Original Research - Special Collection: Ethics education and social justice

Ethical competence expressed in students’ written texts

Annika Lilja
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a5817 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.5817 | © 2020 Annika Lilja | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 September 2019 | Published: 14 April 2020

About the author(s)

Annika Lilja, Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden


Teaching ethics in compulsory school regained urgency some years ago in Sweden when National Tests in ethics were introduced. Students were evaluated as having or not having the ethics knowledge required. The aim of this study is to investigate what aspects of ethical competence students express in texts from National Tests, and to investigate what cultural tools 12- and 15-year-old students use in their texts about a given ethical situation. A qualitative content analysis was performed in three steps. In the first step, four aspects of ethical competence were identified: to verbalise, to take a stand, to take responsibility for one’s actions and an understanding of life. In the second step, the identified ethical competence was interpreted through four ethical voices building on the theories of Nussbaum, Løgstrup, Benhabib and Singer, showing that the students’ texts contain varying aspects of ethics. In the third step, cultural tools used by the students were identified. The conclusions were that (1) some ethical perspectives, such as the societal and global perspectives, are disadvantaged in the analysed texts, and accordingly in the tasks; (2), ethics is a difficult subject to assess in a fair way; and (3) since cultural tools are dependent on the social, cultural and historical context, the school has a responsibility to teach ethics in a way that gives all students the power and authority to live good lives.


Ethical competence; National Tests; Students’ texts; Ethical voices; Cultural tool; Moral development


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