Young people are not voting because they don’t know how to.
Will political literacy increase political engagement from the youth? Since the votes were cast on the 8th of May, it has been nerve-wracking watching the inconsistency of the results but we are now in the final stretch. The IEC records show that over 26 million of the population was registered to vote; however, statistics have clearly shown that not everyone is voting, especially young people. Why is that?
I’m one of the young people who did not register to vote and I have always based my reasoning on my ignorance but this time I really questioned myself. I came to a realisation that I actually don’t know anything about politics. If I decided to change my attitude about not voting, who would I vote for and why? I have never been able to find my place in political discussions; I looked at politicians as old people in suits and luxury cars and felt there was no room for me to participate, therefore I remained indifferent. However, now that I’m concerned about things happening around me, I don’t change the news channel when politics come up but I still remain in the dark about it.
Doing research for this article forced me to read up on some basics of politics and I asked myself why I was never taught about this in High School. If it’s important for me to learn about the speed of a free falling object or finding the angle of a shape, then I’m sure it should be equally (if not more) important to know about the president and ruling party of the country I live in. So, why is political literacy not a compulsory subject in high school?
Another equally important subject in high school is History. History is currently offered in high school but students are allowed to choose whether or not they want to study this subject. Most students choose not to do it because they feel it is associated with long and unnecessary essays and theories that are predominantly about non-South African history. In 2018, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that History would be a compulsory subject in high schools from 2023. This subject will generally cover politics since it is a part of the country’s history but will it be enough?
The number of 18-19 year olds that registered to vote for this year’s elections has significantly declined since the 1999 elections. How different would the numbers of young people who are voting be if politics was taught in high school? And not in a way to persuade students to vote for the red or the yellow party but the fundamentals of politics such as the difference between a counsellor and a member of parliament. Students need to be taught about their right to vote, how to register to vote and what happens after people vote.
Students in universities are more politically aware on how to exercise their rights as active citizens. This is because most universities have a Politics course that empowers students about political literacy. Political studies also help in sharpening thinking and communications skills. Movements such as #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall are an indication that university students are more politically educated and know that they have the right to protest against unfair situations. It is rare that we hear about high school students protesting despite the fact that the educational system in the high school level is very poor. Do young people know the power of their ability to vote?
I realised people who know politics are passionate about it so they do their own research and that is easier for them. However, every single person should know about politics and the economy. The education system in high schools should extend their curriculum to teach the basics of politics and issues that affect their local communities. Schools could add politics to Life Orientation so that it could also become a relevant subject because it honestly didn’t prepare me for much in life.
Teaching politics in high school could motivate young people to engage and participate in the elections in greater numbers. Currently the youth has been developing their political understanding through social media, however, that has only been providing bias knowledge. Adding political literacy as a compulsory subject could educate students, aid them in forming political opinions and exercising their right to vote in order to benefit the country.