Political studies should be a requirement before university

By in Opinions

ZACH TENNENT

Saskatchewan’s educational curriculum fails to adequately educate students about political matters. Being able to afford a post-secondary education should not be necessary in order to learn about one’s own government.

It’s an election year — and that means many people won’t be voting. Voter apathy is a major problem in this country. Elections Canada reported a total turnout of 61.1 per cent for the 2011 federal election and only 38.8 per cent for the age categories of 18 – 24.

One could blame any number of factors for such dismal turnout, but the real issue seems to be that many people just don’t care. Too many young Canadians — yes, that’s us students — reach voting age uninterested in politics and then stay that way.

Reform in how democracy is taught to students is sorely needed. Saskatchewan needs a compulsory high school course devoted to Canadian politics. It’s important that students receive a comprehensive education on political matters before exiting high school.

An understanding of government and democracy will prove to be of vital importance to students as they enter into adult life and no one should reach voting age without the knowledge necessary to exercise that right in his or her own best interests. As it stands though, unfamiliarity with Canada’s system of government is far too common among young people.

The education students are receiving in Saskatchewan on political matters is unacceptable and it’s not the teachers to blame — it’s the curriculum. Examining the Saskachewan Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Guide for the History 30 Canadian Studies course, it’s undeniable that political topics are being shoehorned in and allotted minimal class time.

The curriculum schedule recommends that many subjects to do with governance should be rushed through a bullet’s pace, while others — like voter registration and the Canadian electoral process — go all but untouched.

This inadequacy is not going unnoticed, either. Russell Green, a third-year political studies major at the University of Saskatchewan, feels the material is currently being taught in a manner that breeds disinterest.

“I notice a shocking lack in understanding how the political process works among my peers who have no interest in politics,” Green said. “The current model teaches basic content in a dry manner, contributing to cynicism and apathy about government.”

It’s insufficient, plain and simple. Students cannot engage in the concepts when they barely spend more than a few minutes discussing them. If they aren’t engaged, there’s no reason for them to feel obliged to get involved when they reach voting age. Simply learning individual rights isn’t enough; students need to care enough to want to exercise them. A separate political studies course taught in high school would remedy this.

“By engaging in a political education, you are forced to consider the truly important role of government in society. Hopefully, this will lead to youth realizing the importance of voting and using their voice,” Green said.

A course devoted to political studies would allow students to learn the different levels of government, various political ideologies and the voting process in a time period that’s actually conducive to the material. The current approach of trying to wedge lessons on modern governance into a history course is disrespectful to the importance of both disciplines.

Calling for any mandatory course will certainly bring about criticism and opposition, but there are few alternatives. If we accept that this education undeniably needs to take place at one age or another, the alternative to creating a compulsory course for high schools is then to make it a degree requirement in universities. There’s only a bit of hyperbole in saying that nobody wants that.

Besides, if any institution should be tasked with ensuring that younger generations are coming of age as socially aware and politically competent citizens, it’s our high schools. If we expect people to care about democracy and the political process, we need to make it clear that learning about them should actually be a priority.

Changes in Saskatchewan’s approach to political studies may not be wanted, but they are desperately needed. To be sure, voter apathy is a problem with no easy fix. However, in the face of apathy, our first line of defence is education.