Values education: the emerging agenda
Late last year the Commonwealth Government launched a significant project in the emerging priority area of values education.
The Commonwealth Values Education Study was in response to a widespread perception that fostering and promoting positive values ought to be a central responsibility of schools. While the overwhelming majority of schools have generally been committed to values education in practice, it has not always been clearly articulated as an element of the school's mission. Discussion and debate about how, and to what extent, schools should attempt to develop particular values in students, and indeed about what values ought to be stressed, are likely to continue. Definitive answers to these questions may prove elusive, as the wide diversity of approaches identified in the pilot program illustrates that in this field one size does not fit all.
Schools across Australia were invited to apply for grants to support school-based projects aimed at enhancing the provision of values-oriented programs. From 791 applications, 60 projects were selected to receive grants. As some of the projects chosen are collaborative, a total of 71 schools have been involved.
While some of the chosen projects are self-contained, others form the initial phase of activities designed to extend over a longer period, or else represent an extension of an existing program or initiative. Some have a very clearly defined outcome - for example the development of an agreed school charter of values, or a revised code of conduct - while others aim more broadly to involve students and school communities in activities that promote awareness, reflection and growth.
The selected projects included proposals from schools reflecting the diversity and breadth of Australian education: schools in all States and Territories from urban, regional, rural and remote locations; Government, Catholic and Independent schools; and schools whose enrolment reflects the social, economic, cultural and linguistic diversity of Australia.
The selection process did not seek to prescribe the values that the projects would emphasise, but three broad areas have emerged. Some projects aim to promote personal responsibility and self-discipline, while others focus on civic and social participation and engagement. The third area is the promotion of self-esteem and confidence among students. It might be argued that the last category represents an outcome rather a value set, but its close relationship to values of mutual respect, endeavour and perseverance is clear. This highlights the link between the development of positive values and the acquisition of social skills.
Some of the projects consciously seek to build on faith-inspired values, reflecting the distinctive educational vision of Catholic, Anglican and Islamic schools, among others. Others place values education within a secular framework reflecting community standards and expectations, but in all cases the projects demonstrate a commitment to developing positive values in young people as a vital element of education.
Many of the projects reflect clearly identified local needs, based on the specific characteristics and circumstances of the schools involved and the communities they serve.
For example, three schools in culturally and linguistically diverse areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have undertaken programs to convene community forums to inform themselves of the expectations of parents and members of various communities in relation to values education. A key objective is to identify what values parents see as necessary for students to develop a sense of connectedness to the school.
Other projects form part of school-based efforts to address issues identified as problematic within the particular school. For example, a community school in Adelaide has organised half-day seminars involving parents, students and teachers that focus on developing children's self-discipline and reflection-in-action skills. The project focuses on how teachers, parents and students working together can identify and reflect on values gaps and then devise agreed pathways towards closing them.
Many of the projects have tried to build on the contributions made by other initiatives either in curriculum (such as civics and citizenship) or in the broad field of student welfare, pastoral care and mental health. In particular, several projects seek to complement the MindMatters resources developed to promote aspects of mental health in secondary schools, including two schools attempting to broaden the accessibility of MindMatters to culturally diverse student populations.
Partnerships and collaborative links also feature in many of the projects. Some projects seek to develop stronger links within a local school cluster, but some involve partnerships between schools both geographically distant and culturally different. For example, an independent school in a metropolitan centre has established a relationship with three primary schools in distant rural areas with large enrolments of Indigenous students. The project aims to encourage appreciation of difference and mutual understanding through educational, recreational and cultural exchanges between the schools.
Among the future activities planned for the values education program is an online survey aimed at students, teachers and parents. The survey will attempt to discover what values are regarded by these stakeholders as especially important, as well as gauging the extent to which transmission of such values is considered a responsibility for schools.
While it is too early to say that the shape of values education in Australian schools has been defined, the Commonwealth Values Education Study has begun to clarify the task ahead. There seems little doubt that this area will be a key focus for Australian educators and parents well into the future.
Subject HeadingsValues education