Recently, it was confirmed that Politics and Society would be introduced as a Leaving Certificate subject commencing in 2016.
The first set of examinations will be sat in 2018 and the subject will cover topics such as decision-making, community responsibilities and globalisation, as well as challenging ideas such as social class and the patriarchy.
It would be completely unfair to say that Irish young people are confident speaking about politics. For the most part, we aren’t, and this could boil down to an inadequate political education. While History and Geography have elements of politics peppered into the curriculum, the only subject that intends to teach politics directly is Civil, Social and Political Education (CSPE) which is taught at Junior Certificate level and is far from satisfactory.
CSPE is often referred to as an ‘easy A’ and there’s a reason for this. In 2014, students were asked who the President of Ireland was, and were even given his initials right down to the famous ‘D’ in the middle, making it an infallibly easy question. In 2013, students were given photos of President Barack Obama as well as President Higgins and asked to identify the two men. The subject is practically at primary school level and an insult to the intelligence of Ireland’s youth.
While I understand that there is a need for a subject that reduced pressure on students, I don’t think politics is the right area for this. By the time students sit their Junior Cert, they can prove Pythagoras’s theorem, test for starch and identify the features of a waterfall but have no knowledge of Ireland’s main political parties and what they stand for.
This is reflected in our voting patterns. Political scientist Basil Chubb identified the practice of ‘localism’ in Irish politics, meaning that we vote for ‘Joe down-the-road’ because we know Joe and we like Joe. In spite of this, we may not know the ideologies of Joe’s party. As well as this, there are many people in Ireland who still vote based on their family’s political alliances, simply because they belong to a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael family.
Ireland also has a massive problem with a gender imbalance within politics. Although the Dáil now has the highest number of female TD’s since the conception of the state, this ‘record high’ number is 16% and if we progress at this rate, we won’t see an equally represented Dáil until 2265.
The main barriers to women in politics are highlighted through the 5 C’s: Cash; Culture; Confidence; Candidate selection; and Childcare. Improved political education could instill more confidence in girls as well as challenge the culture that inhibits them from pursuing a career in politics.
There’s no denying however, that young people have the capacity for electoral influence.
The 2015 Marriage Equality referendum is a prime example of this. Eight months prior to the referendum the USI launched a voter registration campaign which sent 27,633 forms to city and county councils. The referendum has since been ranked amongst the top five referendums for voter turnout in Irish history (Not to a mention a landslide ‘yes’ vote).
When we are educated, engaged and encouraged, we have the capacity to make a difference. Through political education, we can produce a more critical and informed generation and guarantee a better future for our country.