The Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) encompass a broad range of aspects pertinent to social, civic, and citizenship education. In the latest iteration of the Australian Curriculum, HASS includes studies of History, Geography, Civics, and Citizenship, as well as Economics and Business, with the primary teaching document being called HASS F-6/7. The HASS F-6/7 curriculum has a specific framework and a set of objectives, which are used for furthering the understanding of how learning approaches should be developed as well as how the curriculum is being constructed and implemented.
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In terms of the curriculum’s rationale, most findings are focused on learning about various places, cultures, people, and connections throughout the world, both in the past and present. The overall process of inquiry encourages questioning, research using reliable resources, analysis, evaluation, and communication, as mentioned by Blessinger in his work targeted at developing a conceptual framework for educators in the humanities and social sciences (23).
The combination of these processes represents a cohesive framework for the active participation of learners, their critical and creative problem-solving, informed decision-making, the development of the sentiment of an active and responsible citizen, partaking in ethical reflection, and financial enterprising. The critical philosophical framework of the HASS F-6/7 curriculum thus refers to the encouragement of a “sense of wonder, curiosity and respect about places, people, cultures, and systems throughout the world, past and present, and an interest in and enjoyment of the study” (ACARA).
The encouragement of diversity inclusion into the curriculum is essential because the perspectives offered by individuals from different backgrounds can facilitate a discussion on positive practices. The purpose of the current paper is to explore the philosophical underpinnings of developing the HASS curriculum as well as consider the perspective of the First Nations in the design of such a curriculum.
The background associated with the philosophical underpinnings of the HASS F-6/7 curriculum should include the considerations of values of humanities and social sciences. These values are necessary to understand because they impact the way the subject is being taught and what topics are being covered. Moreover, the values of the HASS curriculum also represent the subject of discussion in the process of teaching.
At the very core of the curriculum are the values that have an impact on learners’ social, physical, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic development (ACARA). The level of adherence to the mentioned values is linked to individual perspectives and activities that are identified at the level of culture and community as well as geography as an underlying concept dictating the interface of social studies discipline (Smith 113). Values linked to the community give individuals the most significant concepts of the meaning of life. Therefore, learning how to be a member of a community is an essential aspect of the HASS curriculum, with implications of the holistic influence of values on the interactions between people. Put simply, the HASS curriculum implies the connection between individuals’ actions and their values.
The Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12) applies to the value framework of the HASS curriculum. This is explained through the idea that rule is enacted in multiple contexts, cultures, and societies. However, it is essential to understand that there is often a lack of alignment in people’s fundamental values and the way they are acting because they may not always be consistent in connecting actions to underlying personal values. Therefore, there may be cases when ethical decisions are not merely conventional, with a morally negative action, despite being conventional, would be considered wrong morally.
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This means that moral laws are such that they cannot be altered, non-contingent, and overall acceptable in serious, whereas social decisions depend on societal conventions. The added complexity of the matter is associated with the fact that many moral judgments depend on the context related to community and relationship. For example, a question was raised in association with the Singaporean Civics and Moral Education curriculum, in which one of the central values is a nation before community and society before self (8). It has been debated that such a value underlined in the curriculum is morally disputable in some cases, creating internal tension within citizens as to which moral values they should use in specific circumstances.
In the Australian context, the development of the HASS curriculum was necessary to make connections between disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches. Important topics that are integrated into the curriculum include “my personal world,” “how my world is different from the past and can change in the future,” “our past and present connections to people and places,” “diverse communities and places and the contribution people make,” “how people, places and environments interact, past and present,” “Australian communities – their past, present, and possible futures,” Australia in the past and present and its connections with a diverse world,” “sustainable past, present, futures” (10).
When considering the perspective of Indigenous populations in the development of the HASS curriculum, it is imperative to mention that all students, regardless of their background, are expected to become successful learners, creative citizens, and active and informed individuals that would make positive decisions for the well-being of their communities. To achieve this objective, the curriculum aims to develop stronger partnerships and support the process of facilitating school leadership regarding ensuring positive learning outcomes for Indigenous and Australian youth, most notably those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
In this case, the subject of the curriculum that requires the most attention in history, which enables significant support at both primary and secondary levels. This should include Indigenous components of different subjects, the incorporation of relevant historical information, and communications technology. As applied to any context, including the teaching of Indigenous young people, the general capability of the given curriculum is ensuring the cohesive and interconnected set of knowledge, behaviors, skills, as well as dispositions that help students and prepare them for life in the 21st century.
