In a country where political tribalism has taken a firm hold, with ‘the winner takes all’ mentality after an election making a mockery of what ought to be a vibrant democracy, any attempt made at breaking this mould is looked upon with suspicion, if not outright derision. Few may have any hopes of seeing a change to the better in the foreseeable future but others would like to think that, with some effort, there could, at least, be some improvement.

Many would pin their hopes on the younger generation.

Do the young people want to continue living in today’s suffocating political environment or would they rather envision times when the situation is less politically charged? As the voting age is lowered from 18 to 16, this will give young people, particularly those who show an interest in politics at a young age, more time to think about the contribution they could make towards bringing about a change.

As was to be expected, the debate on the lowering of the vote age in Parliament spawned discussions on whether or not political studies ought to be introduced in schools. Some did not lose any time to shoot down the proposal, arguing it would only lead to indoctrination and brainwashing of schoolchildren.

It will all boil down to what those who proposed the idea have in mind exactly. If, as it is presumed, the idea is to teach the basics, such, as, for instance, what is the role of the President of the Republic, what does the rule of law mean and how should political parties function, it cannot be a bad idea.

Sadly, many young people leave school without having the faintest idea of how the political system really works. They usually have only a rudimentary knowledge of the country’s political history.

If the idea is to impart basic knowledge, the ‘studies’ could well be incorporated in civics. Through civic education, children are made to understand better the ideals of the democratic process.

The Children’s Commissioner, Pauline Miceli, is not enthusiastic about introducing political studies in schools. She argues that the current curriculum was already too loaded and that a more holistic approach to learning would bring about the desired skills.

She also feels it is more important to support young people to develop the necessary skills by encouraging them to participate in debates and share informed opinions during normal lessons. Many teachers were already doing this, mainly through subjects like history, social studies, religion and ethics, PSCD and environmental studies, Ms Miceli noted.

If this is the case, she does have a point, but it does seem at this stage that people are talking at cross currents. Surely, no one would want to see the introduction of ‘political studies’ of the kind that would risk, over time, to morph into indoctrination classes. But there is scope for imparting basic information that would help the young understand the workings of the government, the electoral system and political parties, without going into partisan party politics.

Perhaps, one day, the time will come when, through the infusion of new blood in politics, the participative process will be widened to truly represent an effective democratic process. Doing away with ‘the winner takes all mentality’ will be a big step forward.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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