Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Building Strong Futures: Literacy Practices for Developing Engaged Citizenship in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Building Strong Futures: Literacy Practices for Developing Engaged Citizenship in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Introduction

Current global tensions suggest there has never been a more important time for us to consider the kinds of literacies we are helping our students develop. Recent discussion about literacy in many countries has focused on raising students' academic performance and better preparing students to compete in the global marketplace. This view is evident in such documents as the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008), which states, 'In the 21st century Australia's capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation' (p. 4) and this goal is to be achieved through adopting specific instructional standards and curricula that include 'a strong focus on literacy' (p. 14).

But our literacy instruction--what we teach and how we teach--has other long-term and deeper purposes. Literacy educators must also answer equally to a more long-term responsibility of education that extends to outside our classrooms. This was recognised in 2014 when Australia's Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority put at the very centre of its inaugural curriculum a goal of the 'successful learner, a confident and creative individual' (n.p.) who is also, and of equal importance, 'an active informed citizen' (n.p. italics added). Additionally, in the same year Australia's policy makers, aware of the importance of education as co-extensive with all its citizens, adopted the Remote School Attendance Strategy, initiated to achieve that goal for Indigenous populations. Globally, the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals adopted by all 189 member states in 2000 set a target to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, would be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. There remains the reality that in some parts of the world certain minorities are intent on violently imposing their will on the majority of citizens and see danger in education (for example, the local Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai who was campaigning for girls' education and the abduction by Boko Haram of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their secondary boarding school). But most nations have made a commitment, however vigorously or hesitantly, to an expansion of democracy; education is seen as key to realising their citizens' potential for constructing their own positive futures, as individuals who are both globally connected and locally engaged, as well as the potential of a positive future for the society in which they live.

Potential is the operative word. Much depends on what young citizens witness and experience as being valued citizen behaviour in their communities. But of equal influence is the experience of the classroom, an early and continuing site of both learning and socialisation. It is here that literacy educators can prepare our students to operate effectively as active citizens in associational arrangements and accomplish goals beneficial for both themselves and their fellow community members.

Given the importance of preparing students for their roles as active citizens, what might this preparation look like and how can literacy educators contribute to it? Print and Lange (2013) advise 'identifying a set of competencies for active citizenship in a modern democracy is a complex, often confusing and challenging task' (p. 47). Indeed, one might ask if the idea of active citizenship is something that has been forgotten. In 2005 a U.S. survey of 1,001 participants aged 18 + living in households were asked to rank in importance six possible civic virtues (Howard, Gibson & Stolle, 2007). This study replicated the 2002 survey conducted in 30 European countries by the European Science Foundation (Jowell, et al., 2003). The least important virtues across continents were political involvement and civic participation (European Social Survey, 2002, p. …

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