Herald Sun 13 December 2017
AUSTRALIAN students should be taught to be proud of this nation’s democratic heritage and society. But the lack of knowledge that grade 6 and year 10 students have of citizenship and civics is deeply concerning.
A test, conducted by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, suggests students lack an understanding of our national institutions, the historical basis for them and the important principles and values that have shaped our society. Of the sample of students tested, only 38 per cent of year 10 students achieved at or above the proficient standard. In Victoria, we scored only 39 per cent for year 10 — it’s a massive fail, Victoria’s lowest mark since data was first collected for this test in 2004.
What could be more important than teaching students to respect our history and its shared cultural inheritance, to know something of our current challenges and to encourage participation and service to our peaceful democracy? In Victoria, the Andrews Labor Government has been preoccupied with slogans such as the“Education State” which clearly isn’t worth the number plates it’s written on. Over the past three years, part-time Education Minister James Merlino has been preoccupied with wrecking the CFA and teaching children about radical sexual and gender theory through the Safe Schools program.
Why do primary school children need to be exposed to postmodernist lessons about gender fluidity while Victoria’s NAPLAN results in literacy and numeracy stagnate?
For example, in reading, year 9 continued its downward trend, achieving a mean score below 2008 levels, while the year 7 reading score was the same as it was in 2014. In numeracy, Victorian students in years 5 and 9 have gone backwards since 2015.
Victoria’s stagnation evidenced from NAPLAN under Labor is worrying and our performance in civics and citizenship, where more than half the year 10 students essentially failed, is appalling.
Introducing students to the “best that has been thought and said” is a fundamental duty of government, yet a survey by the Lowy Institute found that only 52 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds agree with the notion that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government. In 2014, it was as low as 42 per cent.
I am one of the younger members of state parliament and it worries me greatly that my generation seems indifferent to the virtues of democratic government. I suspect the cause of this malaiseis multifaceted, but Labor, the Greens and their fellow travellers
in the education establishment must bear some responsibility.
Our secondary school humanities curriculum in Victoria is well meaning but fails to inspire civic devotion or strong adherence to fundamental principles of civilised liberal democratic government. It fails to emphasise that throughout Australia’s inherited history post the enlightenment, the struggle between tyrannical government and liberty has defined our society.
Foundational events that occurred in Europe and North America before 1788 that underpin our national and state institutions are barely spoken of. Concepts like the inherent dignity of the individual, religious tolerance, the principles of the Western enlightenment — such as freedom of speech, equality before the law and government by consent — can only be fully understood and genuinely respected if it’s taught that generations have fought and died for those principles.
Ensuring that all students have an entrenched understanding that our nation has been a force for good in the world by defending those values for more than 100 years is fundamentally important.
On our own continent, we fail to tell young people that our history of Australians from multicultural backgrounds building one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies and robust economies is a story of which to be proud. Of course, there are aspects of this nation’s history we are not proud of, particularly the shameful treatment of the indigenous people, and that must be taught in depth.
The curriculum should attempt to inspire young people with the ideas and values that have helped make this nation a beacon of hope and justice. It should emphasise what generations who have come before us have deemed worth conserving and that we are very lucky to call Australia home.
I hope the Andrews Government takes the results of this test as seriously as I do, and do something about it. It is so important that young people leave school with an appreciation that our democracy is no accident, and for it to be enriched and renewed, it must have input from all ages and backgrounds.
That requires a working knowledge of the nation’s democratic institutions and values. If the education system continues to fail in its duty to impart this important knowledge to students, our country will be very much the poorer for it.