Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Developing Just Citizens in Australia

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Developing Just Citizens in Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract

Community service is a core activity for Australian universities. Therefore, the effectiveness with which universities interact with the communities they seek to serve has become a critical success factor in higher education. This article suggests that universities that encourage and resource authentic community engagement also help to build a more just and democratic society.

Introduction

An enduring challenge for Australian society is the development of participatory, critically minded and just citizens. Research at Australian Catholic University shows how a key strategy in addressing the challenge is the building of positive educational relationships among communities, schools, and universities through community service learning initiatives (1). The development of engaged citizens who participate fully in society, are critically-minded in relation to that society, and just in their aspirations, attitudes, and actions necessarily raises issues about schools as social institutions, and classrooms and community settings as learning contexts. This article suggests that universities, through their influence and impact on school education, have a significant role to play in helping Australian society build educational partnerships that will help develop the kind of engaged citizens that the nation both desires and needs.

The Challenges Facing Education

Australia, like other developed nations, "is in the midst of a profound economic and social transformation" (McClure, 2000: 1). In many ways, the most significant challenge facing education is the very uncertainty of the future, particularly given recent international events. With uncertainty, comes anxiety and insecurity, and the temptation is "to regress to old world values and past conservatism to cope with the onrush of that insecurity" (Sheehan, 2000: 6) when what is actually required is rethinking and re-configuring approaches, systems and strategies (see also McClure, 2000).

A recent Australian government review stated, "Our society stands between contrasting but interacting worlds--local and international, European and Asian, low and high tech" (NBEET, 1998: 1). Like education systems in other countries Australia's education systems are linked to and influenced by the community's search for: guiding values, a sense of identity, and meaning and purpose. Against this background, Australians, both collectively and individually, are increasingly seeking answers to how we educate individuals to be tolerant, compassionate, socially trusting and well practised in civic and moral responsibility.

In Australia, the coming together of cultures through immigration (multiculturalism) has both changed and challenged Australian's understandings of citizenship. We struggle to define clearly what citizenship means. We search for an identity as citizen that is inclusive of country and culture of origin. Hughes, Bellamy and Black (2000) pose the question, "How ... does one build or strengthen trust among people so that there is openness to the stranger--the person from a different background and perhaps from a different culture?" This is a critical question for education to deal with in meeting the challenges of the times.

Developing Participatory, Critically-Minded and Just Citizens

Developing individuals who are tolerant, compassionate, socially trusting and responsible accords with the 'multi-dimensional' notion of the attributes of engaged citizenship: a sense of identity, the enjoyment of certain rights, the fulfilment of corresponding obligations, a degree of interest and involvement in public affairs, and an acceptance of basic social values (Cogan, 1998b). In an era of 'market forces' and "economic rationalism' educational institutions are finding it difficult to educate students in the importance of values, responsibility and a true sense of trusting commitment. Importantly, there is a crucial link between civility and the civil nature of our society. …

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