Education, education, education

Sixteen and seventeen year olds were historically able to vote for the first time in the Scottish Referendum. Many people disagreed with this decision claiming that young people were not interested, did not know enough about the world, could not be trusted to choose properly and basically, should just leave anything important to the grown ups. There was a lack of understanding that whatever decision was reached would impact on these young people more than anyone else who was voting. The change in opportunities that could have arisen affect the younger generation far more than it would mine and my parents.

Many teenagers relished the opportunity of voting on something which would have such an important impact on their lives and couldn’t understand why, in the following year, they were blocked from casting a vote for their Westminster representative. The year after this, again in a Scottish election, they found themselves once more with a vote but only weeks later, with Westminster taking the helm again, they are unable to have a say on how they see their relationship with the European Union. When will Westminster waken up and move towards progressive ideas and policies that advantage all of the population rather than their favoured demographic? It is incredible that you can get married, join the armed forces and pay tax but yet are not deemed mature enough to have a say in who will govern them. Thankfully as the majority of parties are in favour of lowering the voting age, this looks likely to be something that will happen in the not too distant future as people seek change, much as we will see an independent Scotland arise when the time is right.

Of course, not all sixteen and seventeen year olds embraced this opportunity and indeed, some were not even aware of it but it was encouraging to see how many wanted to cast their vote. Speaking to many during the Holyrood campaign, many knew exactly who they would be voting for but I was struck by how many quietly admitted that they felt that they didn’t know much about the election at all. Their parents weren’t interested in politics and whilst that had affected their children’s knowledge, the young people themselves were interested and wanted to vote but were struggling to find out the information about what was involved. The one area where they could normally be expected to find out information that they could not access at home, the school, seemed to be denied to them by a wish from places of secondary education to remain politically neutral. Whilst perhaps a noble sentiment, it is perhaps failing these young people who are not being engaged elsewhere. Some felt that they could not discuss the subject at home as their parents were so disenfranchised with politics and were wanting someone to tell them who they should vote for rather than being able to make an informed decision for themselves. There was great educational input during the Scottish Referendum and it would be hoped that this level of engagement could be continued.

At school, back in the late 1980s, we had a choice between history, geography or the recently introduced Modern Studies classes which dealt with politics. I mentioned being interested in choosing the modern studies option and the teacher asking me who I would vote for. After replying SNP, I was told that I did not have enough of an interest in politics and that I should reconsider. I chose Geography instead and was privileged to have a politically aware teacher and who my mother “blames” for encouraging and developing my interest. Two years later, I wrote an exam piece on nuclear processing plants which was not entirely complimentary towards the Westminster government and felt vindicated in the knowledge that modern studies might not have been such a mistake for me after all.

The new National Qualification exams and Curriculum for Excellence are never far from the news just now along with their perceived problems and much is being made of how students are being disadvantaged. When I moved into secondary school, we were the first intake who would sit the new Standard Grade test rather than O Grades with Maths and English being the first two subjects to make the move. We had three years of preparation for these exams but when we returned for fourth year, we were informed that because of issues with this new form of testing, it would be delayed for a year and we would be sitting O Grades instead after all. Although I made the move in English with ease, I struggled desperately with the change in how maths was taught going from user friendly workbooks with rolling assessments to heavy textbooks with a final exam and ended up moving from the top grading to failing the exam twice. With all the current criticism of the Scottish Government, it might be worth casting our minds back 30 years to remember the problems that initially arose with the last overhaul of the Scottish educational system.

Nothing ever works perfectly from the start but I know that teaching staff do everything in their power to ensure that if any problems are identified, then these have the least possible impact on the students. I remember the educational strikes of my early secondary education and thoroughly enjoying the three day week but feeling so sorry for those in the senior years who still had to go to school as everything possible was done to ensure that the strikes did not impact on their exams. When I see the standard of teaching that my children currently receive and will receive in future years from dedicated, caring and enthusing teachers up here in Wick, I have no doubt that some of these people will have a lifelong impact on them as some of my teachers did with me in Inverness; one of my role models from the English department ended up being an MSP in the first Holyrood intake upon her retiral albeit not for the party that I would have liked to have seen her representing!