. In 1968, the long-standing two-year Teacher’s Certificate was replaced by a three-year Diploma of Teaching. In the mid-1980s this was upgraded to a Bachelor in Education which could be converted by a fourth year of study, while teaching, into a Bachelor of Education. By 1998, all teachers were expected to complete a preservice Bachelor of Education degree. An analysis of the content of these extended degrees might suggest that they would have been better described as Bachelor of Teaching degrees. The relationship between education and teaching is analogous to that between medicine and surgery.

Secondly, as the secondary schools responded to meet the needs of secondary education after 1955, the type of education background of prospective teachers changed but little analysis was done to ensure that gaps in the secondary background of teachers in secondary content areas were being addressed during the extended period of teacher education. From earliest times teacher education has always included the secondary education as the basis for primary teachers’ content and a secondary teacher was expected to have a first degree in the content area to be taught. This has affected the preparation of teachers of citizenship.

Thirdly, the universities as new players in the full program of teacher education failed to provide for the complete professional education of new teachers with a reasoned integration of preservice, inservice, graduate and postgraduate teacher education. Either teacher education was interpreted narrowly as little more than curriculum and instruction or would-be teachers were deemed as needing to be educated in the liberal arts, with a program controlled by specialists in the sciences, social sciences and humanities but with minimal focus on the nature of children and adolescents or on the processes and curriculum requirements of schooling. 

Furthermore, there was little input from stakeholders such as parents, citizens, government or the teaching profession. Academic leadership in universities and schools has become somewhat unclear as designated principals, heads of university schools and deans have become managers of physical and human resources. The monitoring of what is being taught in schools and universities and how well it is being taught and learned is dangerously unclear. Even the processes of peer review of curricula, a strong feature of the former colleges of advanced education, are not established fully in universities despite the Commonwealth Quality Audits of the early 1990s.  

At a time when there are claims about a knowledge-based society, it is uncertain as to whether many teachers can distinguish between information and knowledge. Teachers are trained in questioning techniques but there are no guarantees that they know the content areas from which the questions are drawn, nor just how the questions may help the students to convert information into conceptual knowledge. 

It is within this context that the perceived need for explicit values education, civics, citizenship and a civil society has to be seen. It is one thing for federal politicians to fund the notion of active citizenship within Australia’s democracy and quite another to have it implemented within Australia’s schools. 

What is happening now? A survey was conducted among the schools/faculties of education within the four public universities in Perth and into the four-year Bachelor of Education degrees (Early Childhood, Primary and Secondary) and the one-year Graduate Diplomas of Education. 

Responses were received from each university with some seven responses from Society & Environment specialist staff covering both degree and diploma courses.

In each course there was a semester-length core unit on the curriculum and teaching of the Society & Environment learning area for all early childhood and primary specialists and for relevant major and minor students in the secondary specialism. About 10 per cent of the time and learning activities in each of these core units was allocated to values, civics and citizenship education. 

In addition each university provided opportunities for students to elect to do extra units in the teaching of values, civics and citizenship but few students chose to study these units and in the relevant content areas of history and political science there were few units to enable students to explore Australian political and economic history with even smaller percentages of students choosing to study them. 

In response to a question about the preparedness of student teachers to teach civics and citizenship education, the responses varied from ‘basic and sound’ in relation to teaching strategies to ‘poor and negative’ in relation to background content. The Society & Environment lecturers are part of larger organisational units and when asked about the priority that civics and citizenship education has within the schools of education, the majority of responses indicated that the Society & Environment lecturers were keen within the restraints of a crowded curriculum but that lecturers in schools of education as a whole had little understanding and even less commitment.

Finally, in response to a question about the civics and citizenship education focus within Society & Environment, most drew attention to the good work being done by the Commonwealth-funded Discovering Democracy team in producing resources and in the implementation and inservicing of teachers by the special task force. The Discovering Democracy taskforce is not only involved in the very extensive on-the-job training program in schools, but also is used by the schools of education in the universities to provide training and awareness for preservice teachers.

In response to an open question, it is significant that only one of the seven responses offered any reference to the connection between ‘active citizenship’ and a civil society and what universities and schools may be able to do about promoting these. The interpretation given to civics and citizenship education was essentially that of ensuring that the students ‘knew the facts’, the privileges of citizenship and the challenges faced by schools in moving from learning ‘that’ to ‘learning how to do that’.  

In short, the civics and citizenship education specialists thought that the subject was important, considered that they were doing the best that they could in an unresponsive environment and a restrictive, overcrowded curriculum.

