Protests, Elections and the EU Referendum – Why Politics Should Be Taught In Our Schools

Protests, elections and the EU referendum – why politics should be taught in our schools

Universities have a reputation for being hubs of political action; from the student uprising in ‘Les Misérables’, to the recent protests against the rise in tuition fees or this term’s industrial action by lecturers. To an extent this image of student life is certainly true, most universities will have a society for every major party, as well as those focused on other political issues like inclusivity for minority groups. However, as someone who is keenly interested in politics, there is another side to the student body which I have found more surprising.

In the run up to last year’s general election I engaged in a lot of debate with friends around the subject, and was surprised to find some students who were unaware of even the basic issues, such as how the voting process works, who our Prime Minister is and what ‘Brexit’ means. My first instinct was to question why degree students, some of the most intelligent young people in the country, hadn’t taken the time to educate themselves, then I realised they are suffering from the same problem as many others – they feel so far detached from the world of politics that they no longer want to take an interest. It was widely commented following the EU referendum that many people in the country were unaware of the facts and instead were persuaded into voting based on controversial topics like immigration and false promises of funding for the NHS. It is easy to question then what the result would have been if everyone had been given the information they needed, and more importantly, if everyone in the country had engaged with the process and taken the time to vote.

Politics has a huge impact on the living and working conditions of everyone in the country, as well as our laws and public opinion on important social issues; it arguably interacts in some way with every school subject. Wouldn’t secondary school be the ideal place then to introduce young people to the way in which our country is run? If taught in the right way politics doesn’t have to be boring, it is inherently filled with competition, alliances, scandals and drama; just look at TV shows like ‘House of Cards’ or ‘The West Wing’. However, it’s also important to remember that excitement and intrigue often acts as a distraction from the fact that political decisions can have a major impact on the lives of real people. This is the main reason why it is so important for people to be engaged with the political process.

I don’t believe that every classroom in the country should be turned into a mini House of Commons. Debate should be encouraged, but shouldn’t be forced onto students who lack confidence in public speaking or simply don’t know enough about a particular topic. Instead all students should be taught the basics of our political system; an explanation of the first past the post system,  how devolution works, our main political parties, the policies of some of our past government’s across the political spectrum and how successful they were, the current government’s policies as well as those of the opposition. Ultimately it would then be up to individual students to decide whether or not to educate themselves further once they become eligible to vote, but it would surely be much easier to do so with a basic level of understanding already present. 

Political engagement isn’t only important in allowing people to make the most informed decision when voting. The higher the voter turnout in general elections, the more accurate the picture is of who the general public want to run the country. The more aware people are of important issues, the more likely they are to be debated publically, which raises new ideas and viewpoints which may never have been considered. And most importantly, the more people understand the impact of decisions being made by our leaders, the more likely they are to stand up and demand change when something isn’t right.

 

By Jordyn Dickinson