Monday 20 May 2019

Comment: Political knowledge is empowering

Dr Theresa Reidy

IRISH citizens are not well informed about our political system, the EU, or international politics.

We regularly score below average levels of political knowledge in comparative surveys.

The decision to introduce 'Politics and Society' as a new subject for leaving cert is an important step forward in providing a comprehensive curriculum of political and social education.

We have lagged behind our European neighbours for long enough in not providing opportunities for young citizens to study politics. Subjects with a political or citizenship focus have been available to students at an advanced level in many other countries for decades.

There are many good reasons for teaching political studies to young students. Most importantly, there is a clear relationship between political knowledge and political participation.

Informed citizens are more likely to participate in the political process.

It is a particularly welcome development, as we are due to hold a referendum in 2015 on lowering the voting age to 16.

We need to put in place structures to support our citizens and comprehensive political and social education could be an important part of preparing students for earlier engagement with the political process.

There have been calls to introduce a political subject on to the leaving cert curriculum for a very long time.

The Taskforce on Active Citizenship included it as a recommendation in its report, it has come up in discussions at the constitutional convention and it inevitably makes its way into the discussion after every election and referendum as an explanation for low turnouts.

The draft curriculum still needs a lot of work.

A review took place late last year which will hopefully deliver a more coherent and integrated agenda for students.

Furthermore, the minister will need to commit to extra resources for training and delivery of the new subject; an informed, educated and active citizenry cannot be delivered on the cheap.

All steps taken to inform and educate citizens are welcome and essential to deliver a more critical and informed citizenry.

DR THERESA REIDY IS A LECTURER IN THE DEPARTMENT OF GOVERNMENT AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK.

Irish Independent

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