'If young people are to shape their future they need citizenship education'

26th January 2015 at 09:20

Di Layzelle, head of student life at Croydon College, writes:

Young people continue to get mixed messages about the value of democracy; they read about 'cool’ celebrities such as Russell Brand telling them politicians are corrupt and urging them not to vote, and they read about politicians behaving badly, swapping allegiances and watch them ‘braying’ at each other in PMQs.

Politics, parliament, Westminster and voting are a complete turn off to many young people. Indeed more will have voted for their X Factor favourite than for the next prime minister.

So why are young people just not interested in politics or voting, a particularly bad thing surely in an election year?

Well it may be because they feel politicians and politics just aren't relevant to them; that politicians don't care about their issues, that our political system is too distant from their lives and their everyday problems.

Add to that the fact some don’t have the political literacy to make informed decisions and to understand the relevance of the right to a voice and how this can impact change and it's easy to see why so many of the young frequently ask “what’s the point of voting, it never makes a difference?”

But given that young people possess a rich seam of talent which is often untapped and needs to be harnessed (particularly in regard to their views about how their communities can be improved) there's much that can be done to improve the situation.

That can only happen however if they get the chance to learn about and develop their political literacy, which is why citizenship education should be considered as an entitlement, to equip them with the tools to live as active members of society.

Citizenship learning not only encourages the young to see the importance of being involved in shaping society and government policy but it also develops an understanding that they have a role to play in a democratic country.

One of the aims of citizenship education is to encourage the young to become participating members of society. But they need to know democratic structures, what policies and laws are in place and then how to influence them.

Political literacy equips young people with the confidence to initiate and implement meaningful change in either the local, national or international communities.  This learning also helps them advance their chosen causes more effectively.

Citizenship education at Croydon College, for example, aims to help young people be informed and learn about their rights and responsibilities and how society works.  This encourages them to take action on issues that concern them and to make a difference to the college, local or wider community.

Young people can also understand  democracy better by contributing to the student voice across their schools and colleges through student representative structures.

Many educational organisations provide robust structures for student representation, stressing the importance of young people being consulted and having a say about the services provided for them.

All educational organisations should be committed to involving students in strategic decision-making and operational management processes.  Giving them a voice will help build confidence, self-esteem and motivation to engage.

And finally it's important they see that their feedback and views can and do make a difference.

No one better exemplifies that than Labour peer Baroness Lawrence, who was thrust into the limelight when her son Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack in South East London.

Her resolve to get justice for her son as well as for other victims of racist crime has helped create better police accountability and improved victim and witness care, proving perhaps more than anything that one determined person can make a huge difference in a democracy.

As a Labour peer, she visited Croydon College last week and her story made a big impact on our students.  Business student, Kediashia Kay (19) came away saying, “She [Baroness Lawrence] was inspirational; the session was a real eye-opener – to understand how important one vote can be, and that one person can make such a huge difference.”

Young people are the future, but without informed understanding of democratic processes how can they shape a better future?


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