Conference 2019: Reflecting on past challenges, planning for the future

As the world grapples with major economic, political and environmental change, our hope for the future lay in the ability of our emerging leaders to make well-reasoned decisions on issues with far-reaching consequences. This was the message Dr Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre had for the 160 attendees at Primary Ethics State Conference held on Saturday October 26.

On a personal level, we all benefit from the ability to think critically and to reason. Education in ethics is crucial in helping us, regardless of our age or stage in life, be better equipped to tackle the various challenges we face.

Not-for-profit group Primary Ethics’ second state conference was generously hosted by Western Sydney University in Parramatta. Ethics volunteers from around the state converged to participate in a day of ideas about the work they are engaged in and the path that lay ahead.

Keynote speaker Verity Firth, head of UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion and former Minister for Education, revisited the challenges leading up to achieving legislative change in 2010 that permitted ethics classes to be delivered in NSW public schools alongside special religious education classes. Almost 10 years later, Primary Ethics represents the largest ethics education movement in Australia.

So where to now? Renee Bilston from Farmhouse Montessori spoke about the benefits of ethics classes to her school under the recent partnership with Primary Ethics. Primary Ethics’ Elizabeth Allen spoke of the workplace volunteering project that has seen 14 UNSW staff trained and supported to deliver ethics classes in schools near the university’s Randwick campus, not simply to engage and contribute to local community, but as a mechanism for staff wellbeing and meaning.

Meaning was a theme developed by Mitra Gusheh, Executive Manager, Social Impact at UTS in her presentation of the study by Dr Gianni Zappalà on the outcomes of volunteering in the lives of Primary Ethics volunteers.

Curriculum author Dr Sue Knight and philosopher Kelby Mason discussed the philosophical framework behind the Primary Ethics curriculum, with Classroom Support Manager Coral Sturgess and Trainer Sophie Patterson exploring implementation of the program in the classroom and its underpinning of 21st century skills.

The value of applied ethics was reflected upon in a lunchtime screening of The Final Quarter and a talk by 13-year-old Belle, who explained how ethics classes had helped her to have conversations with people with differing views on complex topics such as climate change.

In 2019, 45,000 children participated in weekly ethics classes in 500 schools across the state thanks to the contributions by donors and a team of 2800 trained volunteers.
For more information on the program and volunteering opportunities visit

Verity Firth conference presentation

Keynote speaker Verity Firth