Easy as ABC: new media and civic education in Australian schools
The world is at a critical point; from the Kogi people of Colombia to the World Bank, we largely have woken up to the fact that we are heading down a dangerous way. Increasingly it is clear that change is not a choice but a necessity. Education can equip people with the knowledge, the capacity and the confidence to engage with these issues and play an active role in seeking this change. Education in Australia, however, leaves us with little capacity to understand the complexities that surround us and, moreover, without the knowledge of how to participate. As mobile technologies are revolutionising education across the Majority World, could new media present Australia with a dynamic new space to educate and empower its young people?
According to scholars like Professor Print, Australia’s school curriculum has seen the dissolution of the citizenship education. In spite of the profound social, political and ecological changes taking place around us, students are offered little by way of education about politics or preparation for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Print’s arguments are backed up by research that reveals major knowledge deficits when it comes to Australian youths’ understanding of citizenship.
This gap is no doubt exacerbated by the state of media in Australia, which is all but corporately monopolised. With the exceptions of the Chaser and Crikey.com, mainstream media is conservative at best, and certainly does little to educate or empower its citizens, especially young people to whom it is not targeted. A quick Google of the country’s dominant newspapers reveals headlines that largely revolve around sport, sex and consumerism.
Given the context in which Australians grow up, it is little wonder that most of us are largely indifferent to political participation. Our education and media systems have largely failed to equip us with the capacity to think critically, or engender a sense of responsibility to be engaged. For the most part, Australians have learned to take their citizenship for granted, leaving ‘politics’ to the ‘politicians’.
Enter Web 2.0
New media, or ‘Web 2.0’ provides a bold new space for education and engagement, equipping students and educators with accessible information and a platform to participate. From my experience, most young people I know did/do not get their political education from school; but, rather, online – through personal networks of Facebook and Twitter and that of advocacy groups. Organisations like Amnesty or the Australian Youth Climate Coalition disseminate pertinent information and provide immediate space for participation.
Oxfam recently launched ‘Three Things’, an online platform that aims to give young Australians a means to understand global issues and do something about them, and utilises educators and high-school networks. New kids on the block, Green Cross likewise fuse new media with education about environmental issues. Interestingly, Green Cross actively works with junior primary school children, evidencing that, when engaged, children are enthusiastic about contributing to a more sustainable future.
Classrooms & Computers
The world is undergoing phenomenal change, and it is imperative that education in Australia helps engender adequate understanding of political structures and equip them with the skills to meaningfully engage with them. New media resources provide new opportunities for educators and policymakers to enhance the quality of education and open new pathways to civic education that is at once empowering and fun, and broaden students’ levels of awareness of pertinent issues in their society. Young people in Australia are often labelled apathetic; rather than point fingers, educators, policy makers and the rest of us need to collaborate with young people and nurture awareness and confidence towards a society of empowered, active people.