Democracy? I vote for Shilpa

Forget politics: citizenship for many pupils means fish and chips and 'Big Brother'

democracy is the right to vote for the Big Brother winner and the right to have fish and chips for dinner and watch TV, according to primary pupils.

Good citizens should be rewarded with medals, honours and money, they believe.

John Lloyd, of Birmingham university, asked more than 350 pupils between the ages of seven and 11 for their opinions on a range of citizenship issues, including human rights, democracy and the structure of society.

More than half linked good citizenship with environmental awareness, such as using a bicycle rather than a car. Others talked about helping others.

In particular, good citizens were those who helped old people across the road or carried their shopping for them.

By contrast, bad citizens were those who spat out chewing-gum in public, dropped litter or scrawled graffiti. More children associated bad citizenship with failure to help someone than with stealing, though one Year 4 pupil described anti-social behaviour as: "Smoking and stealing and cars, drinking wine, breaking windows with stones, guns and all that."

A quarter of all pupils believed that bad citizens should be punished, with almost 20 per cent saying that they should be made to say sorry. One Year 6 boy said: "They should be taught to behave properly."

Last week, a government report recommended that all schools teach citizenship lessons, to encourage critical thinking on religion and race.

But fewer than one in 10 pupils interviewed by Dr Lloyd linked citizenship with race. One Year 6 child said: "Some people don't treat black people nicely... we call people who do that racist."

Some pupils spoke about the casual infringement of children's rights. A Year 3 boy told Dr Lloyd: "Children are citizens who do not get their rights met."

One in five insisted that they had a right to play, work and have a home.

Others insisted that they had the right to watch television.

Occasionally, rights were confused with parental permission, with one Year 3 boy stating: "I can have fish and chips on Wednesday."

Almost 40 per cent linked their right to vote with television talent shows and reality programmes. Asked to illustrate the concept of voting, a Year 4 boy drew a picture of a television screen and a telephone, with the caption: "My mam votes for a pop group on the TV."

When asked if they had ever voted, a quarter of pupils failed to mention the school-council or house-captain elections at their schools. Instead, several echoed the sentiments of one Year 5 girl: "I voted for who was going to leave the Big Brother house first."

Dr Lloyd concluded that primaries are failing to link school-based elections with the wider concept of democracy. He stated: "Much of what pupils understand about being good citizens is predicated on their behaviour towards each other in school, while involvement in the school's own democratic processes is divorced from their understanding of citizenship and rights."

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