How to Engage Young People in Politics? Reflections from some of our new students

By Dr Kamil Zwolski, Politics and International Relations

One of the first questions which first-year Politics and International students at the University of Southampton were confronted with was how to engage young people in politics. Some of them have responded in the form of a short blog contribution. Here are their answers:

Matt Lucas: With so many young people completely disconnecting from politics, it has become very difficult to find ways to make them engage. For this reason the topics chosen, debates and discussions, in order to re-engage young people, need to be interesting and intriguing, for example: “Should we invade Syria?” Once they start thinking about these kinds of questions themselves and what would happen as a result, then politics becomes fascinating. And hopefully these topics would make it into everyday conversation.

Ashley King: The younger generation seem to be growing within a society that has more rules than sense in many cases. Politics is important because although it takes certain freedoms, it gives many more in return. Would younger people be more interested in politics if they understood it? Does this mean a better political education in Britain? Should we follow Australia and demand a vote? If younger people, and in many cases the entire population, discovered how important politics is to our state and us individually, would they turn a blind eye?

Lawrence Thompson: The key to engaging young people in politics lies in the education system.  This means a country-wide approach in which the compulsory class of Personal Development or PSHE is used to educate students of GCSE age on the political system.  Simply the basics, would help provide a base for the students to go on to learn more and feel knowledgeable enough to engage in the political world, whether this is voting, campaigning, volunteering etc.  It is important as many ignore politics, perceiving it to be complicated and a waste of time, basic knowledge on the voting system, parties and how to participate could help change this.

Nathanael Tan: In my opinion I find that improving the engagement with young people both in education as well as on a social scale is key in engaging young people in politics. In my home country in Singapore, we are engaged in the basics of politics at a young age by simple proceedings such as reciting the pledge every morning or having MPs come down to schools to have open discussions with students. When young people are given a voice to speak out to the government, they form a collective identity and will be more willing to engage in politics to further improve their idea of what politics means.

Rebekah Kulidzan: To engage young people in politics you must start with education. From a young age there should be a class once a week or activities in tutorials where young people can learn who the Prime Minister is, what his role is, why we vote, and how to vote. Once this is taught, over a period of time more young people will develop an understanding to think for themselves and engage in political activity whether it be signing a petition, participating in protest, or even casting their vote. If we can educate children, a percentage of the young adults they’ll become will have a keen interest in the political system.

Tom Sweeney: It can be said that the majority of British adolescents have little to no interest in politics. This is a damning statement considering the impact that politics has on everyday life. Every action is often determined by a political decision, whether it be spending money in shops to going to the hospital for a check-up. Politics is often seen as a difficult and complicated subject, however I feel this is down to the lack of education on the matter. If Politics was to be taught from a younger age, the systems would be easier understood; more people would take interest and decisions on who to vote for would be more informed.

Arhant Mathur: In the midst of the last general election my school held a special assembly. Sixth formers posing as leaders of different political parties went on stage to deliver speeches. It was an attempt to generate the political interest of the younger years, and was met with rounds of applause and boos. All in true House of Commons style! I realise now, putting young people in a situation where they are able to interact with politics in a genuinely enjoyable environment is key to generating their interest. Inspired, I asked my mum that evening ‘who are you going to vote for’?

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