After dealing with the theoretical discussions on the ‘critical citizen’ in the citizenship education literature, this section will compare and contrast how the two curriculum guidelines of China and Australia address this notion of the ‘critical citizen’.

The word ‘critical’ has been used in a content analysis of the teaching content to identify the phrases relevant to ‘critical’ in the curriculum guidelines of the two nations. The findings are clustered around the two general questions to ask of the curriculums: (1) What kind of citizen does the curriculum want to develop? And (2) How is the ‘critical’ mind to be developed through the curriculum?

What Kinds of Citizens Are Desired? Connections between ‘Being Critical’ and Overall Curriculum Aims

In China, the state-imposed citizenship education is a composite domain of teaching and learning in which moral, ideological-political, psychological health, and philosophical education are fused (see Kennedy, Fairbrother, & Zhao, 2014). Table 1 shows the overarching learning objectives of the citizenship curriculum guidelines at different stages of schooling. The goal of citizenship education shifts from developing ‘moral citizens’ at the primary level, to ‘responsible citizens’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 2) at the junior secondary level, and to an objective that is still not well defined at the senior secondary level.

Generally speaking, Chinese students are expected to become people who clearly understand China’s dominant values, its social norms, rules and laws, and its orthodox ideologies. Throughout the different stages of schooling, the students always seem to be directed to develop desired or ‘right’ values, while learning to be ‘critical’ plays a very minor role in the curriculum objectives. At the primary and junior secondary levels (the compulsory education years), the core learning

Table 1. Aims of mainland China’s civics and citizenship education curriculum guidelines



Primary: Grade 1-2

Developing morally good, inquiry-interested, and life-loving children (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011a, p. 12).

Morality and life education should lead the children to love life and develop healthy ways of living and of experiencing and participating in social life; make children learn to care for others and how to be a human being through the activities of looking after themselves and serving others and the collective; explore the world actively and develop creative and practical skills in the natural and the surrounding circumstances.

(The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011a, p. 2)

Primary: Grade 3-6

Developing caring and responsible citizens who have good behavioral habits and character (The Chinese Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 5).

This curriculum fosters each student’s growth, and directs the students’ moral development within the core values of Socialist ideology; it enriches students’ social cognition and mind, cultivates students’ characters, and helps students develop positive attitudes to participating in society and to become a person who has love, responsibility, good habits and character.

(The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 2)




Helping students lead a positive, healthy life and become responsible citizens.

This curriculum aims to develop students so they understand society, participate in public life, cherish life, and experience living; students gradually develop the basic notions of being right and wrong, good and evil, and beautiful and ugly; they lead positive and healthy lives and become responsible citizens.

(The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011c, p. 2)




Overall objectives: students,

• Learn that the Chinese Communist Party is the core of leading the Socialism Agenda with Chinese characteristics; learn the guiding principles for the Chinese Communist Party are Marxism-Leninism,

Mao Zedong Thoughts, Ding Xiaoping’s Theories, and ‘Three Representatives’;4 learn that the notion of ‘Three Representatives’ is the latest achievement of the development of Marxism in China.

  • • Know and understand the construction of Socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics;
  • • Learn how to use Marxism’s basic theories and methods to observe, analyze and solve problems;
  • • Develop autonomous, independent capacities and attitudes for modern life;
  • • Develop patriotic, collective and socialistic ideas and emotions; and form right values to apply in the world and in life.
  • (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2004, p. 4)

objective of the citizenship curriculum is learning to be a good member of society. The criteria of being “good” are largely based on morality. Meanwhile, at senior secondary school level, the students tend to be more exposed to Chinese political ideology and develop a strong political identity consistent with the ruling party.

In the Australian citizenship education curriculum, nurturing the role of ‘critical citizens’ plays a much more important role in the objectives. The following extract states the four general aims the curriculum:

An Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship will: a) develop the knowledge, understanding and skills that will facilitate the development of the attitudes, values and dispositions students need to fully participate in civic life as active citizens in their communities, the nation, regionally and globally; b) develop knowledge and understanding of Australia’s liberal, representative democracy, legal system and civic life, including reference to Australia’s democratic heritage; c) develop a critical appreciation of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and civic life nationally and globally, including the capacity to act as informed and responsible citizens and to critically examine values and principles that underpin Australia’s liberal democracy ; and d) build an understanding and critical appreciation of Australia as a multicultural and multi-faith society and a commitment to human rights and intercultural understandings, with particular consideration of Aboriginal Peoples’ and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ experience of, participation in and contribution to Australian civic identity and society. (ACARA, 2012, p. 7)

The first two aims emphasize transmitting the mainstream knowledge and values, but the last two incorporate ‘critical’ elements. This stands in contrast with the Chinese curriculum, which does not explicitly include ‘being critical’ in its aims and does not encourage the students to critically examine their rights and responsibilities. The Chinese students are more expected to learn civics and citizenship knowledge and use it to arrive at a ‘correct’ decision. The difference between the two nations is particularly explicit in the final aim, in which the Australian curriculum orients the students to critically think about their society and adopt a developmental perspective of the potential changes it may face. Therefore the curriculum guidelines of the two nations present different views of the relationship between individual and society: the Australian society is changing and the individuals are encouraged to improve the society in the future, whereas the Chinese society seems to be set and complete as it is and the individuals are encouraged to assimilate themselves into becoming good members of that society.

While presenting this different emphasis in the overall aim of the curriculum, the Australian citizenship curriculum guide is still sometimes inconsistent and ambiguous in its approach to developing the ‘critical citizen’. Nurturing ‘active and informed citizens’ seems to be the fundamental aim in the Shape paper. Being ‘critical’ goes together with this overall goal, but sometimes it does not. These examples illustrate the point:

  • • ‘Civics and Citizenship education is uniquely positioned to provide opportunities for young Australians to become active and informed citizens in a global context’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 3).
  • • ‘The school plays an essential role in the provision of opportunities for preparing active and informed citizens to ensure the continuation of Australia’s parliamentary, liberal democracy’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 5).
  • • ‘These skill areas are critical to the inquiry process, and aim to support students in becoming active, informed and critical citizens’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 9).

The discrepancies between these three extracts throw some doubt on the curriculum’s role in developing ‘critical citizens’. At the end of the Shape paper, the Section on Key Terms and Definitions (ACARA, 2012, pp. 23-24) includes a detailed explanation of ‘active citizenship’, but the definition relates little to the role of critical citizens and barely addresses how this capacity might relate to the students’ development of becoming active and informed citizens.

Active citizenship refers to involvement and informed participation in the civic and political activities of society at local, state, national, regional and global levels. For the purpose of this curriculum, reference to active citizenship is primarily about student citizenship in a school and community context that ultimately contributes to the development of students as adult citizens. (ACARA, 2012, p. 23)

This definition of ‘active citizenship’ emphasizes the ‘involvement and informed participation’ of the students, but does not explain what being ‘active’ means exactly. According to this definition, it seems that China and Australia might not have such a significant difference in their understanding of active citizenship.

After comparing and discussing the treatment ‘critical citizen’ within the aims of the citizenship curriculum in the two nations, the next section will look closely at the curriculum guidelines and examine different types of ‘critical citizens’ that the two nations expect to nurture through schools citizenship education.

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