The Way I See It #31 : By Darren Murphy

SHOULD politics be taught in secondary schools? The reason I’m asking is because those who turn 18 this year are, of course, eligible to vote. And 16-year-olds will get their say in the Scottish independence referendum. However, there is a body of opinion that suggests vast swathes of teenagers have little or no understanding of how the political system actually works. I totally agree, after having left school at 15 years old, completely oblivious to, and with no perspective on, politics.

Admittedly, I wasn’t the best student, but my lack of political knowledge was more due to a shortage of information, rather than my own negligence. Politics was a subject I had to educate myself in as I grew older, and I believe this to be the case with many youngsters these days. Is it acceptable for teenagers to have no idea about how society works or what their role in it may be? Of course it isn’t, which is why I believe the subject of politics should be mandatory learning in secondary schools.

Yes, there is the issue of neutrality; there is the possibility of teachers influencing pupils with their political bias. However, surely teachers would be able to put their political opinions to one side and educate their pupils appropriately? I think it’s vital that pupils are provided with an informative outlook, in essence, an understanding of the way the political system works. Wouldn’t this be beneficial for the country, if youngsters were clued up and ready when it came to voting age? I’ll answer that myself, yes it would. Currently there are well over a million 18-year-olds in Britain who have Facebook accounts. Yet only 520,000 of them are on the electoral role, which tells its own story really, doesn’t it?

Of course, you could ask whether or not teenagers want to learn about legislation, constitution and other political subjects that could be labelled as boring. But my argument in this regard is that kids find many subjects boring but have no option but to learn them. Do you really think everyone enjoys maths? Let me stress, though, that I’m not saying kids should be forced into learning about politics, and it isn’t something I think needs an exam. There would be no necessity for further education on the subject either, unless desired by the individual.

What is necessary is that youngsters nearing voting age at least have a basic knowledge of how government works. It really is pivotal to the future of democracy. What we don’t want is misinformed youths voting for the guy who supports the same football team as them, or not voting at all. The way forward is youngsters voting because they understand the outcome, and that if their elected party or individual is successful, how this will change the political landscape.

The way we vote has an impact on the way the country is governed and a knock-on effect on how we lead our lives. The more understanding among youngsters, the more powerful and effective they become in helping to shape and change the future.

Then again, the current crop of politicians know this and that’s the reason why there is a dearth of dedicated political education in schools.