The emerging place of ethics in national education policies and the Australian Curriculum: Purposes, trajectories and pathways for engagement in schools

Year: 2018

Author: Brown, Bernard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation examines the emergence of ethics in national education policies and the Australian Curriculum. During the twenty-first century ethics has gained more recognition and prominence in the national education landscape, this has occurred concurrently with the increasing centralisation and federalisation of Australian school education. However, there has been little discussion about the rise in status of ethics in the context of national school education, or published literature pertaining to this trend. In the light of this deficit, it is timely to analyse the ethical content in national education documents and assess how they are positioned to guide and inform what ethics means in contemporary Australian school education. Key documents analysed for this research include the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, the Australian Curriculum, the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools. An exploration of relevant sections of national education policies and the Australian Curriculum leads to a consideration of whether the ethical content identified represents a coherent discourse and specific educational agenda. I argue that a considerable amount of ethical content in national documents has two key purposes: firstly, to foster an understanding of the role of citizenship in democratic society and secondly to promulgate and assemblage of core values designed to engender a sense of shared purpose and identity. However, these two core purposes are problematic as they are predicated on school stakeholders’ acceptance, understanding and action. To pursue these lines of inquiry the presentation will critically examine the nature of the terminology used to express ethical principles and values in national education policies and the Australian Curriculum, and consider different interpretations which can be applied to these terms. Critical analysis will also be applied to investigate the ethical themes and issues in the national education documents. Finally, Aristotle’s notion of phronesis is proposed as a fruitful way in which stakeholders in school education can engage, critique and translate into practice the ethical values and principles that are espoused in the national education documents. Phronesis can serve to give those in schools a means of understanding how ethical precepts can be meaningful and relevant to the context and culture of their school. The presentation is intended to give more recognition to the role of ethics in Australian school education and promote discussion and research regarding how it is positioned in a national context.