With yet another apparently era-defining election on the horizon, it is easy to see why the British people might be getting bored with politics. The low voter turnout among young people is particularly worrying, as recent elections have seen significantly fewer people under the age of 30 going to the polls. This apathy is what sparked Beth Munro (International Development 3rd year) to start Politics in Education (PIE), a group aimed at engaging young people in politics through interactive workshops and discussions.
PIE is a society based at Sussex University which aims to engage young people in politics through workshops in local schools. Over the past six weeks I, along with other members of PIE, have been leading workshops with 13-15 year-olds at Ringmer Academy, as well as in Brighton Youth Centre, where the young people gave us loads of ideas and suggestions for interesting topics and fun activities to use. Our aim is to break down confusing political concepts and show how relevant they are to all of our lives.
Many members of PIE, myself included, are not Politics students, meaning that the process of developing the workshops has been an interesting one. In our first meeting, we brainstormed “what we wish we’d known” when we were at school (and also what we wish we knew now!) and decided on 6 topics that we wanted to address in our workshops:
1) What is politics and why is it important?
2) Voting and elections
3) Political parties
4) The media and finding reliable sources
5) Human Rights
6) Activism and getting involved.
We then spent our meetings devising workshop outlines. We spent the first half of the sessions trying out some activities to familiarise ourselves with the topic and see which ideas work best, and then we’d write up a lesson plan. The workshops are all student-focussed, encouraging them to form their own opinions through discussions and debates, and so avoiding any bias from us.
In our first workshop at Ringmer, students got into groups and designed their own island, using pictures and words to show how it would be run. They had to work together and we, the PIE team, gave prompts, such as: “Are there leaders or not? How do people make decisions? Are there hospitals, schools, prisons? If so, why? And how are they run? Is there a system of money, or something else?”
This was a fun activity which got students discussing issues together, thinking about how their “ideal” society compares to the one they live in, and demonstrating the wide range of decisions and issues that politics encompasses. Some students came up with surprising features – including a statue of Matthew McConaughey in the centre of one island, and an underwater prison filled with Piranhas on another!
In other weeks we have held debates, compared newspapers and played “vote with your feet” – where we read out statements such as “We should get rid of the royal family,” or “Social media should never be censored,” and students move to different sides of the room to show whether they agree or disagree, and then say why. By tackling core political concepts in a fun and welcoming environment, the project aims to counter the perception of politics as for fired-up activists or boring politicians.
Excitingly, there are plans afoot with a number of local schools to integrate the workshops into lesson time for pupils, addressing an absence of politics on the curriculum.
Positive feedback has been received from local MPs and councillors, while attempts are being made to foster links with similar projects at other UK universities. It is early days for the Politics in Education project, but with an abundance of ideas and enthusiasm, the future looks bright.
The project is always looking for new members, particularly those in first and second year. If you are interested in getting involved, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, see our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/politicsineducation, or come along to our weekly meetings on Wednesdays, 2pm, Bramber House room BH-234.
Curing the apoliticism of a generation is a tall order, but it has to start somewhere.