IN THE aftermath of the recent terrorist attack on London soil, where the Government acknowledged the pitfalls of its anti-extremist strategy and counter-radicalisation measures, the need to win the hearts and minds to our democratic norms and liberal values , is more important than ever before.
It’s vital that we help all young people to learn about the importance of our representative democracy both in the UK and elsewhere across the world. Every young adult has an entitlement to the opportunities to develop the civic skills, knowledge and confidence to participate effectively in society as an active citizen.
This means for pro-democracy civil society Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) more work needs to be done to address this issue.
Although more young people voted in greater numbers than in 2015 – 54% of 18 to 24-year year olds voted in 2017, almost five out of 10 didn’t, especially white working-class and BME youngsters. Of those abstainers quizzed, over half felt that the system doesn’t work for them. They don’t believe they can shape decision-making in their communities, towns or cities. And over seven out of 10 felt they didn’t know enough about voting or what the various parties stood for.
Yet the Government has neglected the obvious route to address the problem. At best, schools, colleges, apprenticeship agencies and Prisons are required to teach British Values, including democracy and “understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process”. Yet there’s evidence that it’s not working as well as it should especially in Young Offender institutions.
Till 2018 Schools had a legal duty to deliver high quality citizenship classes. The former Conservative Education minister, Michael Gove, scrapped this requirement.
Citizenship as a distinct subject, has been side-lined in many educational establishments. Entries for GCSE citizenship have fallen sharply especially in England. Last year AS/A-level citizenship studies was deleted from the further education curriculum. According to Tom Franklin of the non-partisan Citizenship Foundation, the number of trainee citizenship teachers has dropped from 240 in 2010 to a mere 54 in 2018. Training bursaries have been withdrawn. The growing number of schools which have become academies or free schools have never been required to teach citizenship studies. Even the inspection watchdog, Ofsted, no longer takes much of an interest in whether they do, so many schools don’t bother.
As we approach the General Election our democratic traditions and culture are facing unprecedented threats from Islamic fundamentalists, far- right extremists, the revolutionary far left and hostile powers like Russia.
All these groups, cells, cadres and societies have a contempt for our democratic way of life, the Rule of Law, parliamentary democracy, equality of worth and opportunity, tolerance and difference. Radical Islamic terrorists want to kill and maim. Those on opposite ends of the political spectrum would like Britain to be transformed into an unaccountable ‘Corporate State’ based on ‘democratic centralism.’ The far-right work towards a fascist dictatorship.
In 1988 an important report by the Labour Peer Bernard Crick called for the every young person in the UK to learn about citizenship and democracy. 31 years on there’s an urgent need to set up an all-party Commission for Learning for Democracy.
Central government needs to roll out a national programme to raise the profile and quality of citizenship teaching to all learners up to the age of 19 and give it the same status as subjects as English, Maths and IT. GCSE and A-level Citizenship needs to be restored to the national curriculum.
All prison inmates should be required to complete a citizenship certificate course. This works well in North America and Australia, so why not the UK. A fully funded de-radicalisation programme needs to be embedded in our custodial sentencing system for those convicted of terrorism activities. Above all we need a better strategy involving all key players for the next Parliament to finally address the ‘democratic deficit’ and the gross manifestations of extremism before it’s too late.
Stephen Lambert is director of Education4Democracy CIC
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