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Texit: Tasmania breaks away

This term, Year 6 created the world’s newest country by imagining that Tasmania had ‘done a Brexit’. And they spoke to local Federal MP, Mr Trent Zimmerman about the challenges of government.

Texit was part of Year 6’s PYP unit of inquiry into How We Organise Ourselves, exploring the central idea that ‘Human-made systems help us operate as a community’. It all started with a discussion about the concept of connection and how different types of human-made systems worldwide help us stay connected, such as communication or transport systems. This led Year 6 to think more broadly about how these systems are interconnected and who oversees them. The students then explored the roles and responsibilities of local, state, federal and international governments, and thought more deeply about the related concepts of fairness, prejudice and discrimination.

They pursued the following lines of inquiry: How and why alternative government systems work? How do human-made systems allow global connections between people and places? And how does the management of places and environments have a global impact?

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Before tackling the audacious idea of Texit - and creating the building blocks for their breakaway country of Tasmania - Year 6 familiarised themselves with the Australian Constitution. They went back more than 60,000 years to a time when Australia was made up of Aboriginal nations. Then they looked at the arrival of the First Fleet, when Australia was under British rule. And finally, they looked at Federation in 1901, when the separate colonies of Australia united to become one country with its own government.

It gave Year 6 a clear understanding of supreme law under which the government of the Commonwealth of Australia operates, including its relationship to the States of Australia. They also debated the pros and cons of different political systems worldwide, including communist countries, monarchies, republics, oligarchies, military regimes and dictatorships. And they reflected on the roles and responsibilities of the heads of state in these different political systems. As they discovered, in countries like the United States and South Africa, the roles of head of state and head of government are combined. However, most countries, including Australia, have a head of state who fulfils a largely ceremonial and representational role, leaving the business of administering the Government to an elected official, the head of government.

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This led Year 6 to question in more detail about how a country is governed and what sort of structures are necessary for it to function in a fair and just manner. They explored the legal system, including the police force, courts and Parliament. Students then considered the Separation of Powers, which stems from the principles enshrined in the Magna Carta, and how important this continues to be in ensuring equity and safeguarding against corruption. They explored how countries are often divided up geographically, and considered factors such as topography, climate and natural resources. They also unpacked the concept of perspective, reflecting on Indigenous populations and the importance of respecting their culture and their rights. They thought about transportation and the interconnecting network of roads, trains, air travel, shipping and cycling routes. And they thought about the importance of communication – telephone, television, internet, radio, newspapers – and how important this is to a society for passing on knowledge and values.

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And then they thought about what happened when systems break down. For example, when there is a global pandemic and a country is not equipped to respond to it! As this was so topical, it led to much debate. The Year 6 teachers then challenged the students to question what would happen if certain systems were not in place. For example, students asked what would happen if there was no rubbish collection, no health regulations for restaurants, no defence force, no pet checks and no building regulations? What would happen if roads were not maintained? And what if people could simply migrate to Australia without making an application first? What then?

It made them realise just how complex and interconnected our network of systems are and just how important they are to our quality of life. They also saw how critical human-made systems are in helping us to create safer and healthier environments.

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They then moved on to Texit. The Year 6 teachers challenged the students to work in groups to form their own breakaway country of Tasmania. They had to divide their country into four states, develop a constitution, choose a head of state, form a government, and create a flag and a national anthem.

The right to the self-determination of people is recognised in the charter of the UN. But as our Year 6 students discovered, there’s no simple step-by-step guide to creating a new country. They had to make so many difficult decisions in order for Tasmania to become the world’s newest nation. And they had to find consensus of opinion, which as they discovered, was actually quite hard! There was fierce discussion about the future of Tasmania. What should they call it? Should it be a democracy or a dictatorship? How should they elect their head of state and why? How should they map out the borders for their different states and why? And how could they design a flag that would represent their ideals and unite their nation?

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Just when everything was finally going smoothly, they ran into a BIG problem. The Year 6 teachers announced that their economy was on the verge of collapse. Now they could no longer rely on the support of mainland Australia, they needed to devise a plan to raise billions of dollars. The solution? They had to sell off one of their states. Which state were they going to sell and why?

The students then had to use their geography skills to draw a map of this state, including its borders, capital city, suburbs, major roads, sea ports, airports, natural features and major tourist attractions. They had to develop detailed climate graphs of their chosen state, clearly illustrating its temperature and annual rainfall. And they had to prepare a detailed report about where people live within the state and how the population is distributed. They then had to decide who they were going to sell this state to. Would they sell it to China, Indonesia, New Zealand or the USA, and why?

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On Thursday, Year 6 had an opportunity to use their communication skills when they met with Mr Trent Zimmerman MP, Federal Member for North Sydney, via Zoom. He spoke to them candidly and openly about his role, answering their many questions about the attractions and challenges of his job. This included asking him to nominate his favourite three Prime Ministers - John Howard, Robert Menzies (for the way they led Australia to greater economic prosperity) and John Curtin (for his contribution during World War II) – and asking him how his job affected us. As Mr Zimmerman pointed out, his job is about trying to make Australia a better place to live for all Australians. He also said that despite the representation of party politics in the media, it’s not all about confrontation. While there is healthy debate, which is important in any democracy, there is also a lot of collaboration behind the scenes in order to make decisions that benefit a diversity of people.

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Mr Zimmerman was fascinated to hear from Year 6 about the challenges they’d encountered in forming a government for the new state of Tasmania. In particular, why they’d chosen their political system.

All in all, this has been a fascinating unit of inquiry for all the students, prompting them to draw on a vast array of transdisciplinary skills. It has helped them to see how interconnected our human-made systems are and the importance of collaboration across borders and boundaries. And it’s given them a new-found appreciation for the role of government in developing robust legal, policy and institutional frameworks that enhance our quality of life.

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