The present situation for teacher education for civics, citizenship education and a civil society is unsatisfactory. The solution to this basic challenge rests with both the universities as well as with the wider society. The responses here confirm the findings and support the conclusions of a recent national review of the Discovering Democracy project within civics and citizenship education (see Print, Moroz and Reynolds, 2001, 208-210). 

Universities must grow to appreciate the complex nature of the teaching profession and to see teachers, even university teachers, as people with more than a liberal arts education and a piece of chalk, or as trainees who know about classroom communication and behavioural management but who are not very learned in any area of knowledge and who are not role models of lifelong learning.

A national curriculum demands a national understanding of the role of schools, schooling and teaching. From this should emerge the guidelines for national teacher education. Western Australia already has the makings of a publicly-accountable Curriculum Council and the new Education Act has the potential  through its proposed school councils to convert ‘State’ schools into ‘public’ schools. Together the legislation has the power to ensure that ‘private’ schooling, in so far as it receives public moneys and is monitored by the Curriculum Council, also meets the requirements for schooling within a civil society.

The teacher education curriculum must include secondary education, preservice university education, postgraduate and inservice education. Within this ideal construct of what is essential for a professional teacher and educator, entrants into teaching need to be positioned so that omissions in their secondary education can be met. The critically reflective practitioner must be able to distinguish between knowledge and information, education and training, and must be able to justify which knowledge is of the most worth and the nature of the good life. 

Schooling as a process has four general aims. These are:

1.         Maintenance of the cultural heritage (achieved through the study of the humanities and the arts);

2.          Preparation for social and cultural change (achieved through the study of mathematics, sciences and social sciences);

3.         Encouragement of individuality (achieved through the practice of the performing and creative arts and physical culture);

4.         Development of a sense of community (achieved through the study of values and civics and the practice of active citizenship within a civil society).

Not each of these four aims has received or is receiving equal priority in history nor in stages of child development nor levels of education. However, all the content and processes listed above are variably represented in the whole of the schooling process. During the past 30 years preparation for social and cultural change and the development of individuality have received most emphasis with much less on cultural heritage and the sense of community, values and citizenship. While State and federal governments have made moves to address this situation, the university schools of education have been slow to respond.

Their response must be not only to insist that certain studies and content are essential for all teachers, but also to ensure that the professional socialisation processes within the university schools of education incorporate the basic elements of a civil society. This means the encouragement of voluntary associations reflecting a wide range of social and cultural interests as well as a comprehensive range of stakeholders being involved in the determination and evaluation of the teacher education curriculum.  

If the Western Australian Curriculum Council declares that civics and citizenship education should not only be part of the Society & Environment learning area but should also be, like the shared core values of Australian society, taught across the whole curriculum, then the schools of education must change course structures and their whole operation to ensure that graduates are able to implement the new initiatives effectively. If civics and citizenship education requires teachers to know something about Australia’s political and economic history then such studies should be mandatory for all teachers.

Interestingly, the State Education Acts do not mandate any studies but proscribe dogmatic theology (but not general religious instruction) and polemical politics from State schools. Curriculum is left to tradition and the teaching profession. In contrast, within most of the State systems in the United States the teaching of American history is mandated at all levels.

In terms of remedial action, there is an interesting parallel case study of Aboriginal Studies by teacher education students. In 1992, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that all teachers be taught a unit of Aboriginal Studies and the Commission recommended that the implementation of its recommendations be monitored on an annual basis. Initially nothing happened within the university schools of education other than that a small minority of students continued to choose to study an elective of Aboriginal Studies.

However, in 1996 the Director General of Education in Western Australia issued a policy statement that from 1998 no new graduate teachers would be employed by the State Education Department if they did not have at least one unit of Aboriginal Studies within their degree. The four State universities moved quickly to change course structures to ensure that their graduates would not be disadvantaged in seeking employment within the State system. Only nine of Australia’s 38 public universities have such a compulsory unit even though all States and territories have accepted the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Of the nine, four are in Western Australia. Such is the power of the prospective employer to cut through the labyrinthine nature of academic politics!

This parallel is instructive. If the public and governments truly believe in the critical importance of civics, citizenship education, democracy and civil society, then the employing authorities have the power to withhold employment of teachers lacking the relevant concepts, skills and values in any school system (State or independent or private) which is in receipt of public moneys and which is under the monitoring of the Curriculum Council of Western Australia.