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.

Ethics could soon be on the curriculum of local schools that are being given the opportunity to offer the course to primary school aged children. 

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

The classes would be offered as an alternative to scripture.

At the moment, students that opt out of scripture are put in a “meaningful activity class” or supervised care.

The Ethics curriculum would cover 79 topics with Kindergarten students discussing questions such as “Is it ever OK to change your mind?” and “Why might we sometimes be afraid to ask questions?” 

Years 5 and 6 students tackle more complex issues, such as “Is it ever fair to treat people (or groups) unequally?” and “Human rights: where do rights come from and how are they justified?”.

Primary Ethics is the only provider of ethics classes in the state and has formed an age-appropriate curriculum that has been approved by the Department of Education.

It has already been picked up by more than 450 schools. 

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. For more info visit Primary Ethics’ website.

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