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Civic education a must for Australian Schools

Media release 4 minute read

JOINT MEDIA RELEASE 20 March 2001 Civic education a must for Australian Schools What do young people around the world think about democracy? Do they understand how democratic institutions work? Do they expect to vote and to take part in other civic activities as adults? The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the University of Canberra (UC) have highlighted today the results of an international study that has attempted to address these questions. Citizenship and Education in Twenty-eight Countries: Civic Knowledge and Engagement at Age Fourteen, by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), was released today in Washington and Berlin, culminating five years of cross-national research involving 28 countries. ACER and UC worked on the Australian component of the international project. It found that of 28 countries involved in the study, Australia was placed 11th, at a level comparable to Hungary, Slovenia, Denmark, Germany, Russian Federation, England, Sweden, Switzerland and Bulgaria. Australia was placed behind Poland, Finland, Cyprus, Greece, Hong Kong, USA, Italy, Slovak Republic, Norway and Czech Republic. The study found that students in most countries have an understanding of fundamental democratic values and institutions – but depth of understanding is a problem. Preliminary results from the Australian National Report reveal that 75 per cent of Australian students recognise the importance of having more than one political party. The rate was similar for students elsewhere in the world. Young people throughout the world agreed that good citizenship includes the obligation to vote. In Australia, 89 per cent thought it important that citizens vote, and 85 per cent expected to vote as adults. Only 55 per cent believe they learn about the importance of voting in school. Aside from voting, students are skeptical about traditional forms of political engagement. But many are open to other types of involvement in civic life. Australian students, like those internationally, do not intend to participate in conventional political activities, other than voting. Eighty-nine per cent do not expect to join a political party, 76 per cent do not expect to write letters to newspapers about social or political concerns, and 87 per cent do not expect to be a candidate for a local or city office. However, Australian students indicated they were prepared to be involved in civic life, with 62 per cent saying they would collect money for a social cause. Students in the international study are drawn to television as their source of news. Television news is the preferred source of information for 80 per cent of Australian students, though about two-thirds of them also read about what is happening in this country and in other countries in the newspapers, and 62 per cent also listen to radio news. Watching television news frequently is associated with higher civic knowledge. In Australia, this had a greater effect than for students internationally. Students around the world are supportive of the political rights of women and of immigrants. In Australia, 90 per cent of students agreed that women should have the same rights as men, and 93 per cent agreed that women should be entitled to equal pay for the same job. In all countries females demonstrated much more support than males for propositions in favour of women’s rights. Professor Geoff Masters, Director of ACER encouraged all educators to familiarise themselves with the results of the IEA report and plan accordingly. "Schools can help to build more civic-minded students by paying attention to this area of the curriculum," Professor Masters said. "In Australia, civic knowledge was lower than the international average, and civic engagement was also down. But the study’s results suggest that student participation in school governance – for example by being a member of a school council – helps build students’ confidence in the value of participation and is correlated with their civic knowledge and likelihood of voting." UC’s Professor Kerry Kennedy said. "It is encouraging to note there is evidence of a growing civic awareness among young Australians especially in relation to equity issues such as women’s rights". Professor Masters and Professor Kennedy said they recommended that policy makers, teachers parents and students continue to examine the role of civic education in the school curriculum so that Australia’s citizens of the future would be well prepared for their role in a democratic society. ACER and UC were funded by the Commonwealth Government to organise Australian participation in the international study. ACER conducted surveys of over 3000 students, 400 teachers and 150 schools throughout Australia in 1999. Internationally, 90 000 students were surveyed. Following the release of this international report, the Australian National Report, which will include a more detailed analysis of the Australian results will be available in mid-2001.

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