Political education. Creating more informed voters, enabling them to engage in our democracy to a much deeper level, reducing apathy and improving the diversity of political candidates. On the surface, this shouldn’t be a cause for division and opposition. And yet, while perspectives on political education or more specifically political literacy, have become more favourable, there is still much opposition to the notion of introducing politics into the curriculum.

Politics as an ‘indoctrination’ tool?

Many argue that incorporating compulsory political education into our national curriculum equates to the mass-indoctrination of children with liberal ideas and ideology. This is arguably the most common criticism angled at those who push for mass political education. To make the argument that political education is indeed indoctrination serves to entirely overlook the fact that political education aims to teach young people how to think for themselves, not what to think. Surely, to leave young people with no knowledge of our political system, how to engage with it or the impact of politics on everyday life, poses a much greater risk of indoctrination if young people are unable to critically engage with the laws that impact their lives or the discussions of their elected representatives in Parliament. Mr Rimmer, a secondary school teacher, is quoted in the Independent to have stated that:

‘it is important pupils learn about the political system at school, rather than rely on the words of politicians after they had left’.

Nonetheless, it is of course important to consider that teachers are of course human and so therefore naturally have political leanings. However, this does not mean that teachers will brainwash students into following their political beliefs. A conceptual approach to political education would do much to mitigate this. Teaching about various institutions and their role in British politics removes the extent to which any bias would inform teaching. It only serves to nullify claims that the education system has become a vehicle for the liberal indoctrination of young people. The issue of political leanings is something to be taken seriously, but its presence shouldn’t condemn the introduction of compulsory political literacy. Many have argued that if a Christian RE teacher is deemed to have enough objectivity to teach children about Islam and Hinduism, then we can trust teachers to put their personal ideology to one side and simply focus on conceptual political education.

Political literacy creates a fairer society

Others will argue that basic political literacy is covered to some extent through Citizenship studies. However, it is clear that this is woefully inadequate. Speaking from personal experience, I chose politics as an A-Level on a whim, I had no prior education in it. I could explain the difference between the Houses of Parliament and the House of Commons but that was all. And that was more than many of my friends could do at the time. Young people are being significantly and consistently let down by the omission of substantial political education in the national curriculum.

There are those who argue that the existence of a politics A-Level removes the need for compulsory education in the subject prior to that. However, this completely misses the point. A-Levels are opt-in. Young people must make a conscious choice, one of a maximum of four (generally speaking) that they are allocated. But it shouldn’t be this way. Young people should not need to opt-in in order to have any real understanding of how to engage in our democratic processes. The students that choose to study politics are generally those who have existing knowledge of the subject, often through family connections. This state of affairs ensures that the political sphere continues to be homogenous and unrepresentative of society at large. But if political literacy is available to all, then we provide the opportunity for all to potentially pursue a political career.

Compounding the issue further is the fact that the voting age has now been lowered to 16 in Wales and Scotland. Clearly, the need for these young people to have at least a basic understanding of what it means to actually cast their ballot is fundamental and cannot be ignored. If young people are left to their own devices, then the argument against lowering the voting age (for fear that young people will simply follow their parent’s voting choices) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Young people will inevitably vote the way that their parents do if they lack understanding of how to make an informed political decision.

Only by giving young adults the knowledge and critical tools needed for sound decision-making, will they then be able to cast an informed vote.

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