Original Research - Special Collection: Ethics education and social justice

Ethics in compulsory education – Human dignity, rights and social justice in five contexts

Karin Sporre
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a5821 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.5821 | © 2020 Karin Sporre | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 September 2019 | Published: 30 April 2020

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Karin Sporre, Department of Applied Educational Science, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

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What children learn through their ethics and values education in school is of crucial societal relevance and is directed by school curricula. As curricula vary between countries, an international comparison is of interest. The aim of this study was to compare curricula to reveal variations in how matters of social justice were described in curricular texts, with a special focus on class, gender and race. Curricula from five different contexts were compared: Namibia; South Africa; California State, United States of America; Province of Québec, Canada; and Sweden. This provided the study, originating in Sweden, with crucial comparative material from outside Europe. The studied curricula were systematically searched for the importance and significance of the terms ‘poverty/poor’, ‘gender’, ‘equity’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’, ‘race’, ‘racism’, ‘human dignity/rights’, ‘equal value’ and Ubuntu. Methodologically, this represented a qualitative content analysis approach with a research interest in intersectionality, that is, in how matters of class, gender and race intersect. The study showed considerable variation between the curricular formulations from the five contexts. For example, texts from California and Québec emphasised equality as a general matter and less as one of intersectionality, compared to Namibia and South Africa as well as Sweden. In general, human rights were emphasised, but human dignity less so. For future curricular development towards education as a global common good, matters of social justice, including sustainability, need critical monitoring. The aspects of intersectionality such as class, gender and race are thus crucial, as is the inclusion of an integrated, participatory view on students’ ethical competence.


Intersectionality; Social justice; Gender equality; Sustainability; Ethics education; Ethical competence


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