Those perilous young are not learning anything again.  Apparently, if a recent Lowy Institute poll is anything to go by, Australian students show little appreciation or understanding of what democracy means: “A lack of enthusiasm among young Australians for democracy shows civics education in schools has failed… a national poll showing many young adults are lukewarm about the merits of democracy should raise alarm bells among teachers, policy makers and others who care about human rights.”

Really? Is our liberal democracy under threat? Are young Australians planning something drastic like overthrowing the government, imposing martial law, or rampaging the streets in protest of our political system?  Given current political machinations, from Government and Opposition, I possibly wouldn’t blame them.

To say, however, that the civics education program has failed to teach young people, looks at the issue wrongly in two ways.

ONE: democracy, political activism and civic participation has vastly changed in nature over the past couple of decades (not to mention the last decade), since civics and citizenship education was first envisioned in Australia during the 1980s. A program teaching young people about the role of citizens would be negligent to ignore the role that social media can play (think Arab uprisings, Kevin 07, Obama’s Presidential campaigns, GetUp’s grassroots activism, Wikileaks etc.). With this in mind, it is not the students who are failing to reach particular curriculum standards, but the standards that are failing to reach the students.

TWO: how has student achievement been measured? In large part, by surveys and by the National Assessment Program (Civics and Citizenship version of NAPLAN). Since this education is supposed to teach students about becoming “active and involved citizens” (Melbourne Declaration), how can cognitive tests and self-report questionnaires (Year 6 and Year 10 NAP CC information) properly assess this? I would argue that this is an area in which assessment of this kind is not applicable – to know if students have become active and informed citizens, we must think about what type of citizen we are seeking (controversial of course), and then consider whether such values, attitudes and actions can be explicitly measured. We need to also consider whether the values, attitudes and actions can be measured immediately after the education has taken place, or if this education has a longer-term goal of affecting the wider community.

It will be interesting to see in what way assessment of the new national civics and citizenship curriculum progresses.