My Incomplete Education

March 24, 2012 6:46 pm

On the 15th March 2012, 30,000 students aged 11-16 took part in BBC’s News Day. They covered a range of stories which included the Queens diamond jubilee, the forthcoming London Olympics, bullying and even Ofsted reports. They also got the chance to quiz Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the Prime Minister David Cameron. This was clearly no ordinary day for many of the pupils involved, but the question should be asked: why not?

The topic of politics is a daunting one. There is a vast sea of names and faces which crop up intermittently in varying roles and situations. Not only that, they discuss subjects that can seem so foreign to most young people that they might as well be speaking a different language. When I left school at 17 I was a stranger to the majority of issues facing the UK, and other countries around the world. Since then I have slowly been trying to get to grips with it all. But I feel like I’m trying to learn to swim for the first time by jumping straight in at the deep end. This is because there is a whole world of problems out there and I have been almost entirely oblivious to them until now.
Education is always a contentious subject. Tony Blair made it a priority issue when he was in charge but I think he failed miserably in certain areas. Whilst I was at school, subjects like home economics, craft and design technology and religious education were mandatory in my first two years at high school. Whilst I agree that all these topics are important in their own right and should still be on offer, I don’t think they are more important than politics, current affairs, or economics. After speaking to many school leavers they all agreed that they felt that this had been absolutely neglected in their education.

I spoke to a range of youngsters aged between 14 and 15 about how much they knew about these issues. Their answers were far from promising. Only 50% knew who the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister was. A mere 17% of them knew which year the Scottish referendum on independence was due to take place. None were able to say which country Robert Mugabe is leader of, and none could tell me who Mitt Romney is. At this age, knowing who is running for Republican candidacy in the USA isn’t the most important thing, but in a few short years it may become extremely relevant to them. If they are not taught now about these affairs, then they will fall further and further behind.

Do you know who this man is?

Modern studies was a new subject on offer when I was in high school. It did cover current affairs and politics, however, I don’t think it was sufficient. It wasn’t active enough in opening student’s minds to social and global affairs. It also definitely didn’t reach a broad enough range of students.

The last general election in 2010 was the first time many people of my age group had had the opportunity to vote. Many of them seized the chance excitedly. However, since then I have been asking people why they voted for each candidate and to tell me a little about the policies they agreed with. Almost all admitted that they didn’t know why they voted for the particular party, and didn’t really have any ideas of the policies. At this point it would be easy to label them naïve and foolish but the blame does not lie with them. Young people who are politically savvy are so not because of education, but because of individualism and self-learning. Those who have not taken the steps to familiarise themselves with the political world are left out in the cold.

Once the situation is viewed from an outside perspective, it seems more and more odd that subjects like the aforementioned politics, current affairs and economics are not taught in all schools. Perhaps the government would feel threatened if suddenly the general population understood the inner workings of the UK’s affairs. It always feels like politicians have a slightly patronising view of the public and that they look down on them. When they use their jargon and fancy terms do they use it knowing that people are not going to understand them? How would they feel if suddenly everyone could challenge what they say not with opinion, but with fact? At a time when politicians have lost a lot of respect due to stories like the expenses scandal, could a suddenly politically aware public be undesirable?

Understandably, these subjects are not everyone’s cup of tea. But then again neither is Maths. The fact is that politics touches all our lives, for good or for bad. Whether you are interested or not, you are affected by it. For this reason, if no other, our education system should take this issue more seriously. It should be an aim of a school not to let pupils leave without basic and fundamental knowledge of politics. At the very least so they can understand who they feel it is right to vote for. As for the BBC’s News Day, long may it continue, because for now it may be pupil’s only real exposure to the UK’s political issues.

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