To protect our democracy and promote democratic values, we have to recognise the crucial role education plays in shaping a generation. For this reason, we must prioritise Political Literacy Education in 2022. Nothing less but the survival of our democracy is at stake.

A worrying direction

The Brexit referendum marked a watershed moment in Britain. This is when fringe nationalism moved into the mainstream. The rise of far-right extremist groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) indicates a worrying direction for UK politics.

Recently, The Guardian revealed a rise in the number of children being radicalised by far-right groups, with 13 per cent of terrorism arrests last year being children under the age of 18. This sees a 5 per cent rise from 8 per cent. In addition, young people under the age of 24 now account for nearly 60 per cent of extreme right-wing terror arrests. Back in 2015, this age group made up less than 20 per cent of such arrests.

Now couple the above with such tragic events as the Liverpool Women’s Hospital terrorist attack and the murders of MPs David Amess and Jo Cox, and we have a pattern where people, especially young people, are increasingly engaging in political intolerance and violence. In order to protect our democracy and promote British democratic values, we must recognise the crucial role education plays in shaping a generation — which is why we have to prioritise Political Literacy Education.

Why Political Literacy matters

Political literacy bears the responsibility of instilling and developing democratic attitudes amongst young people. But it is not just about understanding how our democratic system functions. The subject also encompasses the skills needed to understand and engage with one’s political system. In a democracy, political literacy among citizens is crucial to ensure a thriving culture of debate, tolerance and accountability. If we do not teach young people how to make their voices heard while respecting each other’s differences in opinion, then we are breeding a climate in which fringe views can thrive.

The rise of the internet and the spread of misinformation have made young people more vulnerable to extremist ideas. A key part of the problem is that we are not equipping them with the critical thinking skills needed to both challenge extremist views and be participative members of our democracy.

Since 2015, Shout Out UK has repeatedly stressed the importance of political education in fostering a healthy democracy and providing young people with the skills to be critical thinkers and tolerant people. Yet the provisions within schools continue to be limited.

In England, the only subject that tackles political literacy education is Citizenship Studies — which is not compulsory. Resultantly, many schools choose to omit it and don’t even include it as an extra-curricular subject.

Our Work in 2022

As part of our work at Shout Out UK, we have established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Political Literacy (APPG) that brings parliamentarians and academics together. The aim is to create a roadmap that embeds political literacy education effectively.

The APPG recently embarked on some research called ‘The Missing Link’, in collaboration with the Speaking Citizens Project through the Knowledge Exchange funding from the University of Sussex. ‘The Missing Link’ is the largest data set we have on political literacy provisions in schools since 2010. The research involved 3,000 plus teachers in almost 2,000 schools, providing us with a true picture of the existing provision of political literacy education.

The study found that: ‘only 29 per cent of schools offer weekly lessons related to citizenship education, and 26 per cent of secondary schools offer no provision at all’. These findings reinforce previous reports by Ofsted that concluded citizenship education was ‘below satisfactory or inadequate’. Citizenship is usually taught in UK schools by a teacher not trained in the field, with research revealing that ‘less than 1% feel prepared to teach political literacy education’ — once again, highlighting the fact that the subject is not prioritised within our education system.

The consequences of the absence of compulsory political literacy education in British secondary schools has been stressed by both political and civic actors. Yet so far, action has been limited. We at SOUK pledge to ensure that 2022 is the year of action. We must begin to appreciate that education is a powerful tool that can tackle extremism and promote democracy.

It is incumbent on us to rise to the challenge this year and make sure that young people are equipped with the critical thinking skills needed to challenge extremist views, protect themselves from misinformation, and be active members of the democratic process. Failing to provide these tools condemns our democracy

Let us make 2022 the year of positive change; a new chapter for our democracy. It starts with embedding comprehensive Political Literacy Education in schools across the UK. It starts in 2022.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.