Bursting the bubble: Engaging young people in current affairs through education.
Turn on your phone, visit any credible news website and you’ll find an array of news articles; each discussing and analysing a variety of issues, ranging from your local area to the international stage. Some of these events will probably even strike you as extremely serious and worrying – like large scale corruption or war in foreign countries. But then go to your school or home and ask your friends and family what they think – you may soon realise a large majority of young people have very little – if any – idea of what is going on in the world around them.
Take some recent high-profile examples: you may or may not know that right now, as you read this, there is a genocide taking place in Myanmar. The United Nations has called it ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’. 500,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution whilst the Myanmar military carry out mass killings, burnings and rape against the Rohingya people. You would expect the death and suffering of hundreds of innocents would incur international outrage from the public at least – yet there is minimal report in the news and social media. Some people claim this is a modern-day Holocaust, however most of the people I’ve spoken to are unaware of this. When I ask them about their thoughts on the situation, the types of responses I get are usually along the line of ‘I didn’t know this was even happening’; or even worse: ‘What’s Myanmar?’ Some of these people are top achievers, and will be applying to Oxford and Cambridge University this year, so this isn’t directly related to intelligence or IQ.
So, why aren’t a majority of young people aware of global catastrophes like the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar? You may think it’s the fault of the major news organisations we rely on to receive information. Whilst it’s true many news outlets contribute to this problem by unfairly underreporting these major events (preferring to analyse Trump’s tweets word by word instead), it is not the sole reason for our unawareness.
Arguably, it could be said that us young people simply don’t care much about these things. Usually, after I explain things like the Rohingya crisis to people at school, they say something like “Oh, that’s terrible”, and then proceed to carry on with their lives. Not wondering why it is going on, or how to solve it; but just letting it slip out of their minds. I mean, why should we care? It’s taking place on the other side of the world, so it doesn’t really affect us. We’re just too busy with our own lives to be focussing on these things. We have school, exams, extra-curricular activities and our social lives to deal with. I, for one, don’t want my mood to be dampened by the hopeless and endless stories of war and suffering.
But the truth is, a lot young people do care about these things. Once people understand the reality of the situation, I can see they are inspired to act. We’ve seen an increasing number of young people are becoming more politically and socially active, in order to create change in their society. In addition, young people turned out to vote in the 2017 UK general election in greater numbers than at any other point in 25 years. We have witnessed that schemes like NCS and Youth Parliament have given a platform for young people to express their views and become more engaged in politics and social issues. And we have seen that certain events, like the Brexit Referendum and the election of Donald Trump, have acted as a catalyst for young people to do so on social media and in their wider community.
However, it is simply not enough. Whilst participation is steadily increasing, I repeat that the vast majority of young people are still disengaged and unaware about wider politics and current affairs. The main change we need to make to tackle this problem is through education. We need to teach all young people about politics and current affairs. We need young people to be better equipped to question the ‘facts’ and views being put to us through the teaching of Critical Thinking. Campaigns by Youth Parliament for a Curriculum for Life seem to be a step in the right direction, but we need to go further and try and engrain something solid in the education system.
In order to solve any problem, we must be aware of it, and acknowledge it. Only then can we protest, campaign and act towards finding a solution. It seems as though most of us young people are in some sort of ‘bubble’ – a safe place where we are shielded away from the realities of the outside world. I admit, I was in this ‘bubble’ for a long time myself: disengaged, not bothered, unaware of what’s happening in the world around me. It was only through education, that I burst that bubble, and I strongly believe we need to do the same for all young people if we are to create any meaningful change in the future.