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Ethics lessons

One of educational policy’s current objectives is to introduce Ethics as a compulsory subject for all pupils who do not attend Religious Education. This creates a supplementary educational programme for pupils who do not practise a religion or who do not take Religious Education lessons.

The demand from various socially relevant groups for the rising number of young people who do not take Religious Education lessons, or who do not practise a religion, to receive systematic state instruction on ethics and values, not merely religion, is growing. The current government programme takes account of this.

Objectives of Ethics lessons

Ethics lessons are supposed to empower pupils to reflect independently on ways to succeed in life, to provide them with guidance and to lead them to examine thoroughly the fundamental issues in life.

Ethics lessons should contribute to development of the individual pupils’ personalities as they examine various philosophical, ideological, cultural, anthropological and religious traditions. The intention is to increase willingness to assume responsibility for one’s own life and for coexistence with others in social, ecological, economic, political and cultural situations. Ethics lessons encourage pupils to address their own experiences of crises and to experience their own effectiveness when acting independently. Pupils should also be able to mature during Ethics lessons.

Ethics school trial

Ethics has been trialled in upper secondary schools, currently in 217 (academic secondary schools, schools for intermediate vocational education and colleges for higher vocational education), for more than 20 years. Roll-out of Ethics as a compulsory alternative to Religious Education lessons will meet a long-term need and fulfil a 2011 National Council resolution.

Roll-out of Ethics in upper secondary schools

Roll-out is initially restricted to upper secondary schools and types of school where Ethics was trialled:

The roll-out will extend to academic secondary schools (AHS) in the 2020/21 academic year, with schools for intermediate vocational education and colleges for higher vocational education following in 2021/22. Staged roll-out therefore takes account of the large number of trainee teachers and allows the time necessary for development of school textbooks.

Curriculum work

A new curriculum is currently being devised based on the numerous, frequently school-specific trial school curricula, and with particular regard to a draft curriculum by the Bundes-ARGE Ethik, the Austrian Federal Association of Ethics Teachers. The intention is to incorporate current requirements and the plethora of experiences from school trials into this curriculum. The basic study underlying ethics is philosophy. Related studies include psychology, sociology, theology, as well as history, law, biology, economics, political science and others.


Initially university colleges of teacher education and universities will offer a university course in Ethics based on a jointly developed framework curriculum, worth 60 ECTS points, as extra-occupational continuing education and training. 30 ECTS points have to be achieved in the first year of study, and another 30 ECTS points in the 2nd to 4th years of study, for a first teaching licence. Furthermore, the Universities of Vienna and Graz offer Master’s courses in Ethics (120 ECTS points). The admission criteria differ from those for the university courses, but also require possession of a teaching licence.

Admission to university Ethics courses

The requirements for admission to a university Ethics course are university teacher training or an equivalent qualification, proof of employment at a regular school and at least three years’ teaching experience.


Recommendations are being devised for credits for a number of related university teaching qualifications (such as philosophy and psychology, theology and religious instruction), with the aim of achieving recognition of training or training modules already completed that is as similar as possible. The specific credit will be issued, however, by the training institution at which the university teaching course is completed. Ethics teaching licences obtained in the past will not have to be renewed or supplemented and will remain valid.

Teacher training course

With the introduction of Ethics as a compulsory subject in upper secondary school, there is a need in the medium term to offer a university teacher training course. Preliminary work is required first before a course can be offered, realistically at the start of the 2021/22 academic year.

Manfred Wirtitsch

Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research
Head of the Policy Dept., Multidisciplinary Skills, School Communities, School Day Care
Minoritenplatz 5
1010 Vienna
T +43 1 53120 2540