Recently, concern has been raised in The Telegram about disappointing student performance on standardized tests.
The assumption is that lower math or problem-solving skills will eventually lead to a less effective workforce.
I think an equally important question in the democratic society in which we live should be: what kind of citizens is our education system producing? Throughout the 1970s more than 80 per cent of young Canadians (aged 18-24) chose to vote in national elections.
By 2011 that number had fallen to 38.8 per cent. In our province, youth turnout at the 2011 ballot box was a dismal 29.5 per cent.
According to a number of studies undertaken over the last decade, negativity towards government is not the reason for the decline in voting among young people.
Cynicism toward the political system is, apparently, lower among young Canadians than among older ones.
Young people just don’t seem to be interested in politics or governance.
Is it coincidental that the sharp decline in voting among the young began when neoliberal ideology took hold?
The impact on school curricula has certainly been substantial.
In our province, democracy, global issues and world problems — three senior high courses that focused on discussion and debate around societal and democratic issues — disappeared from the curriculum. In their place are courses like career development, entrepreneurship, business enterprise and consumer studies, courses where the emphasis is on how to make or spend money effectively.
It’s been left to the optional Canadian economy course to try to relate economics to broader societal and democratic issues.
Even there, because there is so much other obligatory content in the course, I wonder to what extent teachers are effectively able to attempt that?
I don’t mean to imply that this sidelining of democratic and societal themes in favour of economic issues is in any way the fault of teachers. They do the very best they can with the syllabi and curriculum outcomes they are given to work with.
But increasingly, departments of education across the country develop course material in partnership with, or under advisement from, the corporate sector.
The result, many believe, is the subtle reshaping of our youths’ values. The increased emphasis on business education has had the effect of downplaying or displacing the importance of participatory democracy.
That being the case, why should we be surprised when our graduates choose not to vote?
It’s interesting that our three
oil-producing provinces (Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan) stand out as having very low voter turnout among youth.
In Alberta there has recently been a public push-back by concerned parents who believe their educational curriculum has been captured by corporate interests, particularly those of Big Oil. I think it’s time to start talking about the direction education is taking in our province.
In late March, the Fair Vote NL group wrote to the minister of education with statistics on youth voter turnout, along with our concerns. We asked for a meeting with his department to discuss ideas about how to reinvigorate the education of students as citizens. We’re still waiting for that meeting.
Conception Bay South