Tag Archives: Zlatko Skrbis

Schools are not adequately preparing young Australians to participate in our democracy

The Conversation

File 20171211 9386 g1ceyf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
As young Australians approach voting age they need simple, clear and practical instructions about the mechanics of how government works and how to vote. Shutterstock

Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University; Jacqueline Laughland-Booy, Monash University, and Zlatko Skrbis, Monash University

Australia’s youth are interested in politics and are passionate about issues but, unless we take note of the latest report into civics and citizenship education, their capacity to participate in democracy and shape society in future may be limited.

Since 2004, the National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship (NAP-CC) has been administered every three years to a national sample of year six and ten students. It’s used to measure students’ level of knowledge about subjects including Australian government, judiciary and democratic processes, and explores their attitudes towards civic participation.

The 2016 NAP-CC report has just been released and the results show some concerning, but familiar, trends.

As with previous assessments, the percentage of Australian students achieving the proficient standard remains low. This is a point on a scale that represents what has been deemed as a challenging but reasonable expectation of student achievement for their year level.

The report shows 55% of year 6 students achieved at or above the standard.

More problematic is the fact the rate of year 10 students attaining this standard was just 38%. This is the lowest result on record.


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Civics and citizenship is a government priority

Enhancing young people’s understanding of civics and citizenship has been a priority for successive Australian governments.

The Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship was developed in 2012/2013 to provide educators with tools to teach students about democracy and civic participation. This curriculum is delivered to students from Year 3 to Year 10. It’s based on the principle that informed and committed citizens will advance a robust democracy and schools play a vital role in preparing young people for the responsibilities of adult citizenship.


Read more: National curriculum review: experts respond


This latest report into civics and citizenship education is the first opportunity for educators to see how students are performing under the new curriculum, and the results are disappointing. It shows by Year 10, Australian school students don’t possess the fundamentals deemed necessary to become active, informed citizens.

So what else should be done to help prepare our young people to participate in the democratic process?

What do young people think?

We have been undertaking research with recent school leavers aged 18 and 19 about their preparedness to participate in the Australian political process.

Many have told us they’re interested in political issues, but are uncertain about how the system works.

They also believe more could’ve been done to address this knowledge deficit while they were in school.


Read more: Young Australians are engaged in political issues, but unsure how democracy works


These high school graduates reported, while they could recall the subject being covered when they were in primary and early secondary school, they did not remember what had been taught.

The young people we spoke to suggested civics and citizenship education be extended through to Year 12. Interestingly, they wanted it to be viewed more as a life skill (similar to drug and alcohol education, for example) and not an academic subject.

They said young people need support when they’re approaching voting age and it would be useful for schools to assist with enrolment and provide basic information about the system of voting.

As one 18-year-old put it:

The last time that my high school spoke about politics I was in Year 9. I was 14 years old. I’m not voting yet, it’s not relevant to me, I’m not even 16. I can’t even go to the doctors by myself.

A simple and clear explanation in late high school would help alleviate the feelings of uncertainty first-time voters can experience when they go to cast a vote at the ballot box.

As another 18-year-old said about her peers:

So many of my friends said to me, “which box do I tick?” and, “what do you mean I have to go above the line and below the line?”. Basic definitions and terminology is really important.

Where to from here?

The 2016 National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship report tells us by Year 10, a majority of school students have little knowledge about Australian civics and democracy. This is concerning, especially as many students don’t encounter the topic later in high school, yet they will be required to vote when they turn 18.

We need to ensure all young people have the basic skills required to engage in Australia’s political process. As young Australians approach voting age they need simple, clear and practical instructions about the mechanics of how government works and how to vote.

The ConversationSchool is the best place to teach this and it should be covered in the senior years. Doing so would help more young people become confident and empowered participants in Australia’s democracy.

Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University; Jacqueline Laughland-Booy, Research Associate in Sociology, Monash University, and Zlatko Skrbis, Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Young Australians are engaged in political issues, but unsure how democracy works

The Conversation

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Research shows young people are passionate about issues like marriage equality, but many do not understand how governments are formed and prime ministers elected. Shutterstock

Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University; Jacqueline Laughland-Booy, Monash University, and Zlatko Skrbis, Monash University

The importance of Australians having the knowledge and skills to participate as active citizens is always a prominent issue. But in the past few months, it has been at the forefront of public discussion.

Recently, the federal government announced significant changes to citizenship laws, which includes a tougher test. It argues that more care is needed to ensure all new migrants understand the rules and responsibilities associated with becoming an Australian.

However, it’s not just new arrivals who may be unsure about the workings of Australia’s system of government and democracy. Many of Australia’s more established citizens may also be in the dark. With several federal MPs waiting for the High Court to determine their eligibility to remain in parliament, it appears that even some of our politicians are unsure of what the rules actually are.

This links in with questions about whether young Australians are being taught enough about our system of government, especially as little is known about the formation of political behaviour of young Australians.

The latest results from the National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship show that less than 50% of Year 10 students across the country achieved the Proficient Standard. New South Wales was the only state that achieved a passing grade at 51%. Tasmania and the Northern Territory scored a very low 32% and 20% respectively.


Further reading: Giving voice to the young: survey shows people want under-18s involved in politics


Civics and citizenship education in Australian schools

In recent decades, successive federal governments have sought to improve Australians’ knowledge and understanding of their citizenship responsibilities.

The need for Australian students to become “active and informed citizens” was recognised at a meeting of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs in 2008, and adopted the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

Civics and Citizenship is part of the Australian Curriculum and is taught to students from Year 3 to Year 10. The assumption is that if children learn the principles of government and democracy at school, they will be engaged and active citizens when they can vote at 18.

But it seems many young people still aren’t sure about how Australia’s system of government works by the time they leave school. And they may also not have the skills to confidently participate in the political process.

In our research, we have been speaking to Australians aged 18 and 19 about how they learnt about politics, and if they feel ready to participate in democracy. Their accounts are interesting, if somewhat worrying.

A common concern of these young people is that they feel ill-equipped to participate in the political process. They expressed uncertainty about the powers of state and federal governments, and were unsure about the roles of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Many also felt perplexed by the voting system, to the point of lodging donkey votes or even informal ballots if they did not have parental guidance. How governments are formed and prime ministers selected also puzzled many.

While many were passionate about issues in the political debate such as marriage equality, they felt their limited knowledge hindered their ability to truly grasp the intricacies of the process to change the rules.

These young people, however, had an appetite to learn about the Australian system and wished they had done a compulsory set of classes on the subject. For example, many wanted to have learned about the different voting systems when they were in upper secondary school.

A national problem

There is consensus about the importance of having a population that has knowledge about how their system of government and democracy operates. In particular, an informed citizenry is able to participate in the democratic process and better hold decision-makers to account.

The stories of the young people we’ve spoken with indicate that it’s crucial for Australians to know about how their government works if they are to make informed decisions at the ballot box. If they do not possess this knowledge, they cannot vote with confidence or clarity.

How young people learn about their nation’s democracy is at the heart of this issue, and is something that must be examined by state and national governments.

The ConversationOtherwise, in a country that has compulsory voting, this shortfall in knowledge not only deprives young citizens from having a meaningful say about their nation, but also works against building a more inclusive political system.

Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University; Jacqueline Laughland-Booy, Research Associate in Sociology, Monash University, and Zlatko Skrbis, Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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