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

Building knowledge and capacity for action on climate change

Worldwide, children are making an impact as they enter into conversations and take action on climate change.

Schools, too, are playing an important role in providing access to facts and building knowledge about our environment and the impact of human behaviour.

In NSW, students start learning about the environment in kindergarten, with specific content included in the k-10 geography and the k-6 science and technology syllabuses. There are also opportunities to learn about sustainability in all NSW syllabuses in line with the requirements of the Australian Curriculum.

We must also to look to our First Peoples for guidance and knowledge regarding responsible stewardship of our earth. Cultural knowledge is a vastly under-appreciated resource, and we could all learn much more from generations of experience of sustainable land management if we listen. In doing so, we also have an opportunity to create a more just and sustainable world.

A vital and unifying aspect of achieving change is the capacity to talk, plan and take action alongside others who have differing points of view or experience from your own. Talking together allows us to challenge long-held beliefs that may be rooted in inaccuracy, to bring fresh ideas into the conversation, and to consider how choices we make, whether personally or at a policy level, impacts others and our environment.

“How to talk about climate change (without losing friends)” was a talk given last month by year 7 student Belle at her local climate action meeting.

In her talk, Belle emphasises the importance of engaging in conversation, and particularly in respectful disagreement, with others.

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Meet some Primary Ethics volunteers

Newcastle volunteers help shape the future of ethics education

How do we help children make wise decisions in their lives today, while equipping them to be responsible leaders for tomorrow? That was one of the questions posed at the Primary Ethics conference held at the University of Newcastle on Saturday, where 60 volunteers met to workshop strategies for making ethics education available to more students in local primary schools.

Another focus of the day was to support volunteers’ professional development in their roles as facilitators and organisers of ethics classes.

Volunteers came from right across Greater Newcastle, the Central Coast, Taree and as far afield as Coffs Harbour. Some are parents, grandparents or carers of primary school aged children. Others are community-minded volunteers who have a love of learning and wish to make a big impact with an hour or two they have available to volunteer each week. Continue reading

Professor Dame Marie Bashir a guest of honour at Primary Ethics class

Professor Dame Marie Bashir is indefatigable in her grassroots support of Australian communities and last Wednesday, March 7, her attention was on ethics classes in public schools.

Despite the loss of her husband Sir Nicholas Shehadie in recent weeks, Professor Bashir continues to dedicate an incredible amount of energy and time to supporting communities build on essential areas as education, health and international relations.

Professor Bashir joined former NSW Premier Nick Greiner and his partner Carolyn Fletcher to participate in an ethics class at Marie Bashir Public School. Continue reading

Primary Ethics volunteers recognised at State Reception

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Almost 100 of Primary Ethics’ longest serving volunteers were recognised for their service to community at Government House Sydney earlier this month.

On Thursday, February 8 His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales and Mrs Linda Hurley hosted the reception for volunteers, some of whom travelled from across the state to attend.

In his address, the Governor extended his thanks to those invited for donating their time to teaching ethics to the children of NSW.

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Hundreds converge to support ethics classes in NSW schools

From Byron Bay to Bungendore, Canowindra to the Central Coast, Milton to Manly, volunteers descended on the first Primary Ethics conference held at UNSW on Saturday.

Primary Ethics is a not-for-profit organisation that offers free training and curriculum to community members to deliver weekly ethics classes to children at public primary schools across the state.

Ethics classes are held at the same time as scripture and non-scripture, and give children from kindy to year 6 the opportunity to develop thinking, reasoning and decision-making skills to help them in all aspects of their life.

On Saturday, 350 teachers, coordinators and regional managers gathered to share experiences, network and develop skills in facilitating classes and managing programs that they will take back to the programs which are currently operating in 460 schools across the state and teaching ethics to 36,500 children. Continue reading

Ethics class in Earlwood a lesson in fairness

An ethics class in Earlwood yesterday had some extra special guests.

Shadow Minister for Education Mr Jihad Dib MP, along with former Premier and Minister for Education The Hon Nick Greiner, sat in a colorful classroom at Earlwood Public School and listened as volunteer ethics teacher Marta Tordi facilitated a discussion on fairness using the story of the Little Red Hen.

Nick Greiner Jihad Dib visit ethics class

The Hon Nick Greiner and Mr Jihad Dib MP were welcomed to the school by school captains Andrew and Poppy.


Children explained their reasons as to whether they thought different animals should get larger portions of bread depending on, for example, whether they had helped to sow or mill the wheat, or according to their size, or whether all portions should instead be divided equally. It was not entirely dissimilar to the current debate around school funding.

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Public Forum: Ethics in the Classroom

WEDNESDAY October 12, 6pm, Souths Leagues Club Merewether (Newcastle) 

What? Public Forum: Ethics in the classroom – lessons from the first five years.
When? 6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 12st October 2016
Where? Souths Leagues Club, Merewether
Who? Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation
Contact: Speakers are available to the media (Contact Ross 0401 522875)

Newcastle was among the first regions to roll out the Primary Ethics program in 2011. What have we learned since then?

Newcastle Ethics Classes

Ethics class in action at Hunter School Of The Performing Arts

In the next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute we’ll be discussing the growth of philosophical ethics in the classroom and the challenges and rewards of implementing the Primary Ethics program.
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