HOW TO DEVELOP THE “CRITICAL” CITIZEN
In order to answer this question, this study first compared those parts of the citizenship learning areas where the students are encouraged to examine content through a critical approach. This comparison revealed a significant difference between China and Australia. However, the comparative analysis also highlighted how the curriculum guidelines of the two nations share a similarity in the way they see the development of the critical citizen being closely associated with the cognitive disposition of ‘being innovative’.
In the Chinese curriculum, the students are encouraged to take a critical approach particularly with the following topics: ‘social issues’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 13), ‘superstition’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education,
2004, p. 11), and the ‘media’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 13). At the senior high level, the students are required to learn the role of critical thinking in innovation within traditional theories in a section entitled ‘(Marxism) Methodology and Innovation’. But compared with the Australian Shape Paper, desired values tend to be more explicitly presented in the Chinese curriculum guidelines and students are directed to make ‘right’ judgments and choices. For example, the higher-primary grade students should ‘observe social issues and phenomenon from different perspectives, and make right judgments on moral issues in reality’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 5). The junior secondary students should ‘learn to face complex social lives and multiple values and employ right values to make right moral judgment and choice’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011c, p. 5). Meanwhile at the senior secondary level the guideline gives more priority on being ‘right’ in political standpoints. Being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ does not only rely on political and ideological criteria but also involves using moral judgments.
In the Australian counterpart, interestingly, the students are also encouraged to develop ‘a critical perspective on the influence of the media within, including social media” (ACARA, 2012, p. 13). The students are required to “critically evaluate civics and citizenship issues” (ACARA, 2012, p. 14). As mentioned previously, ‘civics and citizenship issues’ include a wide range of issues related to ‘the organization and working of society’ and an individual’s relationship with the state. In this sense, in terms of the curriculum content, it is evident that the Shape Paper offers more opportunities for students to develop critical minds and exercise critical thinking skills.
The Shape paper puts being ‘critical’ and ‘creative’ together and treats ‘critical and creative thinking’ as one of the general capabilities that the citizens should process. The other capabilities include ‘personal and social capability,’5 ‘the capability to behave ethically,’ ‘intercultural understanding,’ ‘literacy,’ ‘numeracy’ and ‘information and communication technology (ICT) competence’ (ACARA, 2012, pp. 18-20). The purpose of these capabilities is to ‘assist students to become engaged citizens in their democracy, using skills to resolve issues, and developing the attitudes, values and dispositions that are the foundations of modern democracies’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 17). The Civics and Citizenship curriculum in Australia expects that the citizenship education subject will align with other subjects such as History, Geography, Business and Economics, and English to develop the students’ ‘general capabilities’ since these subjects all utilize ‘a boarder social inquiry process’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 10). This approach contrasts with the Chinese curriculum guidelines in which some specific capabilities are cultivated in the citizenship education subject. These include ‘managing emotion and being capable of self-adjustment and selfcontrol’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b; 2011c), and ‘be capable of making right values judgment and behavioral choice’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2004).
In the Australian Shape Paper the capability of ‘critical and creative thinking’ is explained in the following manner:
Students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems. Critical and creative thinking are integral to activities that require students to think broadly and deeply using skills, behaviours and dispositions such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas and subjects.
Civics and Citizenship is particularly suited to developing students’ ability to think creatively and critically about political and social issues. This should include opportunities to generate ideas, imagine possibilities and consider alternatives, apply logical and inventive reasoning, draw conclusions and design a course of action against a backdrop of environmental and social needs and concerns. Critical and creative thinking will be developed through topics featuring questions that do not have obvious or straightforward answers. The Civics and Citizenship curriculum will stimulate students to think creatively about the impact that civic issues have on our lives, how they might be addressed, and about possible, probable and preferred futures. (ACARA, 2012, p. 17)
This description suggests that critical thinking appears to be more aligned with cognitive activities and to be part of an inquiry process. There are echoes of this approach in the Chinese citizenship curriculum guideline too. Despite the fact that the term ‘critical thinking’ is only occasionally mentioned discursively, Chinese students are encouraged to develop independent thinking, being innovative, and solve problems through independent inquiry. As a learning objective the importance of ‘being innovative’ is treated differently at the different stages of schooling in the Chinese documents. In the lower-primary grade it is considered as one of guiding principles, but in the higher-primary grade it is regarded as a capacity, and tends to be considered as functional in the pedagogical principles. More specifically, in the curriculum guidelines for the lower-primary grades (Grade 1-2) students are encouraged to think actively and be creative in the inquiry or problem solving process and other learning activities (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011a). In the higher-primary grades (Grade 3-6) students are required to develop the capabilities of ‘observing social matters and phenomena from different angles, making right judgments on moral issues in life, probing and solving the social problems rationally and creatively, and trying to take part in activities of public welfare’ (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011b, p. 5). The junior high curriculum guideline advises teachers to direct students to learn ‘how to learn’ through a range of pedagogical activities:
In teaching, teachers shall stimulate the students’ incentive for learning, and steer them to actively probe the problems in real life and in the growing process through the activities such as conducting surveys, visits, discussions, interviewing, planning projects, and scenario analysis; the students broaden their experience in the collaborations and sharing and improve their moral learning abilities in self-inquiry and independent thinking. (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2011c, pp. 18-19)
At the senior high level, another piece of pedagogical advice offered to teachers in the citizenship curriculum guideline is to encourage their students to think independently, and to share their own thoughts and ideas in learning process (The Chinese State Ministry of Education, 2004, p. 17).