Thursday, September 29, 2011

Politics 'n Space Cadets

Before I started my current role (and became a person who can almost name a NZ Minister's portfolio from the sound of their laugh) I was truly ignorant about politics. As far as I know, I got my (media-related) job due to my English skills, typing speed, and possibly work history. I believe I had a pretty great knowledge of global current events, but my results for a New Zealand-focused news test I had to sit were abysmal- fortunately this wasn't an essential hiring requirement. On my very first day in January this year we played a Cranium charades-type game as a team-building exercise, and one performance was alluding to Lockwood Smith. Even when his name was revealed, I silently wondered whether he was a rugby player.

Smith has been Speaker of the House in New Zealand since 2008, and until I returned to my desk, Googled, and internally died of embarrassment- I had no flipping idea.

Now, I'm not claiming that this fact is the be-all and end-all of political knowledge. But after very unscientific surveying of peers and relatives, I've realised that I wasn't alone in this ignorance, and more than that- many high school graduates and even tertiary students I spoke to don't know much about the New Zealand Government and don't have any interest in finding out more either.

According to this post on The Standard, over 600,000 eligible voters in the 2008 general election did not have their say on the leadership of our country. Currently 120,000 young people aged between 18-20 have not yet enrolled for the general election to be held this coming November 2011. The 2008 general election was the first one held after I turned 18, and I voted for the same reason I had purchased alcohol and cigarettes on my birthday the previous year- I'd reached the legal age, and it seemed like a rite of passage. Plus, it got me a longer lunch break from my shift in a Wairarapa cafe. Today, I have absolutely no recollection of who I voted for, and I certainly don't remember putting any great thought into it prior to election day- and at that point in my life I'd been through 13-years of schooling, worked both full-time and part-time jobs, and spent time on a government-funded sickness benefit.

From memory I was never taught about New Zealand politics or Parliament during my 13 years of schooling. If lessons on New Zealand politics were included in primary school programmes such as Newspapers in Education, then they have had no lasting impact on me. I definitely don't believe this is the case for everyone- asking several of my peers indicated some received some political education at state schools while others don't recall any at all, and this 2008 thread on a parenting forum also has mixed responses. A friend of mine who is a school teacher told me that lessons about politics are currently included in the New Zealand school curriculum from year nine (third form), but I don't know how thoroughly this is implemented.

One thing New Zealand residents from every walk of life have in common, is that we are all affected by decisions made by the New Zealand Government. Sure, the very well informed have the ability to strongly influence the votes of lesser informed people, but at the end of the day an adult is entitled to one voting card regardless of their employment (lack thereof) or highest level of education. At present, it seems to me that unless a voter has entered a job or tertiary study with a strong connection to Parliament, or is interested enough to learn about it in their own time, they can quite easily ignore the quadrennial year of schmoozing altogether. Which is understandable, because who wants to pay attention to something they don't understand the basics of?

Since I started thinking about this issue, I discovered a programme established last year by the Electoral Commission called Kids Voting which enables (mainly year nine/third form) students to participate in a mock general election and referendum. Interested readers can find out more information on the programme's website, so I won't repeat the details here.

I heard today that Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh has responded to the number of young people not enrolled to vote by calling for political education at year 13 (7th form) level, though I believe the Kids Voting target of year 9 or 10 is most appropriate to encourage voter engagement in the future. Teaching students about the structure of the Government, and roles of political parties could help in directing students toward adulthood in those NCEAless years, and also leave them with several years of schooling before they reach voting age, which would give them a chance to devlop their own opinions with the basics instilled in their minds.

I don't believe basic political knowledge for future voters should be optional, and I absolutely support a programme like Kids Voting being introduced as a compulsory part of schooling for all students.

I know, I know, blogging about political issues- ugh! But this is something that's been on my mind recently, and I wanted to share it.

If you're wondering about the title of this post, then allow me to introduce you to Kate.


66 comments:

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I think you are absolutely right Alice. Its amazing how many people vote on who is the best public speaker and who is going to front our country. Sure, this is an important part however many people I have spoken to have no idea what that party stands for or what the risks and benefits are for them, their families and our country.

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