Anne-Elise Smithson, The Green Party of Aoteroa
I think that empowering our young people with the knowledge they need to engage in democracy is vital. Civics and citizenship education will help to engage our young people in politics, society, and what is going on.
During the election campaign, I was placard-waving on Onewa Road, and two children on a walking bus on their way to Northcote Primary struck up a conversation with me about the different political parties. They were well informed and maybe only six or seven years old.
A teacher that I know works at a primary school that teaches civic education. He believes that kids deserve to learn about the political system, the people and parties that are making decisions on their behalf, and about their society as a whole. He says that understanding this comes naturally to children.
Expanded civics and citizenship education is urgently needed to turn around the low voter turnout in New Zealand – this can begin at primary school-age and continue through to young adulthood.
A million people didn’t vote this general election. The numbers in Northcote show a disproportionate amount of young people compared to other age groups were not enrolled. And it’s too early to say, but we can expect that young people were over-represented in the 1 million non-voters.
It’s time to stop complaining about how young people are disengaged from the political system, and think more along the lines of: how is the system failing to engage them?
Damien Light, United Future
It’s extremely important! We need to be teaching our children who we are and how our country works so they can properly engage in it. No one wants to engage with something they don’t understand.
During the campaign, I was astonished by the number of people (young people, adults and even the odd candidate) who did not understand our electoral system. A lot of the people who told me they don’t bother voting had no idea how the system worked “my vote doesn’t count” they’d say, except it does especially under MMP. When I explained that their party vote decides the government, I often saw their eyes light up. They realised the importance of voting and their part they can play.
I remember when I was at school and the first MMP election was coming up, we did some work in social studies on it. This meant that we understood how it worked and why it existed, sometimes better than our parents. I genuinely think that I’m more interested in voting because I understand it better.
Civics extends past elections, to justice, head of state and even the Treaty of Waitangi. We need a comprehensive and compulsory civics education curriculum in all our schools, from years 1-13 and for immigrants and refugees.
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