Opinion: Political education is essential to get young people into politics

Disengagement in politics is a growing concern, especially for my generation. Many claim they don’t know how the system works, who to vote for or don’t feel that their vote can make a difference. Thus, action needs to be taken to engage young people in politics and the as a Lib Dem member I am convinced that they are the right party for the job.

The problem stems from schools, there is a lack of political and economic education, which I feel should be made compulsory. No one told me what first-past-the post was or how the House of Lords works. My passion for politics provided me with the drive to learn and become engaged – so much so that I’m doing a degree in it! Undoubtedly, not everyone shares my passion, we all have differing interests, but that doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t be provided with political education. In Wales, learning Welsh is compulsory until 16, yet politics didn’t feature on my curriculum once during my time in school. Surely being educated in the political system that governs my country, is just as if not more important that learning a second language. Students should be made aware of the importance of voting, learn about how the economy works and the role both economics and politics play in their lives.

It is very easy to say that young people don’t care about politics, when the truth is that many don’t understand politics because no one cared enough to tell them about it. Not only this, it is often argued that politicians reward older generations for their votes with fuel allowances, whilst my generation seem to gain very little. This excludes young people further from the political sphere, as a lack of political education combined the feeling of disregard for young voices creates further disengagement. 

Politicians need to engage with students in order to gain both their support and trust, and I truly believe that the Lib Dems are the party to do this. Regaining the support and trust of students could rectify some of the damage of the 2015 election. The Lib Dems have been punished in the election for failing to keep a promise to students and now its time fix this. The only way to rebuild the relationship between the party and students is to encourage them to participate, to have a voice and provide them with the opportunity to make an informed political decision.

The Tories aren’t going to push for political education as currently they’re doing alright without it – ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ and all that.  But the Lib Dems commitment to democracy and equality makes them the party to push for compulsory political education.  We need more young people in politics, acting as positive role models and as a voice for my generation across the UK. Democracy provides us with the freedom to exercise our views and young people should be provided with the education necessary to form and air their political views too.

* Ellen McDonnell is a 19 year old member of the Liberal Democrats and is studying Economics with Politics at the University of Exeter.

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  • We now have to study politics at school, but it is the basic of the basics.

  • “No one told me what first-past-the post was or how the House of Lords works.”
    That is one of the most disturbing lines I have read in a long time. It’s almost as if young people are turning into Elio. (as predicted by H.G. Wells in 1895) At what point did our education system cripple the idea of self starting,.. initiative,.. and the simple concept of asking questions to find out answers to those things that you don’t know?
    When did young people become ‘spoon fed adolescents’ up to the age 30?

  • Schools can and do teach politics, in tutor time as i have done for the past 3 weeks, and through PSHE and the now diminished Citizenship curriculum, which are admittedly being squeezed out by an increasingly functional approach to education (thanks Gove). However, schools cannot be blamed for all society’s failings. Young people live with families, and spend about as much time watching TV/on the internet as they do in lessons. As the adage says, it takes a village to raise a child, and we need to realise that. We all, teachers, parents, family and the media have a responsibility to prepare young people for the future – which this week looks bleak. I really hope the Lib Dems bounce back with policies not only to engage young people but also to make our society fit for them to grow up in.

  • Excellent article. As a voter in my mid-40s, one of the things that mattered to me most in this election was intergenerational fairness. Labour and the Lib Dems both saw this as an issue, the Tories did not. We desperately need more young people to vote. I wish you and all other young people trying to make a difference the best of luck.

  • George Potter 10th May '15 - 1:55pm

    @John Dunn

    Education is about learning what you’re told to pass exams to get qualifications. It’s about accepting what you’re told and obeying authority. Critical thinking and self learning aren’t encouraged. That’s the legacy of the past fourty years.

  • @ George Potter
    And those years of ‘tick box’ educational standards have (it appears?), left us with a generation of ‘Elio’, who as H.G Wells predicted, now just want to *play all day*, and have no interest, desire or skill, in even trying to find anything out for themselves, preferring to cling to ‘oblivious’ adolescence well into their late 20’s.
    Does it not set the hair standing on the back of your neck, to realise we might have created a generation of Eloi’s who can post a trivial picture on Facebook, but do not have the gumption to find out, how to find out what First Past the Post is, or how the electoral process functions?

  • David Evans 10th May '15 - 2:37pm

    I think a lack of spelling is a legacy of the last forty years. 🙂 – Sorry George, couldn’t resist.

    However, I must say it wasn’t a legacy in my day. Admittedly I benefitted from winning a place at a grammar school, but many friends I knew at the local sec mod did well too.

  • tony dawson 10th May '15 - 5:49pm

    Perhaps we should bring a lot of young people into Great George Street to do a bit of political education for the locals?

