Is the teaching of politics important enough in our schools?
The lack of young voter engagement in politics is one of the country’s greatest issues – and considering these challenging times, is it time schools took this more seriously?
WORDS: Freya Millard
In the 2015 generation election, the BBC reported that voter turnout for people aged 18-24 was 43 per cent compared to 63 per cent in 1992. This 20 per cent drop in turnout raises significant concerns for our nation and the big question now is how can we stop it dropping even further in the next 20 years?
After every big election (or referendum), the country quickly analyses the intentions of the younger generation and what direction they may one day take the country. However, when the results show a significant decrease in voter participation, then the question turns into what might actually become of our democracy if the future generations lose all interest in taking part?
It may come as no surprise that academics believe the most obvious place to intervene and change this discourse of youth political disengagement is, of course, at school. Currently, at secondary school political studies is only on the curriculum as an optional GCSE for those who wish to pick it. This sets a precedent that only select individuals will have gained the vital information that arguable every citizen should be given by the time they can vote. Why should only those who seek to gain a qualification in politics be taught things like how our parliament works, who decides our laws and policies, and what role citizens play in upholding this democracy?
This is when the conversation of making a basic level of political education part of the compulsory curriculum. Of course, no idea is perfect and the biggest concern surrounding any government enforced politics lessons is the potential it may have on influencing people’s political leanings towards the party in power or the impact the teacher’s own bias could have. Yes, these concerns are valid, but they can be monitored, addressed and adapted to as time goes on, whereas the problems with not providing young people with a basic political education have already begun to have detrimental effects and no one wants to see voter turnout fall any further.
Everyone should have the ability to navigate the political system and comprehend at least a basic understanding of the UK governing system, and yet so many of us are falling short of this. Perhaps, if political lessons are made compulsory and given the same weight as English, maths and science in our curriculum, then a whole new generation of informed voters may emerge. But will more educated citizens guarantee more engagement?
In an ideal society, young people would feel completely ready to take on their democratic duties when they reach the age to vote, not just because they know about it, but because they are engaged in the topics that matter. The problem, however, is that disenchantment with the political system is fully rife and only appears to be getting stronger as each new generation comes of voting age.
Many would argue that interest and passion in politics comes from education, others would suggest more would need to be done to make citizens care about politics, and then there are those who would say that the fundamental part of democracy is that everyone has a right to choose whether they wish to engage with the system or not. Whichever side you land on, the fact of the matter is that the opportunity to at least learn the basics about UK politics is not readily available to everyone in our education system – and that is a huge flaw which needs addressing.
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