Injustice is a hot topic once again

4th April 2008 at 01:00

With political literacy on the curriculum, charities are keen to inspire enthusiasm

Pupil campaigns are on the increase in Wales as political literacy returns with a passion.

Charities fighting injustice see the introduction of a revised curriculum this September as an opportunity to use the enthusiasm of young people to add weight to their own campaigns.

According to Cathy Owens, programme director of the Wales branch of human rights movement Amnesty, more schools are encouraging their pupils to fight for good causes by writing or visiting local MPs and AMs, organising petitions and holding debates.

But she says every junior and secondary school should introduce active citizenship within the new personal and social education curriculum for seven to 19-year-olds from September.

The Assembly government says the ideals of civic duty should be taught in every subject, with all teachers taking responsibility for the bedding down of the PSE curriculum. Human rights can be taught in maths and language lessons as well as history, say officials.

Ms Owens said the number of pupil-led Amnesty groups across Wales is steadily rising.

"Campaigning encourages young people to learn about citizenship and democracy," she said.

"It's also great for young people to get together and take action outside of the curriculum. They really help raise awareness of the issues with their enthusiasm."

Britain's record for political literacy has dropped over the past decade, with voter apathy rising.

A Mori poll conducted before the 2005 General Election showed that only 52 per cent of young people of voting age from England and Wales intended to use their vote. And only 35 per cent were aware of their democratic rights.

The political and civic awareness of 14 to 19-year-olds in 28 countries, documented in the 1999-2000 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study, found pupils in England lagged well behind most other countries.

The next study is due next year. Although Wales is not due to take part, it is widely accepted that the nation is leading the way in giving schools a better pupil voice.

The introduction of statutory school councils in 2005, the first in Britain, has given pupils in some of the best-practice schools a greater say in their running and led to more debates, especially in the welcoming of outside speakers.

Wales also became the second country behind Finland to introduce sustainable development and global citizenship in a big way.

The distinct Welsh element of the new PSE curriculum also means pupils will learn about the Assembly and their civic responsibilities in Welsh communities.

Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "Young people are certainly becoming more disenchanted with party politics.

"It's good that political literacy is allied with the development of school councils. It helps them become good citizens and have fulfilled lives; they start to realise how they can affect decisions.

"The challenge is going to be how to present it."

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