Just when we thought politics couldn’t get more interesting with Trump’s election and Brexit, Theresa May decides to through a General Election into the mix… and with it comes all the election media coverage, campaign talk and rhetoric. Yet with all the poll and media talks of a landslide victory, there is one clear and very interesting difference with this election…
Thanks to Bite The Ballot and many other youth organisations, society is taking an interest in the youth vote and, more importantly, the youth vote is registering. If the Metro is to be believed, 150,000 young people requested to register to vote on one Thursday, up from the usual 7,500 and the most recorded number since the 2016 referendum… This is clearly a good thing, but will it last?
As the momentum for voting and engagement is currently on the up, now is the perfect time to look at how to keep people interested in the long term through Political Literacy education in schools. Currently, we assume that once we hit 18 years of age we suddenly become enlightened with all of the political knowledge one needs to vote and engage. Of course, this not the case, it needs to be taught and understood in school. We treat English and Maths in very high regard, indeed as two of the most important subjects. However, the one subject that allows us to be who we want to be, gives us a voice and creates the society we wish to live in; we give no time to in schools.
Political Literacy would give us, the next generation, a clear understanding of what politics is, how our society works and why voting is relevant and important. You can’t get an entire generation mobilized for the long term without first giving them the instruments to understand the system they are supposed to be influencing.
Last year as part of our endeavour to tackle the lack of political education in schools we launched a course entitled Political Literacy. The aim of the course is to get more young people interested and engaged in politics by teaching them about the processes within politics, public speaking and debating. The skills learned on this course enhance the student’s self-image, confidence and emotional resilience.
The Course covers an Introduction to British Politics (local and national, separation of powers, voting and debating), International Relations (Britain and the World, Media Literacy and a brief look at political theory) and Employability & Politics (Oratory skills, debating and public speaking). In essence, the Course shows young people that politics is in everything we do in life – so it pays to be involved.
It launched in January 2016 in a PRU in Croydon, the first school to take the 6-week course on. Since then we have launched the course in schools across boroughs in London, Dartford, Cambridge and Yorkshire. Out of the 7 most recently visited schools, we asked students if it ‘it successfully taught you how to debate and present arguments out of five’ – five being Excellent and one being poor. 80% said Five or Four. We also asked if they ‘feel more confident about your opinions now’, again out of five. 82% said Five or Four. Politics takes time and only when you are taught this, will you have the patience to stomach it. Maybe it’s time we look at the issue for the long term, rather than just around elections and referendums.
The issue is not apathy itself, it’s why apathy happens. Apathy amongst young people happens because the system has become so complex, that people no longer understand it and so, as a result, get frustrated. We must give schools the tools necessary to deal with this issue because no matter how many times you scream at someone to vote, if that person does not understand the system or why you should vote, he or she will never be engaged in the long run, even though they may vote the one time you asked them to.
We must act now and ensure all the work done by voter registration campaigns isn’t wasted by ensuring the people they engaged remain active and interested in the long run by giving them and future generations practical political education, to ensure they keep interested and not have that, recently ignited, interest die out due to frustration and lack of understanding.