Friday, 22 November 2013

Political literacy and debate in local schools

With 16 and 17 year-olds voting for the first time at next year’s referendum on Scottish independence, North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet is to look at ways of building ‘political literacy’ and facilitating ‘impartial’ debates in schools.

The Cabinet recently received a paper from Education Scotland, which set-out how political literacy should form part of the Curriculum for Excellence.

A spokesperson for Education Scotland, the national body overseeing teaching in Scottish schools, said, “Curriculum for Excellence places political literacy at the heart of citizenship education.  By doing so it aims to ensure young people acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding that will help them become responsible citizens who participate actively in society’s decision-making processes. 

“Education Scotland is committed to helping educators develop young people’s political literacy to the full.  The Constitutional Referendum, which will take place in 2014, will see the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds.  This gives a particularly strong context for developing political literacy for that age group, and practitioners are already using their long-standing experience to do so. 

“We want young people to engage in political processes in an active and well-informed way, whilst we are entirely impartial about how individuals might vote on any specific issue.”

Members of North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet noted the paper on Education Scotland’s proposals, but sought clarification on whether any school debate on the issue of Scottish independence would proceed if an invited party withdrew before the event.  Such classroom debates in other parts of Scotland have been cancelled after the pro-British Union ‘Better Together’ campaign was unable to provide anyone to take part.  The pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign argues that unionists’ inability to provide anyone to argue their case should not prevent pupils from hearing the case for independence.

On a separate issue, North Ayrshire Council is also to look at the possibility of senior pupils from local schools taking part in ‘mock trials’ at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, the aim of which would be to provide an understanding of what is involved in the legal process.

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