Should schools be encouraging political engagement?

Should schools be encouraging political engagement?
Governments all over the world have found themselves battling to engage young citizens in politics and Australia is no different – last year, it was revealed that around 30 per cent of 18-year-olds weren’t enrolled to vote in the federal election.

Further, the Youth Electoral Study conducted a national survey of year 12 students and found that around 50 per cent feel they lack the knowledge to understand the issues or political parties to make an informed vote.

With those worrying statistics in mind, many schools have come under some criticism for failing to educate their older students on the importance of politics – but should the burden really be on educators shoulders?

Chris Presland is the president of NSW Secondary Principals' Council and principal at St Clair High School – he says that, much with religious education, teachers have a responsibility to inform their students without impacting their opinions.

“It’s certainly not the place of public schools in particular to be advocating political views or political involvement in any way but it is certainly the role of teachers in public schools to help students to be well informed without prejudicing their views or interpretations,” he tells the Educator.

“Surely, we want our schools to educate our students to be able to take part in the society in which we live but – like the attitude to religious attitude in schools – we certainly don’t want to see public schools promoting particular political views.”

Instead, Presland says schools should be providing an understanding of the role of politics as well as covering general political issues.

“I think it’s important that schools help students to understand the issue without directing them in any way or encouraging them in any way to form a view that is not their own,” he stresses.

While Presland says teachers do have a responsibility to inform their students, he argues that they already meet this obligation and more.

“Even in primary school, let alone high school, students do get educated about the mechanisms of government in Australia – it’s part of their learning,” he says. “The reality is, it is a part of the curriculum and I think teachers do an excellent job helping students understand the way our democracy works.”