Teaching ethical understanding in the new Australian curriculum: new curriculum knowledge or new curriculum dilemmas?

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The introduction of Australia’s first national curriculum has seen the incorporation of seven ‘general capabilities’ as essential markers of an improved quality education for all Australian children. ‘Ethical Understanding’ is one of the general capabilities and encompasses a set of knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions which are to be taught within each subject area up to year 10 (ages 5-16). Presented in the Australian curriculum as a ‘capability’ rather than as a subject, suggests that teachers can no longer afford to focus on academic curricula only; rather they need to assume responsibility for fostering the development of values like honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others. With this in mind, understanding how teachers are working with the new ‘Ethical Understanding’ capability of the Australian curriculum becomes important. This paper presents some of the findings of a recent study exploring the teaching of ethics across 10 Victorian primary and secondary schools and early childhood centres. The teachers’ views on how they approach this new learning and respond to the ambiguities that are inherent in the subject (i.e. challenges in teaching controversial topics, the potential for moral indoctrination/ moral relativism, dealing with morals and values derived from different cultures and religion) are discussed. Author observation notes of classroom teaching practices are also presented aimed to demonstrate how teachers negotiate these issues, eclipsed by comingling concepts of values and morals, to mobilise pedagogies which enable students to apply confidently and effectively ethics in practice. In exploring teachers’ perceptions and practices, their curriculum and pedagogy, this paper also aims to invite discussion about the ‘capability approach’ to education (Sen, 2009; Nussbaum, 2002) implicit in the critical and democratic commitments of the ethical capability and the extent to which this approach can allow teachers to develop in students a ‘strong personal and socially oriented ethical outlook’ (ACARA, 2010).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventWorld Curriculum Studies 2018 - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 9 Dec 201812 Dec 2018
Conference number: 6th


ConferenceWorld Curriculum Studies 2018
Abbreviated titleIAACS 2018
Internet address

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