Thus, the development of personal and social responsibilities among students within the curriculum represents one of the key aspects of the HASS curriculum. Personal and social competence refers to the set of stabilities for self-management, teamwork, and social competence. Teamwork can be seen as one of the aspects for reaching social competence, including the capability of teamwork; however, this also implies challenging team standards and procedures if necessary (ACARA). The social and personal competence of students refers to managing, monitoring, reflecting, and evaluating one’s own learning against both personal and institutional goals.
It also implies the learning and the establishments of teams, how they should move in and out of various groups, as well as how to work within groups with different advantages and disadvantages. The mentioned principles that are necessary to embed in the HASS curriculum were also supported by the work of McDonald who suggested that students should be engaged in the process of learning with the help of active collaboration, and the teamwork that is supported by diversity can be of the most benefit to the educational process (246).
In the Indigenous populations’ context, the ability to work in teams is an important step within social competence because it is concerned with the variety of learning aspects pertinent to authentic functional living in society. Social competence is imperative to learn how to live in a society in which personal needs, desires, and wishes may need to be changed and revised for various purposes, ranging from friendship goals to objectives. Because of this, socially competent individuals have to be self-aware and are capable of enhancing their relationships with other people, as well as conflict mediation and leadership skills.
The philosophy of social competence implies the recognition and regulation of emotions, the development of empathy for others as well as ensuring understanding of relationships. According to the “General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum,” the legacy of schools in regards to their students includes such important national values as democracy, equity, and justice, as well as personal values of respect for others, honesty, and resilience. The combination of these values, national and personal, is what makes the curriculum attentive to the needs of students from different backgrounds.
Beyond the social and personal capabilities, the curriculum is intended to encourage the development of ethical understanding, which implies understanding and acting in alignment with moral and ethical principles. Ethical behaviors within this capability include “the willingness, determination, and capacity to think, make judgments, and behave independently. It includes identifying right and wrong and having the willingness, determination, and capacity to argue the case for change, understanding the place of ethics and values in human life” (ACARA 24). Ethical understanding is a fundamental principle that encourages people to act in regard to others and have the desire and ability to work for the mutual good. Within this context, it is vital to mention Socrates’ definition of ethics, which implies thinking about the following question: what ought one to do? (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
The answer to this question is easy or straightforward as there would always be both cultural and social dimensions offering additional guidance. In this sense, an ethical perspective is such that enables an individual to in favor of the common good based on both public and personal rules as “opposed to someone who simply does what everyone else does – unthinking custom and practice” (ACARA). In life, there will be varied positions in terms of ethics, with both advantages and disadvantages, which means that each person would use their sound judgment in the face of opposing claims. Simultaneously, there is a requirement for facilitating an open-minded and ongoing discussion to create a meaningful and ethical life.
To develop and strengthen their ethical understanding capabilities, students in the HASS curriculum have to be exposed to a range of “controversial issues and explore reasons for taking various perspectives, using processes such as giving reasons, being consistent, finding causes and meanings, as well as offer proof and evidence” (ACARA 24). Importantly, the area of the Humanities and Social Sciences is essential for considering the ethical understanding of specific actions and exploring them from various perspectives. The capability of ethical understanding is differentiated into three specific elements, such as the understanding of ethical concepts and issues, finding the reasoning in decision-making and actions, as well as exploring values, rights, and responsibilities.
Intercultural understanding is among the fundamentals of the development, construction, and implementation of the curriculum in the HASS curriculum and thus can be applied to considerations of issues pertinent to the First Nations Australian students. Intercultural understanding refers to the ability of individuals to respectively work with individuals of diverse backgrounds as well as show appreciation for one’s own culture and different cultures.
This understanding within the HASS curriculum encourages people to exhibit essential values such as “tolerance, understanding and inclusion, respect, and fairness” (ACARA). In the context of the given curriculum, intercultural understanding allows students to widen their diverse experiences while still allowing their own personal attitudes to be valuable contributions to the understanding.
