Civics and citizenship education brought to life
The Victorian Electoral Commission explains how its tailored, free and flexible resources are helping teachers promote student participation in Australia’s democracy.
With the Victorian Curriculum now effective in primary and secondary schools across Australia, Civics and Citizenship Education has been mandated for delivery in all government schools across Victoria. Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) promotes student participation in Australia’s democracy by equipping them with the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions of active and informed citizenship. It helps students familiarise themselves with Australia’s democratic heritage and traditions, political and legal institutions and the shared values of freedom, tolerance, respect, responsibility and inclusion.
So in what ways can we support our teachers to ensure that the CCE curriculum is adequately addressed? How can we ensure that students are at the centre of engaging, inquiry-based and practical units of CCE study?
James Fiford, Education and Electoral Inclusion Officer at the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC), notes that teachers are often time poor, which can affect their ability to plan comprehensive units of work.
Furthermore, teachers are sometimes asked to work outside the areas of their specific curriculum knowledge and financial limitations can preclude expensive external consultancy or commercial solutions. This is why the VEC has developed a series of tailored, free and highly flexible CCE resources.
As an independent and impartial statutory body, part of the VEC’s role is to run education programs to ensure that young people in Victoria understand the electoral process. James notes that for young people, elections may not be a particularly exciting subject, which is why the VEC has taken an issues-based, student-driven approach in its Passport to Democracy program.
This active civics and citizenship program aims to develop critical thinking skills in students. It prompts them to consider how they can make an impact on issues they care about and ultimately, how they can engage with the community and participate meaningfully in the democratic process. AEC’s research tells us that providing young people with a positive experience of democracy in a school setting can set them up for a lifetime of civic participation.
How does the program work?
Passport to Democracy is divided into four modules: Decide, Research, Activate and Vote. Each module has a lesson plan containing learning activities with detailed instructions, online content and activity sheets. It can be delivered over six to eight weeks, or a smaller version is available if required. VEC Education Officers support teachers through on-site professional development sessions. They also offer a mock election for students as part of the Vote module.
The lesson plans in Decide expand on students’ existing knowledge of community issues. In groups, students choose an issue they care about and an aspect stemming from this issue that they want to change. Before deciding, they are supported to understand the complex notions of issues, communities, power and influence, rights, government, responsibility and points of view.
Students should ideally be supported in selecting their own issues to enable genuine student-centred inquiry learning. If teachers are delivering course content in upper primary or lower secondary, focusing on school-based issues is a good starting point.
Middle secondary schools can focus on Victorian state-based issues, and in senior classes on either national or global issues. Any combination of these can, of course, work at any level if well supported.
The Research lesson plans guide students to understand the social context of their issue, to discover what others have done about it and to test their own assumptions and possible solutions. Student research into an issue can have multiple goals. The activities in this unit elevate students to complete the entire research process, and assists them to develop critical literacy skills, while considering how their local political representatives might help.
The aim of the Activate lesson plans is to support students to choose actions that are achievable, appropriate and can have an impact on their chosen issue. These lessons contain many examples of active citizenship for inspiration, and they guide students to delegate tasks and campaign for awareness and support. Students can then use their research findings to plan and carry out an effective action.
The Vote lesson plans allow students to evaluate the impact of their action and reflect upon any change it has sparked, as well as their own active citizenship learning. Students also experience the electoral process through a complete sequence of electoral activities including candidate nominations, party platforms, campaign speeches, how to vote cards, a mock-election (including printed ballot papers) and a preferential vote count. Teachers completing a Passport to Democracy unit can request a free mock-election incursion run by the VEC (statewide, including metro and rural areas) to demonstrate and celebrate students’ democratic participation. Vote lesson plans can also be used independently of the Passport unit, if teachers wish to focus only on elections and campaigns.
All lesson plans that comprise the Passport to Democracy program are aligned to the Victorian Curriculum and the Australian Curriculum for the teaching of Civics and Citizenship content across Years 5-10. In addition, the Passport to Democracy website (passport.vec.vic.gov.au) offers summative and formative assessment resources. It includes assignment instructions, a submission checklist and curriculum-aligned rubrics, plus a list of assessment for learning Passport activities.
The Passport to Democracy program can be easily used in primary and secondary school contexts. VEC Education Officers are happy to work with teachers to design more tailored programs to suit various age groups, learning styles and student interests. Many primary schools have successfully used the program by incorporating it into a larger cross-curricula unit of work involving multiple classes and even multiple year levels. In the same way, VEC facilitated mock elections can be arranged for single classes or entire year levels. The Passport to Democracy website will soon feature a range of new teacher professional learning videos and resources to assist teachers with engaging in the program.