Democracy must be taught in curriculum, says academic

What level of understanding do Australian youth have about democracy and what it actually means?

Very little, says Murray Print, professor and chair of education at the University of Sydney.

Print told The Educator that for such an important subject, it’s glaringly absent from the NSW curriculum – and that needs to change.

“Australian youth have a superficial understanding of Australian democracy. There is research evidence to show that they, in general, lack deep understanding of what democracy actually means and how it functions in Australia,” Print said.

“In international comparative studies our youth perform around the international average.”

The reason for this average scorecard, said Print, is the refusal by the Board Of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) to implement a key component of the 2008 Melbourne Declaration – the Australian Civics and Citizenship Curriculum (ACCC).

Pint is also the lead writer of that curriculum, which has the responsibility for teaching children about democracy.

However Print said that while NSW students might encounter “some” education of democracy in history and geography, Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) is not taught as a school subject as it should be.

“The importance of Civics and Citizenship is seen in the Melbourne Declaration of 2008 – agreed to by all states and territories – that a central goal of schooling in Australia is that all young Australians become active and informed citizens.

“One could argue that BOSTES, by not implementing the ACCC, is in conflict with that declaration.”

Print said that while students will undoubtedly learn about democracy from various sources, there is no guarantee they will be unbiased or accurate.

Print said the “traditional conservatism of NSW education bureaucracy” had become a major impediment to change.

“There appears to be little or no support within BOSTES to implement the ACCC - unlike every other state and territory. Check the BOSTES website and you'll find a dearth of what is arguably a central component of our life,” Print said.

Print added that “democracy is not a natural condition” and has to be acquired. School, he suggests, is the most appropriate place for students to learn about democracy.

“Young people will, of course, learn about democracy from many sources but there is no guarantee that these sources will be unbiased and accurate,” he said.

“If we want a successful, sustained democracy based on active, informed citizens then learning about democracy in an unbiased and accurate manner is essential.”

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