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School programs: educating tomorrow’s leaders

 Greg Bell
Secondary students participating in role-play political debates in the Senate Chamber. Photo by: Greg Bell
Our education programs are influencing the next generation of voters to be active citizens in their school, local and national communities.

The museum’s successful learning programs are inspiring young Australians, no matter where their schools are located, to be confident, informed and active participants in Australian democracy.

Our innovative and unique onsite school program offerings are highly regarded by teachers and students around the country. In 2018–19, we welcomed the highest numbers of students and teachers to date—88,534 in total, a 4.2 per cent increase compared to the previous year. The majority of visits were repeat visits, testament to the appeal of our unique learning approaches and authentic student engagement.

Our most popular onsite program, Who’s the Boss?, connects radio-frequency identification with exhibition objects and content to present the interactive Democracy Trail. Students explore our exhibitions in small groups, discussing, analysing and responding to what they see. Immersive role-play is offered in the historic chambers, allowing students to take on the roles of significant persons in Australia’s parliamentary democracy.

One of the highlights of the year was the celebration of the museum’s birthday. Students from a local school performed the Democracy Song—a joyous example of combining fun, learning and the student voice.

Despite the success of our onsite programs, our research with teachers across Australia indicates that there are real obstacles to visiting us physically. In response, in February 2019 we launched the museum’s new digital excursion program for secondary students, It’s My Right, Isn’t It?, complementing the primary students program Democracy, Media and Me.

By participating in education conferences, surveying teachers’ opinions and ideas, and working closely with teachers through our Teacher Advisory Committee, we keep our programs current and relevant and support teachers’ classroom needs and their students’ learning.

Research we conducted in 2018 identified a strong need for dedicated resources on teaching civics and citizenship, legal studies and media literacy with links to the Australian Curriculum. As a result, we have introduced a range of new programs and resources to ‘teach the teachers’.

Throughout the year we offer dedicated programs as well as a range of online teacher resources for the history, civics and citizenship, media and visual arts, humanities and social science, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture, and English subject areas.

Our online learning resources had more than 29,000 views in 2018-19. The top three most-viewed resources were Political cartooning, 10 Fast Facts about our Australian Democracy and Getting it Together: from colonies to federation.

In April 2019, we partnered with the University of Canberra and the Australian Electoral Commission to deliver a three-day series of onsite workshops for 120 pre-service primary teachers. The workshops provided resources and strategies for teaching about democracy, including ways to encourage student participation in the classroom. We plan to make this an annual event.

By embedding students’ voice and agency in all our programs and providing more opportunities for teacher professional development onsite, the museum’s unique learning programs are helping to educate tomorrow’s leaders.