Should we have ethics classes in our primary schools?

DISCUSSING IDEAS: Students at West Pennent Hills Primary School take part in an ethics class.
DISCUSSING IDEAS: Students at West Pennent Hills Primary School take part in an ethics class.

Should we be teaching our primary school students about ethics?

Not-for-profit organisation Primary Ethics says no schools in the Tamworth or Gunnedah region offers ethics classes, but it’s keen to change that.

Primary Ethics is the only provider of ethics classes in the state and has formed an aged-appropriate curriculum that has been approved by the Department of Education, which has already been picked up by more than 450 schools. 

The classes are offered as an alternative to scripture – at the moment, student that opted out of scripture are put in a “meaningful activity class” or supervised care, which includes activities such as watching movies, reading and drawing. 

Primary Ethics’ Heidi McElnea said the program was taught by volunteers, which the organisation trains for free.

“We would love to run an ethics teacher training session in the Tamworth area,” Ms McElnea said.

“Ideally, we’d like parents from two or three schools in the area who are willing to volunteer to make ethics classes an option at their child’s school.

“Grandparents, retirees and other community-minded locals often also are interested in becoming ethics teachers.”

Ms McElnea said the ethics classes helped young people learn essential life skills such as critical thinking, reasoning and respectful discussion to help them make better decisions.

“It helps children think things through and make decisions on good reasons, rather than habit or peer pressure,” she said.

Ethics teachers volunteer for around an hour a week. There are other volunteering roles, such as ethics coordinators, who liaise with the school.

Interested schools and volunteers can visited for more information or call 8068 7752.

Examples of discussion questions from the Primary Ethics curriculum


  • How do we know if someone is our friend? What makes a good friend?
  • What is ’doing the wrong thing’?
  • Why might we sometimes be afraid to ask questions?
  • Is it ever OK to change your mind?

Years 1 and 2

  • What does ‘disagreeing respectfully’ involve?
  • Does being fair mean giving everyone in the group equal share? Or giving more to those who have
  • contributed more to a project?
  • What is it to be lazy? Is there anything wrong with being lazy?
  • What is it that makes you one and the same person that you were when you were born?

Years 3 and 4

  • Why do we give? When you give, do you expect to receive something in return?
  • Is bragging the same as lying, and it is ever right to brag or boast?
  • ‘I didn’t mean to do it!’ What do we mean when we say this?
  • How reliable is observation?
  • What makes someone beautiful?
  • What is cheating and what, if anything, is wrong with cheating?

Years 5 and 6

  • Can punishment be fair?
  • Stealing is illegal. Is it also morally wrong?
  • Do we, as individuals and as a society, have a responsibility to help those who are homeless?
  • Is it ever fair to treat people (or groups) unequally?
  • Does what we do today have any effect on what happens in the future?
  • What are the consequences of thinking and acting for one’s self?
  • What’s the difference between harmless and harmful teasing? Is teasing ever OK?
  • Human rights: where do rights come from and how are they justified?

The whole Primary Ethics curriculum covers 79 topics


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