Ethical Behaviour

The following information is provided courtesy of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Ethical Behaviour – a General Capability

Ethical Behaviour is one of seven General Capabilities identified in the Australian Curriculum. The general capabilities encompass the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that, together with curriculum content in each learning area and the cross-curriculum priorities, will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century. Students develop capability in learning to behave ethically as they identify and investigate the nature of ethical concepts, values, character traits and principles, and understand how reasoning can assist ethical judgment.

Ethical behaviour involves students in building a strong personal and socially oriented ethical outlook that helps them to manage context, conflict and uncertainty, and to develop an awareness of the influence that their values and behaviour have on others. Building capability in learning to behave ethically throughout all stages of schooling will assist students to engage with the more complex issues that they are likely to encounter in the future and to navigate a world of competing values, rights, interests and norms.

People call on principles, concepts, experiences, senses, emotions and reasoning to guide them when making judgments. Therefore, it is important that students are exposed to situations that develop both their awareness of meanings and their practical reasoning abilities associated with their thoughts and actions.

One area of study in ethics is human nature itself and how that may equip us to answer the question: ‘How ought I to live?’ The classical philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas, along with Kant during the Enlightenment, and more recently modern philosophers such as Peter Singer (1997), identified the importance of reason as a human attribute – although their justification varied. Developing a capacity to be reasonable is one of the three elements of the Ethical behaviour learning continuum. Other dimensions in the exploration of human nature are perceptions of activities, virtues and character: ‘What kind of person should I be?’ For some philosophers, this replaces the question of ‘How ought I to live?’

Although the basis of justification of what is right or good for the individual and for others is contentious, it is misleading to confuse disagreements in ethics with there being no right or wrong answer. There may be different positions, each with their strengths and weaknesses, and often there is the need to make a judgment in the face of competing claims. At the same time there is need for an open-minded, ongoing endeavour to create an ethical life.

Updates on the Australian Curriculum

On 23 January 2011, the Australian Curriculum Version 3.0 was released which included revisions to general capabilities materials made in response to national consultation and feedback.

The materials for each general capability are now in three parts:

  • an introduction that describes the nature and scope of the capability, its place in the learning areas and its evidence base
  • organising elements that underpin a learning continuum
  • a learning continuum that describes the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that students can reasonably be expected to have developed at particular stages of schooling.

While the scope of the Ethical behaviour capability has not altered significantly, it has been restructured and text revised accordingly. The Ethical behaviour learning continuum now comprises three interrelated organising elements:

  • Understanding ethical concepts and issues
  • Reflecting on personal ethics in experiences and decision making
  • Exploring values, right and ethical principles

The General capabilities materials are presented as a resource to help teachers:

  • develop a shared understanding of the nature, scope and sequence of the general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum
  • confirm their understanding of intended learning wherever general capabilities are identified in learning area content descriptions and elaborations
  • plan for and guide students’ development of the general capabilities in school and classroom learning programs.

Each state and territory will have its own policy on the curriculum and assessment of the general capabilities – for some this policy may still be under development.

General capabilities materials can be accessed at The Australian Curriculum.