Australian students' knowledge of democracy and national values has plateaued, results from the latest National Assessment Program-Civics and Citizenship reveal.
A sample of year 6 and year 10 students were assessed in 2019 on their understanding of Australian democracy and system of government, the rights and legal obligations of citizens and the social values that underpin Australian society.
They were also surveyed on their attitudes about traditional and community civic engagement.
The results show 53 per cent of year 6 students were above the proficient standard, which was not significantly different from previous years.
In the year 10 cohort, only 38 per cent of students achieved the benchmark, which was not a significant change from the 2016 results but it was considerably lower than the 2010 and 2013 test results.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) chief executive David de Carvalho said education departments should reflect on how students' understanding and appreciation of democracy, civic processes and institutions could be improved.
"I do think that it is a little bit concerning that the numbers, particularly in year 10, are pretty low in terms of only 38 per cent of students reaching that proficient standard," he said.
"That should be a concern to educational authorities and it should be a matter of some attention and them asking themselves what could we do to lift the level of knowledge and understanding?"
Girls outperformed boys in both year levels and the ACT had the highest average scores out of all states and territories.
Mr de Carvahlo said the ACT generally performed well on all national assessments, which can be related to socio-economic factors, but the fact that Canberra was the centre of the Australian Public Service could lead to more political discussions in households.
The survey revealed that both year levels thought pollution was the biggest problem affecting Australia followed by climate change and water shortages.
Nearly two-thirds of year 10 students said they had collected money for charity or a social cause.
There was an increase in the proportion of students who thought participating in peaceful protests about important issues was a key attribute of good citizenship.
However, there was a significant decrease in the proportion of students who believed that learning about political issues from the media was important.
Mr de Carvhalo said it was unclear whether this could reflect a disinterest in political issues or a healthy scepticism of media reporting.
"One would hope that it doesn't reflect a general disinterest in the wider world and political matters more broadly," he said.
"It is important of course that school provides plenty of opportunities for the discussion of these issues through the study of history and geography and economics and even through other learning areas."
He said civics and citizenship, which falls under humanities and social sciences, was essential in enabling students to become active and informed citizens to participate in and sustain Australia's democracy.
"I think we can't take for granted the democratic society that we're living in," he said.
"We will miss it if it ever comes to pass that our current democratic processes start slipping away from us and I think the first step in protecting that legacy is understanding how important our political processes are in giving in giving citizens a voice in the way they're governed."