Dissemination, Awareness-Raising and Training

Despite having a strong human rights record and being the first country to develop a National Human Rights Action Plan, [1] more still needs to be done about Australia’s commitment to human rights education. Action is needed to ensure that its entire population is accepting and able to participate fully. A 2013 study which investigated the current human rights educational initiatives in Australia found that currently, implementation of human rights education rides on the goodwill and interest of individual teachers. [2] The study found that this is due to the lack of a systematic and integrated approach. [3] The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in their Concluding Observations highlighted the importance of public awareness and voiced its concern that knowledge of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Convention) is limited amongst children, professionals working with or for children and the general public.

Therefore, the CRC recommended that Australia:

  • Include public education on child rights as a core objective in our National Human Rights Action Plan; and
  • Consider including mandatory modules on humans rights and the Convention in the school curriculum, and training programmes for professionals working for or with children.
  • Article 17: Australia is to ensure that a child has access to information from a variety of national and international media sources
  • Article 28: Every child has a right to education
  • Article 29: A child’s education should be directed towards developing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms

Developments Requiring Attention

NATIONAL: Development of the national school curriculum and the inclusion of mandatory human rights module

A 2013 study by the University of Technology, Sydney (2013 Study), revealed that there is currently no integrated, systematic approach to human rights education so the implementation of human rights education initiatives is fragmented and depends on the interest of individual teachers. [4] This has resulted in only a small number of students receiving any significant education in human rights issues throughout their schooling life. [5] Even then, these limited opportunities arise mostly during the senior years of school with the main opportunities appearing explicitly only in History, Geography, Legal Studies subjects and in Civics and Citizenship units of study. [6] As such, the study recommended that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) include more explicit content across key learning stages and subjects, as well as embed human rights issues in the primary curriculum. [7]

The ACARA was established in 2008 and has been responsible for developing the national school curriculum pursuant to the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians adopted in December 2008. [8] Following public consultation between May and July 2013, the Years 3-10 Civics and Citizenship curriculum was published on the ACARA website in January 2014, and will be implemented in schools throughout 2014. [9] The Australian Human Rights Commission worked closely with ACARA to ensure that human rights was integrated into the curriculum, with recommendations made for the General Capabilities, Cross-curriculum Priorities, Learning Areas, Inclusiveness and Disability areas. [10]The Years 3-10 Civics and Citizenship curriculum envisages a mandatory 20 hours per year of Civics and Citizenship education. [11] It includes an aim to “build an understanding and critical appreciation of Australia as a multicultural and multi-faith society and a commitment to human rights and intercultural understandings.” [12] ACARA however will not be developing a Civics and Citizenship curriculum for Years F-2. [13] The first explicit mention primary school students will encounter with human rights will not be until Years 5 and 6, with practical engagement with the content, including visits to Parliament and Law Courts to follow. [14]

Whilst it is certainly a positive that human rights education forms a significant portion of the Years 3-10 Civics and Citizenship curriculum, it does fail to address the need for human rights education to be embedded across the primary curriculum. It has been suggested that human rights principles should be introduced to children as young as five or six years of age in both the classroom and the playground. [15] Similarly, the mandatory requirement of 20 hours annually has been questioned for its sufficiency, with the suggestion that there should be at least some form of daily engagement. [16] The curriculum also lacks explicit mention of the Convention.

NATIONAL: Lack of public education on child rights as a core objective in the National Human Rights Action Plan

Whilst Australia is to be congratulated on its release of the country’s third National Human Rights Action Plan (Action Plan) on 10 December 2012, the Action Plan fails to explicitly include child rights as a core objective. The Action Plan, developed in fulfilment of a promise made under Australia’s Human Rights Framework, does however propose that human rights education generally be a key priority. [17] In prioritising human rights education, the Australian Government has committed to providing non-government organisations with grants that will aid them in developing community education programs, a $3.8 million-package to educate and train the public sector in human rights, continue to develop the national school curriculum to include human rights with the ACARA, and helping the Australian Human Rights Commission expand their community education programs by providing $6.6 million worth of funding over four years. [18]

Areas Lacking Progress

NATIONAL: Lack of professional development resources for teachers

The 2013 Study found that many teachers felt they were under-resourced and lacked the appropriate pedagogical skills to address some issues, particularly in the newly mandated areas of Indigenous rights and history. [19] Thus, the 2013 Study also strongly recommended the development of:

  • professional development modules in collaboration with the Professional Teachers’ Associations in each state and territory for all teachers;
  • professional development workshops that will aid teachers in using available communication technologies more effectively. [20]

The teachers’ roundtable also suggested the creation of:

  • a national repository of best practice resources to be maintained by Education Services Australia; and
  • a dedicated human rights website, akin to the ‘My School’ website, so that case studies of various social justice and human rights of school projects could be shared. [22]
  • Australia develop a national resource for professional development for teachers.
  • ACARA should include explicit content on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Australia should include public education on child rights in the National Human Rights Action Plan.
  • ACARA should consider extending the mandatory hours required for the Civics and Citizenship curriculum.
  • ACARA should develop a Civics and Citizenship curriculum for Years F-2.
  1. Australian Government, Department of the Attorney-General, Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan 2012, 5.
  2. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney, ‘Human Rights Education in the School Curriculum’ (July 2013) 5 http://www.ccs.uts.edu.au/events/HREReportFinal22July.pdf  (accessed 16 December 2013)
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 7.
  6. Ibid., 8.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Australian Curriculum, ‘F-10 Overview’ (website) < http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Curriculum/Overview> accessed 20 January 2014.
  9. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, ‘Civics and Citizenship’ (website) < http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum_1/learning_areas/humanities_and_social_sciences/civics_and_citizenship.html> accessed 20 January 2014.
  10. Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and Australian Human Rights Commission, Question No. 5 (16 October 2012) <http://www.aph.gov.au/~/media/Estimates/Live/legcon_ctte/estimates/sup_1213/ag/QoN_5.ashx> (accessed 20 January 2014)
  11. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, ‘The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship’ (October 2012) 11 < http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum__Civics_and_Citizenship_251012.pdf> (accessed 20 January 2014)
  12. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, ‘The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship’ (October 2012) 7  http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum__Civics_and_Citizenship_251012.pdf>  (accessed 20 January 2014)
  13. Ibid, 12
  14. Tanya Kovac, Right Now, ‘Educating Young People about Human Rights’ (website, 1 August 2012) < http://rightnow.org.au/topics/children-and-youth/educating-young-people-about-human-rights/> (accessed 16 December 2013)
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Australian Government, Department of the Attorney-General, Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan 2012, 7
  18. Ibid, 11
  19. Above n2 62
  20. Ibid, 9-10
  21. Ibid, 64
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