The Mission of Curious Citizens

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

CONTEXT


Since civics and citizenship was introduced to the curriculum in 2004, results in NAP Assessment tests for the area have either remained stable, in the case of Year 6 students, or steadily declined, with performance “significantly lower” in 2016 when compared to 2010 and 2013 with a steady decline in results over these years. In 2016 only 38% of Year 10 students met the proficiency standard for civics and citizenship.


This lack of knowledges reflected in the wider Australian community. An IPSOS poll held on the anniversary of the Magna Carta found only 65% of Australians have heard of the Constitution. An Amnesty International survey in 2006 found that 61% of Australians held the false belief that our Constitution contained a Bill of Rights. Anecdotal evidence from organisations such as the AEC and ABC, community groups, polling booth operators and political campaigners routinely relate that the biggest issue they confront in the lead-up to polling day is confusion and misunderstanding of the mandatory preferential voting system. Although it is impossible to distinguish between the figures of deliberate and accidental informal votes, the number of informal votes is often larger than the margin on which members win election, suggesting that this miseducation could contribute to the results of elections.


The Constitution Education Fund has argued that declining knowledge in the Australian public of Australia’s Constitution, systems and procedures of governance, and the values and concepts underpinning democracy also exacerbates high levels of political mistrust, cynicism and political disengagement in the community.


The Lowy Institute has reported since 2012 on Australian’s ambivalence to democracy, consistently showing only 60% of Australians prefer democracy over other forms of government and around 15% answering that ‘for someone like me, it doesn’t matter what form of government we have’.


Democracy 2025, a joint initiative by The Museum of Australian Democracy and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra has reported a decline from 86% in 2007 to 41% in survey respondents reporting satisfaction with democracy, and this trend is supported by similar findings by the Australian Election Study and the Scanlon Foundation.


OBJECTIVES


We wish to help remedy these gaps in knowledge, by encouraging students to become engaged and informed citizens, encouraging them to self-motivate to find their own agency in civic society.


Developed by experienced educators and specialists in political science, Curious Citizens provides students with an experiential learning environment that as well as teaching them vital knowledge about our democratic institutions, empowers their critical thinking, communication skills and guides teachers on how to structure an active, engaged democratic culture in the classroom.


We seek to educate through experiential learning, to give an understanding of concepts in action, so that students can see themselves as an active and empowered part of a living and evolving democracy.


We wish to emphasise parliament as a process, not a system. By de-emphasising the ceremonial aspects of parliament in favour of emphasising the functional processes of parliament, students will gain an understanding of the underlying principles and reasoning of our democratic institutions, and develop their own informed understanding of how a political system is designed to accomodate competing concerns.


We will be responsive to the gaps in citizenship knowledge in the wider community to strengthen not only the educational outcomes of students but also to strengthen Australian democracy. We believe that independent, critical, empowered and autonomous citizens strengthen community and democracy.


We will focus on the elements of knowledge and skills that students need to function as active members of a democracy, and by extension in the wider community, and to see themselves autonomous actors within the system.


We will be responsive to the needs, learning styles and interests of individual students to empower them to be independent and critical learners.


We will create an environment that encourages students to reflect on how we communicate and deliberate in a community and how to construct group processes that encourage a respectful engagement with a diverse range of views and at the same time construct consensus.


AN ADAPTING PROGRAM


Part of our teaching philosophy is that programs should be able to adapt and transform to the real-time demands of different groups and to the learning styles and temperaments of different students. This is achieved both in the general approach of our staff across the whole program, and is built into the program structure in three distinct and important ways.


The modular structure of the program is designed so that each phase has methods of simplifying or advancing the complexity and speed of material delivery to respond to the group. These can be found under the module listing in this document and also in the quick reference factsheet cards for each stage of the simulation.

The scenario cards also provide considerable flexibility to adapt scenarios to the particular interests of the group. Groups are free to develop their own topics of debate or select from the scenario cards. These cards provide suggestions for how to adapt the scenario in real time.


Finally, we provide considerable scope to structure the group in ways that suit different students' abilities and learning styles. We offer learning through a mix of communication styles; public debate, large-group meetings, smaller meetings and one-on-one interactions to contribute to the group’s work. Some students may prefer to develop their ideas through discussion and others may prefer to research and write out their ideas individually before presenting them to the group. We encourage this behaviour to ensure all students feel comfortable that these different styles are each beneficial in their own way.


Our Educators encourage students to find the benefits of their individual styles. Introverted children may initially find the concept of group discussion dynamics and performance in debate daunting. They should be encouraged to participate, but educators should also feel free to set up small ‘working groups’ and ‘parliamentary committees’ to discuss issues or negotiate deals across parties. This reflects the realistic operation of Parliament; a society of extroverts selling their messages to the public and introverts designing complex policy, an environment that is equal parts a bold brash clash of ideas and a complex negotiation of consensus building through listening and building relationships.


SETTING UP A CIVICS CULTURE IN THE CLASSROOM


The concept of democracy is central to all civics education. Setting up a democratic culture in the classroom is paramount. Certain conditions that make democratic deliberation possible should be encouraged. Methods and approaches to teaching should be based on discussion among students and make the ability for students to speak and express themselves as central to education.


To support a democratic culture, participants in discussion should be;

  • Knowledgeable and educated on information that should inform their decision-making

  • Articulate in explaining their reasoning to articulate their conclusions

  • Safe to formulate and express views regardless of substance

  • Able to engage respectfully and considerately with others on the principle of equality

  • Empowered to act to influence all decisions that affect them

  • Able to form links between knowledge, values and action


Central to democratic discussion is the assumption of agency and equality of all participants and the non-judgemental attitudes of institutions to particular individuals and opinions. Please note it is sometimes necessary to intervene to monitor the expression of opinions that are contrary to this basic assumption of equality and respect between individuals.


Citizenship education has the following main objectives;

  • Providing an understanding of principles and institutions

  • Learning to exercise personal judgement and critical faculty

  • Gaining a sense of individual and community responsibilities


We put this commitment in practice through our teaching methods. We;

  • Teach by questions before statements

  • Learn through discussion

  • Encourage equally the skills of listening and articulating ideas


“Democracy is a practice: Though based on values that can be transmitted, it is essentially a way of acting. It is by putting it into effect that we justify it; it is by making use of it that we give it legitimacy.”


Source: Bisch, P. Meyer (ed) (1995) Introduction, A culture of democracy: a challenge for schools, UNESCO.





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©2019  Curious Citizens

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.  We support them in seeking recognition so a properly constituted nation of Australia can celebrate in the traditions of the longest surviving culture on the planet.