Early in May, Marianne Stenger published an article on the ABC’s Education portal which emphasised the importance of including political and electoral material in the school curriculum. The act of exposing students to these ideas and processes before they reach voting age (when they are expected exercise a democratic responsibility they potentially know little about) is, Stenger argues, of vital importance. Many students report feeling overwhelmed, tired and confused by the expectation to vote, unsure of where to find party information, who to ask for help, and ultimately, why they need to vote at all.
According to a report from the National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship, quoted by Stenger, less than half of 15-16 year old Australian students achieved “proficiency” in regards to topics such as Australian government, the judiciary and democratic processes. Despite this, the students were often highly engaged and passionate about issues in the media. Some of the students surveyed- and I’ve experienced this feedback in my own teaching practice- stated that they wished there were dedicated classes exploring these areas.
The Passport to Democracy team aims to help teachers provide the education that young people both desire and need. Stenger identifies 5 areas which teachers can work within in order to introduce and engage students with democracy and the political process through their education. These five areas include; asking teachers to implement student led issue based learning and discussion, a simplification of complex issues, engagement with the online political sphere, encouraging real world student led action, and finally, holding a mock election to demonstrate the campaigning and voting process.
The Passport to Democracy resources can help you in each of these areas and we even have an excellent incursion program in which we bring out real voting booths and ballot boxes, transforming your school into a voting centre for the length of the session. The students learn about preferential voting, some of the background of why voting is so important and, also, the way votes are counted. This real world experience engages students and, paired with our curriculum-focused, interactive and issues based units of work, illuminates not only the voting process but also skills (such as critical literacy, effective research, and appropriate methods of communication) which students must be aware of as they enter adulthood.
We’re also looking to constantly add to our resources through this blog, so I encourage you to check in with it on a regular basis. I’ll be updating the blog twice a week with activities, research reviews, and news from our roving classroom- most of which will be adaptable for Primary and Secondary cohorts. I also encourage you to engage with us in the comments, letting us know how you use our resources.
Today, I’m addressing the conclusion which Stenger reaches in her article (and research from the University of Edinburgh confirms)that students who learn political and electoral content at school are more likely to be politically engaged and vote purposefully when they came of age. The following activity (linked to below) is intended to be a “Do it Now” lesson starter to engage students in ‘the content’ – but it could be easily used as an ongoing homework task.
One way of using this activity is to give it to students at the start of a unit of work (potentially our Passport to Democracy resources) and collect it at the end of the unit when the students hand in their main assessment piece. It could be graded or it could simply be a hurdle requirement, it’s up to you. This task is designed so that it can be referred to in passing, checked on a regular basis, or be used as an activity that students can quietly return to after completing class work- consolidating and building on their existing learning. Also, feel free to edit it to suit the levels of the students in your class, and the content which you are covering in your unit of work.
I hope it’s helpful for you and contributes to your students’ understanding of democratic processes and, therefore, their future as democratically active citizens.
Stenger, M. (2018, May 8). Understanding politics helps kids become active citizens. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from ABC Education: http://education.abc.net.au/newsandarticles/blog/-/b/2852461/understanding-politics-helps-kids-become-active-citizens