Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Elections in schools?

Apparently the Election Commission has been running elections in schools. There are two problems with this piece of news: the first is the skepticism about the value of teaching democracy, and the second is that the Election Commission is involved at all.

Basically, a primary school in Taman Tun (a suburb of KL) held an election for the post of head prefect -- supposedly the first time this has happened in the country. They had a formal nomination and campaigning process, all conducted by the Election Commission.

When contacted, the EC deputy chair said he believed that teaching democracy to primary school students is unnecessary, but that the Federal Territories EC was just doing its job in helping conduct the elections. I can't really imagine why he would say this.

The job of the Election Commission, after all, is to safeguard our democracy! Why on earth would they oppose the teaching of democracy or democratic values? What does the EC have against democracy or elections?

The excuse that year 4 or year 6 kids are too young to understand how the democratic process works is ridiculous. Even in year 1, we were electing class monitors. If you're old enough to buy something from your school canteen, you're old enough to make at least some decisions for yourself -- and I see no reason to exclude political decisions from this. If you're old enough to learn how to spend money, you're old enough to learn how to decide who to vote for.

Of course, we can debate whether the position of head prefect should be an elected one -- but assuming the candidates are drawn from the body of prefects, all of whom have already met minimum standards of discipline and responsibility, I can easily see why it may make sense to elect the head prefect.

What I can't see is why the EC should be involved in this. If the teachers' understanding of elections and democracy is so poor that they don't know where to start with holding an election, then that is a serious failure of both democracy and public education. It does not make logical sense for the same public agency to be holding both parliamentary and primary school student government elections.

Overall, I'm hopeful that we can expand civics education in our schools and see more applied lessons in democracy like this one. While it's debatable whether how this election was held was actually instructive, I think in general, schools ought to be a fantastic environment for learning how our country's political system works, and what our democratic values look like when put into practice.