There is a profound lack of Political Literacy and Democracy education in schools in general. A simple resource during democracy week would only be a quick short-term fix to a much larger problem! Schools need a more in-depth, Political Literacy Programme which gives young people the tools they need to become engaged in society and our democracy for the long term!
Currently, we assume that once we hit 18 years of age we suddenly become enlightened with all the political knowledge one needs to vote and engage. Of course, this is not the case, it needs to be taught and understood in school as a compulsory subject. We treat English and Maths in very high regard, 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 a society we wish to live in, we give no time to in schools.
So why is politics is in everything we do in life? Simple, politics is life. If we forget large events like Brexit for a moment (I know its hard, but let’s try…). In the simplest of terms, politics influences how much money you make, how much education costs (or doesn’t cost), the price of housing and rent, taxes, if the NHS should remain free. It influences the way we live and the country we inherit. It influences what clothes we can wear and even the music we listen to. If you consider the current debate around knife crime and drill music, you can see how even something that seems so far removed from politics could be influenced by it.
Although, I believe the only way to solve the shockingly low turnout we have in this country is by making Political Literacy a compulsory subject, there are several simple ways schools can begin improving the Political Literacy of their students (aside from the obvious mock elections, external speakers…):
Use form period at the start of the day to discuss local issues with your class. This requires no prep time, but simply asking and getting your students to get used to venting and expressing their views about life locally. It could be that they want something changed locally, a youth club kept open or a street cleared up. Use the time during form period to get students to voice their opinions and then task them to find out who they can contact in the council to deal with that problem. It is often easier to get engaged in local politics because it seems more ‘real’ and directly impacting on our lives.
Incorporate Oracy skills in your lesson.
People skills like public speaking, debating and presentation skills are too often overlooked in schools, yet they can easily be incorporated into almost every lesson. Rather than having the students always writing or discussing in small groups, get your students to present to the class! This could be about any subject, it’s important we incorporate the idea of speaking in public at a young age.
It ensures we become more confident and able to share ideas and opinions, supporting our political literacy. On a side note, it is also a fantastic employability skill!
Get your students to lead assemblies.
Linking in with your form period discussions and debates, once a student has identified a local problem and a possible solution, ask them to present it to the class! They may need some support if it is their first time, but nothing is more powerful than a call to action from a peer. The student not only gets valuable experience in public speaking, but at the same time they are educating their fellow class mates on citizen engagement.
The reality is that until we have a clear Political Literacy subject in schools which gives all students no matter where they go a clear understanding of how our society runs… we will always struggle to engage the next generation. However, schools can take the first step by incorporating it into their student’s daily life.