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Civics education for a vibrant democracy

By Kerry Jones - posted Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Australia is recognised across the world as a vibrant democracy. We are envied for our system of government, our federation and the freedoms we enjoy under our rule of law.

We are one of the few countries to have been continuously democratic throughout the course of the 20th century. However, we suffer from a well documented lack of interest in issues of international and domestic importance, and our politicians are often lowly regarded, experiencing a general lack of respect and trust.

Despite many millions of dollars being spent in the last ten years on civics and citizenship education programs, many by well-intentioned governments, reports continue to show no improvement in civics understanding or interest across the Australian population.


In the next ten years, the Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA) aims to turn these attitudes around by developing an informed and engaged citizenry. CEFA is building partnerships between governments, business communities and charities to establish pioneering and effective civics education projects.

Personally I was inspired by the 2008 delivery of the Boyer lectures given by Rupert Murdoch. He emphasised the need to “revive the sense of Australia as a frontier country”. He proposed effective education programs that are a partnership between government and private organisations. Social enterprise projects (SEPs) are a modern way forwards for non-profit, non-partisan, project-based organisations such as CEFA which want to give back to the community.

SEPs link governments, businesses and non-government organisations (NGOs) for organisational projects without the profit motive. Projects that utilise the Australian interest in volunteering and local community engagement are also proving very successful. CEFA combines all these elements as Australia’s foremost national civics education provider. Our goal is never to duplicate projects or resources already being effectively provided by governments, universities and other bodies.

CEFA is a non-profit private charity dedicated to non-partisan practical civics education programs, national civics projects, partnerships and awards that develop the civics knowledge, skills and capacities of young Australians. CEFA’s civics learning activities develop informed, responsible and active citizens through structured experiences. These experiences are stimulating, exciting, practical and interesting and engage young Australians in the history and operation of the Australian democracy.

CEFA was established to help all Australians gain a better understanding of the Australian Constitution. The constitution belongs to all Australians. It is the foundation of our system of government, gives us our national unity and guarantees our freedoms. CEFA educates Australians of all ages about the workings of the Australian constitutional arrangements, the Australian system of government and the history and operation of the Australian democracy. CEFA does this through utilising cutting edge teaching and learning tools that are the best on offer in modern educational practice.

CEFA is supported by whole local communities including academics, business leaders, High Court Judges, teachers, families, community leaders, volunteers, schools and foundations. CEFA is governed by an eminent Board of Trustees under the Patronage of the Australian Governor-General and each of the State Governors. CEFA’s practical civics projects such as “School Parliaments” engage students from a wide variety of backgrounds, abilities and provide skills that are empowering thousands of students not normally involved in traditional leadership programs to become knowledgeable, responsible and engaged participants in the Australian community.


The Australian process of democracy and government will be improved through a more engaged and informed population. Reports show about 80 per cent of the community are disengaged from the process of governance. Young people also demonstrate very low levels of interest, as was shown in the latest National Civics and Citizenship Assessment Report, released in February 2009. To counter this, CEFA’s practical civics education projects are developing a new generation of active, responsible and informed citizens. CEFA engages whole communities in civics through volunteer support programs, award ceremonies hosted by our patrons, civics events and media coverage at local and national levels.

The CEFA school parliaments create a democratic model within schools that can rival sporting and rock eisteddfod programs for student interest. The parliaments are offered through a variety of teaching and learning pathways. Adaptable for both primary and secondary schools, parliaments can be a whole-of-school or individual class syllabus teaching and learning integrated civics tool. The students take on the roles of parliamentarians, advisers, parliamentary officers, committee members, journalists and cartoonists. Students form political parties, produce school newspapers, debate issues relevant to them and their communities and learn the value of their vote. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) often conducts our school elections. CEFA partners all relevant educational authorities and has approval for our school parliaments to be offered to all primary and secondary schools across Australia.

In 2008, CEFA’s school parliaments attracted substantial national media support such as on the ABC’s Compass program. This program featured our first elected Islamic Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kahi, from Al-Zahra College in Arncliffe, New South Wales. Each week more schools from across Australia are being introduced to CEFA’s school parliaments. Our school mentoring program is attracting significant support from a broad spectrum of Australians. We are working on significant funding from leading organisations and sponsors to implement school parliaments in disadvantaged schools and areas with high indigenous populations. We hope very soon to see the election of our first Aboriginal prime ministers.

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About the Author

Kerry Jones is Executive Director of the Constitution Education Fund - Australia (CEF-A)

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Kerry Jones

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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