Australia’s youngest senator says lowering the voting age could be the solution to record-low numbers of students understanding our democracy.
WA Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John’s call followed the release of the latest National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship test results, which showed only 38 per cent of Year 10 students achieved a ‘proficient’ level of understanding of our political system.
A sample group of Year 6 and 10 students sit the test every three years.
Senator Steele-John said the results showed the current system was failing.
“The way that we prioritise democratic literacy within Australian education is a joke,” he said.
“If we approached mathematics in the same way … and then at 18 say ‘well, right, here you go – do this complicated kind of mathematical equation for me’, we would be mad if we wondered why we didn’t pass it.”
But WA Education Minister Sue Ellery said the current curriculum did its job.
“By the end of Year 10, all WA students have received a comprehensive education in civics and citizenship which allows them to actively engage and participate in politics,” she said.
Senator Steele-John said the results also showed a growing disconnect between politicians and young Australians.
“I think our generation is one of the most engaged, most interconnected, most altruistic generations which has ever existed,” he said.
“Our democratic disconnect … is that we do not see democratic participation as being an effective way to realise the change we want to see.”
The Greens senator said lowering the voting age was one way of closing this gap.
“It means you bring democracy into the classroom in a tangible way, and if you combine that with an increased emphasis on democratic literacy, that means that before people leave school they are having a real-world interaction with our democratic system,” he said.
While stopping short of agreeing with changing the voting age, WA Electoral Commissioner David Kerslake said capturing students’ attention early was vital.
“You’d be surprised at how many hardened cynics you have, 16 or 17-year-old cynics, that are out there,” he said.
“When you’re 14 or 15, when you’re more impressionable, that’s when we need to be setting the strong foundations.”
In the meantime, Senator Steele-John said passionate young Australians still had other opportunities to inspire change.
“Never be afraid to come together and make your voice heard and to be in the way and annoying and agitate,” he said.