Rhydian Thomas argues that the Welsh education, youth and democracy sectors must work together to deliver better democratic education for young people.
This week is Welcome to Your Vote Week – the Electoral Commission’s annual awareness raising week which aims to start the conversation about democracy and politics with young people. For 2023, the theme is ‘our democracy’. We’re emphasising that democracy is about more than just voting in elections – it’s for everyone and is happening all around us, all of the time in various ways.
We wrote last year about the findings from our report on the 2022 Local Government elections in Wales, in particular noting the lack of knowledge and understanding amongst young people about how to participate in our democratic process. We are clear that to build this knowledge, democratic education must take place continuously and not just in the run up to an election, which is a key aim of the week and its theme. We’re asking teachers and educators to help young people to understand more about our democracy and their vote by delivering democratic education during the week.
Welcome to Your Vote Week provides a hook for teachers and schools, but our aim is for it to be a springboard for further, ongoing work. Our research and, recently, the IWA’s Citizens’ Voices report have repeatedly flagged the importance of in-school democratic education, to level the playing field and provide basic, impartial information about the electoral system to young people.
Last week, we were delighted to host an event at the Senedd with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles MS, to discuss what’s next for democratic education in Wales. The Minister was clear that the Welsh Government wants all young people to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding about citizenship and politics education, and this is a fundamental element of the new Curriculum for Wales. He also outlined the additional support needed for teachers to be able to feel confident in delivering democratic education.
An essential part of the event was hearing from Dafydd Poole and Liv Winter, two young co-creators from The Democracy Box project and recent first-time voters. They discussed their ‘democracy journey’, going from feelings of confusion and anxiety over voting for the first time to huge fulfilment from developing their understanding through involvement in the project. Sadly, they noted that many of their friends and peers are still very much at the beginning of this journey and haven’t been able to access the support and education they need to feel more confident to participate.
By hearing first-hand from Dafydd and Liv, we hoped to share with the audience how important it is to platform young people’s voices and ensure they are at the heart of how we develop our plans to engage with young people.
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Alongside listening to the important contributions from each speaker, the event also provided an opportunity for MSs, local authority democratic services teams and partner organisations to come together in person for the first time since the pandemic. A huge amount of engagement work has taken place following the extension of the voting franchise across the education, democracy, and youth sectors. To provide a consistent and on-going programme of democratic education to young people in Wales, it’s essential that each of these sectors continue working together to find opportunities to collaborate and support, rather than duplicating effort.
Looking beyond Welcome to Your Vote Week, the Commission is developing further resources for learners and educators in Wales to support the roll-out of the new Curriculum. We aim to incorporate the important lessons we’ve learnt so far on youth voice and collaboration, to ensure that this work is fit for purpose for both young people and educators.
The Welsh Government have also launched a democratic engagement grant, to encourage and support people in engaging with the democratic process and build on the work achieved ahead of the Senedd and local elections. You can find further information about the application process here.
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