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The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia is hardly the sort of content that traditionally inspires passion in 11-year-old boys. However, an encounter with the South Australian Attorney General and Commissioner for First Nations Voice has given our Year 6 students an insight into how a 122-year-old document is more important than it might first seem.

Studying the systems and institutions that underpin Australia’s model of democracy, the Year 6 cohort visited State Parliament House during Week 3, to see first-hand the rooms and halls where the decisions that shape our state are made. Referencing the constitution is standard when finding out how the powers to make and act on decisions are shared between the three levels of Government in Australia. However, the notion of changing this rule book for the Australian Legal System only presents itself at times of great change and it is fortuitous that the upcoming referendum regarding a First Nations voice to Federal Parliament is giving our students a real-world example of how processes that are embedded in the fabric of our system of democracy play out in reality.

Adding to their growing understanding of how laws are made, which has combined the State Parliament visit with a virtual tour of the Federal Parliament in Canberra, will be upcoming interactions with current State MPs, who will be able to give our Year 6 students an insight into how these systems work in reality as well as how the role of representing the electorate differs between both the two houses of Parliament and between the sitting government and the cross benches.

Having gained insight into how laws pass through the legislature, our Year 6 students will undertake mock parliamentary debates on issues that are live and relevant in Australian society today (although it is hard to believe that a debate as fierce as the ‘Vegetables should be served at every meal’ proposal the students enacted on the floor of State Parliament could ever be matched!)

Through discussions in class that have arisen from examining case studies of issues that have evolved alongside law-making, the students have identified health, environmental, diplomatic, and social issues that will formulate the basis of the mock parliamentary debates. Students will take on the role of the Executive and draft a Bill to be debated, which if passed, would address concerns they have regarding their chosen issue. Ultimately, students will take on the roles of leaders of the government, opposition, and members of the cross benches, as well as the secretariat that services the parliament, to debate the merits of the proposed social change.

It is of course assumed that the conduct of our ‘parliamentarians’ will reflect the values of Truth, Respect and Service in every interaction leading up to, during and after the debating of the Bill.

These simulated parliamentary debates will provide an opportunity for the students to practically apply the skills being developed in other subject disciplines this term:

  • English – Year 6 are currently developing their persuasive writing skills, which have been boosted using the 7 Steps writing program. Drafting arguments in written form is a vital step for students in preparing for their debate.
  • Drama – Verbal expression, which is currently being showcased through student participation in the IPSHA Poetry Recital Competition. The verbal debate will require students to use more than their words to get their point across.
  • Technologies – Year 6 are currently examining how advertisers can consider the differing persuasive techniques of pathos, logos and ethos to design products that consider and appeal to a wide range of consumers. This approach will inform the construction of arguments to use in the debate.
  • Mathematics – Year 6 are currently learning about how data can be communicated in the media to portray a particular point of view. Students will have the opportunity to utilise data-based evidence to support their arguments.
  • Science – in Term 1, students in Year 6 examined the correlation between natural disasters and the decisions made by humans living in affected areas. Students will have the opportunity to draw on this conceptual understanding when debating issues relating to the environment.

We are looking forward to these students enacting their agency, along with the skills and knowledge above, as they prepare for and take part in a debate that is meaningful to them. Please ask your son in the coming week which Bill he will be choosing to debate, his stance, and what his justifications are for this stance. These vital skills for life, which adults use daily, will be developed alongside our engaging way of teaching Civics & Citizenship.

Paul Huebl
Year 6 Teacher