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Reflection about civics and citizenship education in Australia in light of COVID-19
Issues that are central to Civics and Citizenship education have been thrown into dramatic relief by the effects of the COVID-19 virus both in Australia and globally in recent weeks. Our thoughts go out to the students, teachers and schools that have been disrupted by recent events and to the families impacted by the associated social and economic effects of the societal lockdown.
There are so many educational issues that young people will want to reflect upon both now - as schools and teachers do their best to support study from home – and in the future, when individuals and communities emerge from their hibernation into a post COVID-19 world.
Young people are certainly having opportunities to learn about civic responsibility, civic altruism and putting themselves empathetically in the shoes of others in the current COVID-19 crisis. They see individuals doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing. On the one hand they see the importance of acts of kindness and responsibility – checking in on those elderly neighbours, the crucial and brave role of health workers, communities working together in tough circumstances and people being sensitive to ‘social distancing’ in public spaces; on the other hand they see fighting in the toilet roll aisles and sunbathing on Bondi beach despite directives not to do so.
Young people have been reminded of the essential role of governments in their lives in relation to emergency law-making and economic stewardship. The subtle relationship in Australia between Federal and State levels of government and layered responsibilities have certainly been more explicit than in normal times and with the formation of a National Cabinet bringing together State and Federal leaders. Students can certainly see that there is such a thing as ‘society’, and that an effectively functioning society relies upon collective as well as individual responsibility.
They learn that rights matter enormously in crisis circumstances, but that rights can be legally curtailed in the cause of ‘the common good’. We have seen some political leaders exercising their powers with resolute and caring sensitivity and other leaders struggling to rise to the enormous challenges that face them.
Young people are likely to be thinking more about how their lives are governed by laws, about the mutual obligations that individuals have to one another, and about the components of good and effective citizenship, than at any other previous time in their lives. And teachers can encourage them to undertake this thinking.
Students will be coming back to their schools with altered perceptions about what things really matter and with questions that relate to fundamental questions about democracy, the law, societal and individual wellbeing, equity and rights and responsibilities.
Citizenship education and the tools and guiding questions of the Civics and Citizenship curriculum will provide some of the structure to assist students with their sense-making and teachers with their educative responses to questions that students will naturally be asking. We are able to best make sense of complexity and crisis circumstances from a strong values and critical thinking base.
Best wishes to educators guiding young people in their thinking (and action) journey through these issues.
2020 CONFERENCE November 19-21, 2020, Melbourne
Civics and Citizenship Education in a Disrupted World: Youth Voice, Agency and Action in Schools and Communities
RE-SCHEDULED TO 2021: DETAILS TO BE ADVISED