10 Steps Towards a Better Democracy – Educating a Generation

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By Henry Davies, Head of Operations

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

This is a quote so often attributed to Nelson Mandela, the man that helped drag South Africa out of Apartheid. Whether or not he said these exact words is disputed, but it is the sentiment rather than the quote itself, that truly matters. In the 2015 General Election, turnout amongst 18-24-year-olds was estimated at 43%. In the EU Referendum, the initial estimates were 36%. In decisions that truly changed the world that the younger generation will inherit, a majority don’t even show up. Is this because they just don’t care? We don’t think so. Our generation is one of the most politically active, with Kate Crowhurst writing in the Telegraph, “This trend of young people choosing not to vote is at odds with the rise in youth volunteering in community action.” (2015). So, we know that young people are becoming politically active, but they are not taking the traditional avenues to engagement. The problem is, without voting, nothing will change. If democracy is to survive in a generation of smart phones and social media, something must be done, and the first step has to be education.

During the EU Referendum campaign, and every campaign like it, there is a barrage of information from all sides. Facts, figures and case studies are pushed onto the public, all supposedly evidencing one side or another’s argument. Now more than ever, in this digital age, young people are surrounded by politics, but without the right tools to interpret the information. How, then, are young people supposed to make informed decisions, when they lack a fundamental education of the political systems in this country? How, can we change the world, without actually knowing how it works? The arguments on what has caused apathy to spread amongst the young of today are many, and they are passionately debated. But this argument, is the one that stands out for TalkPolitics; without education, there is ignorance. Where there is ignorance, there is always apathy.

So, in order to equip a generation to make informed decisions, and to enable them to take the first steps towards changing the world, TalkPolitics is advocating for a standardised and compulsory ‘Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCE)’ in all schools, that would include at least a basic level of political education as well as better digital training, to ensure that all young people can effectively use social media without getting caught-up in political echo-chambers and the rise of ‘fake news’. No matter what the status of the school, be it academy, free, state, faith or independent, there must be a standard and high-quality ‘citizenship’ education, to ensure that all students are equipped to move forward into an increasingly political society. No longer can we expect young people to ‘educate themselves’ in politics, because of the sheer mass and range of material that is presented as fact, but is in truth, opinion. As a society, we must rely on education professionals to present a balanced and unbiased picture of the political systems of this country. Only then can this generation move forward to form their own opinions based on fact.
We don’t believe that political education should stop here. Should schools and students wish to take their political education programmes forward, then there should be options to do so. To help tackle apathy, we’re advocating for more funding for independent groups like TalkPolitics to deliver political education courses in schools across the country. Rather than using top-down government schemes, it’s time to shift focus onto grassroots campaigns that can provide a better understanding of issues as they arise. These groups cannot rely on donations alone, and require more sustainable funding from local and central government.

So, let us move forward and start to educate a generation of the importance and far-reaching nature of politics. With the right tools and the knowledge of how to use them, we have the power to create a generation of people that can inherit the world and use it, change it and pass it on responsibly. It’s time to stop obsessing about the present and look just a few years to the future, for this is the electorate of tomorrow. Shouldn’t we be preparing them for the world that awaits them? It was the Greek orator and statesman, Pericles that said, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Everyone here at TalkPolitics truly believes that these are words to live by.

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