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 not the case and the question of whether politics should be taught in our schools has been a talking point for decades, with young people and adults calling for better, practical political education with little to no change.
As a 25-year-old, I am a firm believer that politics should be taught at secondary school level at the very least, and it’s something I’ve been extremely vocal about – especially since launching Shout Out UK. Politics shapes our society, it allows us to be part of the conversation and become involved in the decisions that will ultimately shape the society we want to live in. If we remain politically illiterate, then politics will only ever be something that simply happens to us.
Through the platform, and our Political Literacy course, we are aiming to give young people the tools necessary to begin to engage in politics. However, young people and educators around the UK would highlight what a massive gap in knowledge we are trying to plug. Whatever your political affiliations, it cannot be denied that a working understanding of politics is a vital part of adult life. After all, one cannot fully participate as an active member of society, or indeed affect societal change, if one doesn’t fully understand how to do so.
A survey of around 2,000 British members of the public discovered that more than four fifths (92%) believe Politics should be a compulsory subject in secondary schools as part of the National Curriculum. Nearly three fifths (57%) identified Religious Studies as the subject Politics lessons should replace, and I can see why. Religion has played a huge part in the creation of our nation, from our laws to our society. As such, it makes sense to have Religious Studies (R.S.) as a larger part of History lessons, rather than as a stand-alone subject.
People may argue that the ethics and philosophy taught as part of R.S. will be lost, but these topics can be covered in Political Literacy as part of a well-rounded Politics curriculum, after all philosophy and politics go hand in hand. Politics has real world ramifications which can impact young people for the rest of their lives – something that, R.S. simply doesn’t do.
One of the most shocking discoveries for me was that more than three quarters (78%) of participants felt they left school with little to no political knowledge – and more than four fifths (84%) stated most of what they knew had to be learned from sources outside of education, such as family and the Internet. As a nation, we should be ashamed, and more than a little embarrassed to have such a huge amount of our population know so little about how our country is governed.
How can society expect us, the young people of this country, to make informed decisions when not even half of them know how the voting system works? People talk about the disconnect between young people and politics in the UK – and I think that teaching it in schools is the first step towards fixing this. While our Political Literacy course plugs a vital gap in our nation’s knowledge, quite frankly, we need it as a core element in the curriculum.
In an ideal world, I would argue that R.S. and Politics should both be taught in our curriculum, side by side with philosophy, classics and a bunch of other subjects that are useful to us all, however, we don’t live in an ideal world. Time on the curriculum is limited, so we need to prioritise.
As a nation, we should be pioneering to make sure our voices are heard, and to think that more than three quarters felt that being taught in school would have helped them is a clear indicator that something must change.
I’m thrilled to see that most of the British public think Politics should be compulsory at secondary school level, because I personally believe that it is the education system’s duty to equip the next generation with a solid foundation of knowledge about Politics, power and democracy. I think they do this well with other subjects, however, the fact politics has been overlooked as a compulsory area of learning, despite its real-world significance, is baffling.
In my experience, the education system in general needs a serious overhaul – adding Politics into the curriculum as a compulsory subject is the first step in the right direction. If we lose Religious Studies as a standalone subject in the process, so be it. The world is changing; we must be prepared to change with it.