  • Eddie Sammon 10th May '15 - 6:38pm

    Ellen, I agree with compulsory political education. I don’t want everything dictated by central government (and definitely not political parties), but we need to mandate the basics.

    Thanks for getting involved. As you will notice the vast majority of political debate on here post election is being conducted by men, so it is good to see a bit more diversity! 😀

  • Jen The Blue 10th May '15 - 8:41pm

    Woah there. Political education in schools? As a recently retired teacher I can tell you all that schools are full of political indoctrination under the guise of education. Pupils are forced to believe in multiculturalism despite the damage it has done to society. They are taught the tenuous and disputed idea of man made global warming as if it were a fact.

    The last thing we need is political education in schools. Goebbels would be proud of such an idea.

    You can say it would be impartial until you are blue in the face, but the fact is the liberal/leftists who constitute the teaching profession would use it as an excuse for further indoctrination

  • Am I missing something, but Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South is only 20…

    Also “Results from the British Election Study (BES), which provides survey-based data for every election since 1964, suggest a turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds of around 58%. … up from an estimated 52% in 2010 and just 38% in 2005.” Given the overall turnout was 66.1%, I think that is quite respectable.

  • George Potter 10th May '15 - 11:15pm

    @Jen the Blue

    If those are your opinions then I’m glad you’re no longer teaching your ignorance to pupils,

    @John Dunn

    For reference, it’s Eloi, not Elio.

  • There is definitely a problem with teaching politics in England – not being part of the core curriculum, mainly because of previous Tory dogma (it’s not in their interest to have an educated electorate really, is it?)

    In Scotland, though, it’s a very different story. The teaching of politics and sociology is embedded directly in the curriculum, and has to be taught from S1 – S3 (Year 7-9) as part of Curriculum for Excellence. CfE has many faults, but a key part of it is something called “People in Society, Economy and Business” – from which the subject which I teach, Modern Studies, is drawn. After that, pupils can then go on to study Modern Studies at N5 (GCSE equivalent) or Higher (A level), and in addition to these some schools also offer Politics and Sociology Highers as well.

    If you look at Scottish politicians, particularly ones aged 50 and below, it’s surprising just how many studied Modern Studies at school. A post above mentions Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old SNP MP; you could add to that Nicola Sturgeon, who points to her Modern Studies teacher as being the person who sparked her interest in politics generally. The subject itself isn’t offered by all schools in Scotland, however HMIe (the Scottish equivalent of OFSTED without the nastiness) indicated last year that it believed it would be very difficult for schools to meet the requirements of CfE if the subject wasn’t taught.

    If anyone is particularly interested, you can see the requirements for S1 – S3 here: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningandteaching/curriculumareas/socialstudies/eandos/index.asp

    The “Experiences and Outcomes” stretch from Early Years (i.e. nursery) through Primary (First and Second Level) to Secondary (Third and Fourth level.)

    The information about the exam level subject is here: http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/45629.html

  • Richard Fagence 11th May '15 - 3:49pm

    Until a year and a half ago I was a governor of a senior school in Berkshire. I served in that capacity for twenty-one years. At intervals throughout that time I raised my concerns over the fact that most young people were not taught the basics of voting, political parties, how the weird British parliamentary system worked, how it related to Europe, our place in NATO, the Commonwealth, taxation etc, etc, etc. And each time I raised my concerns I was told that young people weren’t interested and that what I was suggesting amounted to indoctrination. In the end I stopped bothering.

    I firmly believe in Votes at 16 for those who wish to register at that age. The Scottish referendum permitted 16 and 17-year olds to vote and tens of thousands registered and voted. Just over a year later they found that they were considered too young to be trusted with a General Election. This was – and is – utter madness. Until we start engaging with young people, we will never break this cycle of disenfranchisement with the very few deciding how we will be governed because they live in the right constituencies. The voting system used for the European Elections had its detractors but produced a result that more closely reflected voters’ wishes than FPTP does.

  • Nigel Jones 11th May '15 - 4:56pm

    I agree that something of politics needs to be in the curriculum, but that is no good unless it is followed by involvement on leaving school and backed up by parents and others in our communities. A couple of weeks ago the Local Government magazine carried the results of a recent survey of young people. It demonstrated that young people would respond better to politics if it were firstly more local . Devolution of power and resources to local government and communities is the way to increase involvement and understanding for everyone, but for young people in particular.
    It is sad that no party took up the mantle of proper devolution from Whitehall to local areas in the election campaign. I mentioned it at the core of my election address to the local newspaper; I would like to know if any other candidates did likewise.

  • Nigel Jones why doesn’t your Council set up a Youth Parliament and give the youngsters a small budget for some community initiatives?

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