The result of children not being taught the value of democracy in school is that only 50% of 18 year olds are enrolled to vote at this election.
Let that sink in. The electoral roll closed on Monday and half of all 18 year olds in Australia will be disenfranchised on 2 July, while the rest of us get a say in our democracy.
How can we ensure that voting becomes a coming of age event for young Australians?
The value of democracy
Our children don’t engage with democracy and they have little understanding of our system of government and our Constitution. However, scarier than that is that our school teachers have a limited understanding of our processes of government and are therefore unable to teach it.
Our democracy relies on an informed voter. It is critical that we implement civics and constitutional programs in our schools and teacher training institutions. This will ensure that our children – voters and leaders of the future - leave school as informed, knowledgeable and engaged members of the Australian community.
Governments are supporting programs addressing declining standards in numeracy and literacy in our students, while the important subject of civics and constitutional education is being neglected.
Learning how to participate in society as an active citizen is as vital a requirement as reading, writing and arithmetic.
CEFA is going to implement programs and resources for civics and constitutional education to 6000 Australian schools by 30 June 2018, targeting disadvantaged, regional and indigenous schools.
We will go into every accredited pre-service teacher training institution (universities that teach education) in Australia and provide units of work for civics and constitutional education.
CEFA’s civics and constitutional education resources will be further developed and streamlined into every classroom in Australia via Yaba, our dedicated digital platform.
We will be implementing school parliaments across the nation, each of which will encourage community engagement through mentoring and participation.
One of CEFA’s biggest school programs is school parliaments. This excellent program allows the students to put their basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills into practice. Students write a constitution for their school, they write policy platforms and engage in public speaking to explain their policies. Maths skills are utilised to determine how many votes each of them needs to gain a seat in the school parliament and to count votes at the election. After the election they write legislation and learn to negotiate this legislation through their parliament.
Local communities join their local schools as the children showcase their legislation on issues of contention such as anti-bullying policies, balancing freedom with rights and responsibilities and the rule of law as a counter to youth radicalisation.
Putting students basic skills into action in a school parliament is one of the best ways to improve these skills and this environment teaches students about democracy in a fun way.
CEFA’s Yaba digital platform accompanies our school parliaments program and provides information for both students and teachers. This teaching and learning program provides teachers with information on how to set up a school parliament. It is also a video learning program and a social media platform (fully moderated by the teachers) for the students. A Prime Minister at a school in Alice Springs can chat with a Prime Minister at a school in Sydney, where they can share and swap ideas.
We were able to get this program started in 2011 with federal government funding. However, we urgently need to expand this platform and create new content. Our videos teach students about a day in the life of people such as the Governor-General, a Premier, a Mayor, a local MP or a Police Officer. Our flipside videos give the point of view of two different experts about current political topics or issues that are of importance to school children.
One of the biggest challenges for school students is that teachers have little understanding of our Governance. If we don’t train our teachers in civics and constitutional education how can we expect them to be able to teach it?
This is why CEFA will be going into all teacher training institutions to provide resources for civics and constitutional education. These programs will be developed through collaborations with experts and academics from constitutional law, history and education fields.
We will also be expanding our Governor-General’s prize competition to incorporate a new essay competition for best practice student teacher trainees at Australian universities. We’d also love to offer scholarships to full-time undergraduate education students here at CEFA, giving them the opportunity to gain work experience through the implementation of CEFA programs in schools throughout Australia.
Let’s give young Australians a voice
It’s true that we cannot teach students everything at school, but we need to give them the skills to want to continue to learn, even after school. CEFA’s school programs give students the very important opportunity to understand our democracy in a fun way, improving the chance they will take a continued interest in it.
People are disillusioned with politics at the moment. We need to prevent this apathy in the next generation and give them opportunity to become the best Australians that they can. Part of that is understanding, engaging with and being proud of our system of government.