While various definitions of intercultural understanding may vary, the principal aim of the HASS curriculum, as applied to the perspective of First Nations people, is to consider their unique history and cultural diversity. As mentioned by ACARA, the principles embedded into the creation of the curriculum are expected to help teachers understand, represent, and respect the worldviews of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and encourage culturally responsive practices (21). Intercultural understanding ties in with the facilitation of the curriculum because the population has its own set of sacred practices, ceremonies, and local protocols. It is recommended to identify any such practices, knowledge, and information in order to integrate them into the curriculum to make the process of learning more comfortable and interesting.
Since culture is understood as a concept inherent to different human groups characterized by cohesion within such groups, it is imperative for educators to be aware of the local peculiarities. This information can be collected by means of talking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, referring to local community educators and consultative groups, as well as seeking advice from the leaders of both local and state-wide educational teams. By using the knowledge acquired from multiple professionals and individuals possessing information on the perspectives of the First Nations people, the HASS curriculum will develop the opportunities and abilities of people to recognize the culture and facilitate respect for it as well as reflect on various intercultural experiences and take responsibility.
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Cross-curriculum priorities represent a philosophical framework for meeting the expectations of diverse populations. The first priority implies the intended assurance that all young Australians can learn about, respect, and acknowledge the culture of First Nations peoples. Following this priority, it has been established that the curriculum should be sustainable, implying that both students and teachers should reflect on all curriculum areas, including intercultural understanding.
Moreover, the “HASS curriculum includes such priority as Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, which is intended to develop skills, knowledge, and understanding related to Asia for all Australian students” (Southwell). According to the work by Gobby and Walker Powers of Curriculum: Sociological Perspectives on Education, the work with diverse students, and especially First Nations peoples, the curriculum should be powerful in order to strengthen the capabilities of students to be prepared for future life in multicultural settings (15). This hypothesis was also supported by Carey and Prince, who underlined the importance of avoiding the Westernized narrative inherent to the Australian curriculum when making Indigenous people comfortable within the learning environment (270).
However, the value of the HASS curriculum is expected to go beyond the Indigenous-western binary in order to encourage productive conversations on diverse, historically, and socially informed learning. Within the contemporary narrative of the HASS curriculum, preserving the historical value of the Indigenous experiences while integrating them into the current social narrative is a critical philosophical consideration of the development and facilitation of the curriculum.
In the development, construction, and implementation of the HASS curriculum, considering the perspective of the Indigenous populations is imperative, especially in the Australian context. The histories and cultures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are a cross-curriculum focus that should be included in sound pedagogy and must be acknowledged and accepted. Therefore, the philosophical underpinnings of the curriculum related to cultural diversity encourage educators and policymakers working in the Humanities and Social Sciences area to value the perspectives of ethnic populations and embedding their beliefs and opinions into teaching.
The exploration of the HASS curriculum has shown that the promotion of respective and secure relationships between learners of various backgrounds is fundamental for facilitating effective teaching. Partnerships that are supported with diversity encourage the sharing of positive ideas and perspectives among learners. From a philosophical standpoint, the curriculum should facilitate the development of empathy for others as well as ensuring understanding relationships among those involved in the process. Australian educators should dedicate themselves to embedding curriculum practices that encourage the participation of diverse students because their different views on the HASS subjects can facilitate a positive discussion and the uncovering of valuable issues.
ACARA. “Humanities and Social Sciences in the Australian Curriculum.” OUP. Web.
Blessinger, Patrick, and John Carfora. Inquiry-based learning for the Arts, Humanities and Social Science: A Conceptual and Practical Resource for Educators. Emerald Group Publishing, 2014.
Carey, Michelle, and Michael Prince. “Designing an Australian Indigenous Studies Curriculum for the Twenty-first Century: Nakata’s ‘Cultural Interface’, Standpoints and Working Beyond Binaries.” Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 43, no. 2, 2015, pp. 270-283.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Ethics. Philosophy. Socrates.” Britannica. Web.
General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum. Australian Curriculum. Web.
Gobby, Brad, and Rebecca Walker. Powers of Curriculum: Sociological Perspectives on Education. Oxford University Press, 2018.
McDonald, Tim. Classroom Management: Engagement Students in Learning. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Smith, Bryan. “Engaging Geography at Every Street Corner: Using Place-Names as Critical Heuristic in Social Studies.” The Social Studies, vol. 109, no. 2, 2018, pp. 112-124.
Southwell, Anne. “Asia and Australia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia.” Education NSW, 2013. Web.