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27 January, 2004

Young people are not politically apathetic, says new research

Young people are not politically apathetic and Citizenship lessons can effect political engagement, according to new research released this week.

Citizenship lessons, while not the whole answer, can indeed help young people become politically engaged, says a new report funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. And separate research, also funded by the ESRC, argues that young people are not politically apathetic but have a different understanding of what is meant by 'politics'.

The first report, by a team at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, covers research undertaken prior to the introduction of Citizenship on the National Curriculum and concentrates more on ‘civic’ than ‘citizenship’ education.

However, it shows that school life directly affects a young person’s willingness to engage politically and in the community: “school climate is important to the development of attitudes and behaviours favourable to democracy and participation”, it says.

“Students who were at schools with civic education built into the curriculum proved to be more knowledgeable about civic and political issues, and more likely to become active in their local communities”, said co-author Professor Peter John.

“Much of the study was undertaken just before citizenship became a curriculum requirement in September 2002, and such lessons could help.”

The report also claims that young people do not discuss politics but do have a strong interest in issues they can relate to.

"There was a considerable willingness by young people to engage with their communities", says Professor John. "Most young people want to be socially engaged, but not necessarily in the ways that politicians have traditionally focused on."

However, Professor David Marsh, author of the second report which was released yesterday, says that young people have a strong interest in political issues, but just have a different understanding of the word ‘political’.

"Our data suggests that young people are very far from being politically apathetic and are, often, highly articulate about the political issues that affect their lives". Political apathy, he says, "does not adequately account for their resistence to voting".

The results showed that young people thought that images that related to their own lives – for example pictures of single parents, authority figures or boarded up housing – were 'political', but not images reflecting activities in which they could take part in order to influence government.

"Many of the interviews show that young people feel excluded or marginalised from decision-making processes because of their age," explains David Marsh.

"The young people felt they were rarely consulted or listened to, even in connection with issues that directly affect them, such as the introduction of AS levels and the types of courses they can do on the New Deal programme.

"Young people live politics but they are not concerned about politics in a way that governments would understand."


'Social capital, participation and the causal role of socialization', released on 21 January, is the report of research conducted by a team at Cambridge University's Faculty of Social Sciences.

'Explaining non-participation: towards a fuller understanding of the 'Political'', released on 26 January, is the report of research by Professor David Marsh at the University of Birmingham. Share

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