Professor Murray Print, a world-leader in citizenship education, was kind enough to help with my Churchill Fellowship research. We had a long and stimulating discussion about the relationship between critical literacy and citizenship education in Australia. Professor Print explained that critical literacy was once ‘in vogue’ in educational policy (and particularly in NSW) but he is pleased to report that it is now implicit in education degrees, teacher training programs and widely observable in classroom practice. While the new National curriculum makes explicit reference to critical thinking in the ‘Civics and Citizenship‘ learning area, critical literacy is not identified as a separate skills but is rather ‘infused’ through the wording of the whole document.
The national curriculum is careful not to prescribe pedagogy so teachers can choose to make their teaching ‘more or less’ conducive to the cultivation of critical skills depending on their own stance on its importance in education. Political literacy, though, is carefully and extensively cultivated by parliamentary education initiatives. Indeed, 200,000 Australian young people visit parliaments (state and federal) every year and participate in student debates and role play activities. This contributes directly to the civics curriculum which is concerned, primarily, with the study of government and democracy.
Citizenship is a broader learning area and the national curriculum aims to boost students’ active participation in their local, national and global communities. This is in response to the 2008 Melbourne Declaration which stated that one of Australia’s national goals for education was ‘to produce informed and active citizens’. Active and participatory learning may be challenging to assess but Professor Print has already led four sample assessment cycles for students in years 6 and 10. With the recent change of government, no one is really sure if, how or when the civics and citizenship learning area will be assessed nationally. Professor Print feels strongly, however, that it must remain a discrete subject and it was must be assessed otherwise it will not be taught. In Scotland, ‘responsible citizenship‘ is one of four key capacities at the core of the curriculum and the responsibility of all teachers to develop. Professor Print cautioned that this may result in no one taking responsibility for it and it could thereby ‘fall off the classroom radar’. It is true that teachers in Scotland need more professional learning to boost their own competence and confidence in the realm of citizenship education. Following the Australian example, this could come from in-school workshops, subject association training, local authority training or online courses.