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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1285

Senator JESSOP —I ask the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs whether she is aware of an organisation called Teachers for Peace, which promotes anti-nuclear propaganda in public and private schools in South Australia. Is she also aware that there are cases where teachers have been ridiculing and victimising students whose fathers are working for uranium mining companies?

Senator Chipp —What a shocking thing to do!

Senator JESSOP —I am sure that Senator Chipp would be concerned about that. What assurance can be given by the Minister that the inclusion of peace studies in the curricula in schools, anticipated for next year, as I understand it, will guarantee a balanced view of the nuclear debate and associated issues? Can the Minister assure the Senate that teachers will be required to present both sides of the issues, allowing children to form their own decisions on this subject? Is it a fact that part of the money from a $3m program for the United Nations International Year of Peace in 1986 is to be used to promote peace studies in schools? Is this to be used to provide current and balanced views of the nuclear debate for the enlightenment and benefit of the teachers dealing with this important subject?

Senator RYAN —I am not aware of the organisation called Teachers for Peace. I certainly have not had brought to my attention any incidents of the kind suggested in the honourable senator's question regarding teachers harassing students. I point out to the honourable senator that the question of the administration of schools in the States is a matter for State governments, and it would be unlikely that such matters would be drawn to my attention even if they were taking place. I suggest that if the honourable senator is concerned about matters apparently occurring within South Australia, he should take it up with Mr Arnold, the Minister of Education there.

Our Government supports the development of peace studies. The national Curriculum Development Centre has recently decided to fund two such developments, one by the Catholic Education Office in Victoria and the other within the New South Wales Department of Education. In both cases the proposals will be subjected to exactly the same stringent requirements, in terms of content, methodology, properly defined outcomes and properly defined evaluation procedures, as any other subject on the school curriculum. It seems to me that there is a strong case for saying that any study of history or any study involving literary criticism-indeed, any subject on the curriculum-lends itself to some value judgment on the part of teachers, being a range of values, attitudes and so forth stemming from their home circumstances. It is very important that teachers develop the curriculum in a way that makes it very clear to the students that value judgments are at work and that those value judgments are based on certain philosophies. There is no particular reason why peace studies should be more vulnerable to prejudiced teaching than any other humanities subject on the curriculum.

In deciding to endorse the development of peace studies by the Curriculum Development Centre, I was very well aware of the values debate that has gone on in other countries where peace studies have developed and become part of the curriculum. In the United Kingdom and the United States there have been very contentious, high profile debates-involving in the United States debates in the Congress-about the development of peace studies. So there was no naivety or oversimplistic approach to the development of this subject.

It is the case that young people, when they are asked in surveys and polls, demonstrate a great concern about the possibility of nuclear war and nuclear weapons, and express grave fears about the elusive nature of peace in our time. Because young people, particularly in their teenage years, have such an obvious interest in and concern for matters such as disarmament, peace and the role of nuclear weapons in either deterring or promoting war, I think it is appropriate that properly developed curriculum materials should be made available for studies in schools.

I conclude by saying that the question of what goes on to a curriculum in a particular school is not one for the Commonwealth Government; it is a question partly for State governments and partly for government and non-government school authorities. I know of many examples where councils in non-government schools and government schools, with the involvement of parents, teachers and students, have actively sought such curriculum materials. The teaching of this subject in its many forms is in its early stages. I can assure the honourable senator that, via the Curriculum Development Centre, the Commonwealth Government is taking a close interest in these developments.