Political education idea pitch (pitch for NUIM Apprentices Dragons Den task)

Political education idea pitch

Political and Dáil reform has recently been widely debated inIreland. There has been heightened interest from the public since the crisis, a situation which has highlighted the many deficiencies the political-economic structures in this country. In this debate about reform, it is important that the voices of the people are heard. In order for this to happen, citizens need to have a more informed understanding of how the political system works in Ireland, which would, moreover, lead to heightened interest in Irish political society.

Furthermore, among a number of recommendations for Dáil reform, is more balanced representation, particularly gender balance. Ireland, since the 2011 general election, is currently in 79th place in the world rankings with a record 15.1% of female representation in parliament. Senator Ivana Bacik, along with many other supporters of equal gender participation in the upper levels of politics, established a sub-committee in the Joint Oireachtas on female participation. The draft report, published in November 2009, made several recommendations – the most hotly debated of these is gender quota. (While this may help to balance the numbers, it does not necessarily mean there will be balanced representation in relation to quality of candidates). Among the problems that were cited by female politicians at the sub-committee were: childcare; culture; lack of financial resources; lack of confidence; and candidate selection. Most of these are all issues that are easily addressed at party level. But the confidence and culture barriers need to be tackled at an institutional level.

While political and Dáil reform are crucial for the political system itself, the electorate needs nurturing in order to achieve the best means to give voice to how the Irish socio-economic model is governed. The following examples suggest that much of the electorate is inadequately prepared for voting in elections. Firstly, voter turnout in the 2011 General Election was 70.05% of those registered to vote (IDEA, 2011), the highest since 1987. However, there was a turnout of 63.78% of those entitled to vote (ibid.). This shows that only 91.06% of the voting age population are registered to vote. Moreover, a report published by IDEA in 2004 showed that among the EU member states, Irelandhad, on average, the 2nd least voter turnout during the years 1945-2003 (90). Secondly, for those who do actually take the time to vote, there can be a considerable amount of those voices that are not heard because they are spoiled. For example, in 2007, of the 3,110,914 electors on the register, there were 19,435 invalid votes. This number increased in the 2011 General Election with 22,817 invalid votes. Thus, on average 1% of the votes cast were spoiled during the last two Irish General Elections. While not all spoiled votes are mistaken, and 1% may seem insignificant, it does represent on average 20,000 invalid votes. Such small margins can be the difference between a candidate getting elected or not. For instance, in Dublin West 2002 General Election, Sheila Terry (Fine Gael) lost a seat in the Dáil to Joan Burton (Labour) by a margin of 0.4% which if estimated numerically is approximately 120 voters.
Taking the above discussion as a sample of some of the problems facing Irish politics, we suggest that one way to achieve solutions is through a practical participation program in the education system. For a democratic politics to work there must be, not only representation across all sectors of society, but all voices need to be heard. The one area where this issue can be mediated, and brought to fruition, is to capture the interest of young prospective candidates and voters by ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the process of elections inIreland. Thus, allied to the Minister for Education and Skills’ proposals to reform the secondary education curriculum, we propose that, as part of the creative, innovative programs considered by Ruairi Quinn in the new junior cert cycle curriculum, a political program is devised whereby mock elections will take place each year, emulating the PR- STV election system in Ireland.

We envisage that this would work as follows:

  1. We suggest that the main participants of this program would be in 2nd year.
  2. A text book would be produced to compliment the in-class learning element of the program, which would include explaining the nitty critty of Irish politics. (Maybe the esteemed political commentator, Adrian Kavanagh, would be a suitable author!).
  3. The program would begin with classes on the History of Irish politics sinceIndependence, to include a brief history of each of the main political parties and how ideologies are played out through party affiliation. A class(es) could also be hosted by members of political parties and independents to give a concrete perspective on ideology and agenda of the different parties. This could help students decide what side of the political spectrum they would like to belong to.
  4. A course of mentoring by a member of each party during which time candidates will be nominated to run for office. Also, an important cog in the wheel of elections is the counting process.
  5. Thus, a returning officer and counting team will also be chosen at this stage.
  6. Campaign teams would be chosen/volunteer. There would be a place for anyone who wishes to get involved, even down to the poster designers/creators etc (this inclusion would encompass students with special needs and learning difficulties). Also, an important part of the campaign would be through online social networking.
  7. All students in the school will register to vote.
  8. ADVDwould be produced with instructions about how to the PR-STV election system works, how to fill in a ballot paper properly and how to spoil a ballot paper. ThisDVDwould be shown to all classes in the school and may be borrowed for home viewing, as some parents might benefit from it also.
  9. In the post-Christmas term, the campaign will ensue. The election will take place in the third trimester.
  10. The count will emulate real election counts as much as possible using the transfer system to elect candidates. The party/group with the overall majority of votes is deemed the winner (with all the bells and whistles that go with this!).
  11. As a reward, the overall winning candidate may win the opportunity to spend a day with a TD.
  12. Also, to further enhance the knowledge and understanding of how daily legislative politics works, a trip to the Dáil could be part of the curriculum for this program.
  13. The program may be modified as time goes by to reflect Irish politics and the Dáil. Further. we would hope that when the success of this program is realised, it would be run in most schools in the country and that the scale of the elections could extend to a cross-school basis.

Since, as is widely recognised, education is a crucial element of a successful society, cooperation and inclusion of political parties is paramount to this program working. It will have long-term benefits for them, as well as Irish politics in general. Therefore, it is suggested that political parties would be legislated to maintain a fund to enable the mentoring part of this program. Further, to address the financial resource problems facing, not only women but other marginalised groups, resources should be available at party level to enable balanced participation.

This program is designed to address the dominant culture of patriarchy, lack of confidence among females, lack of inclusion (at political and electoral level) and to encourage an interest in the many facets of politics. It will also create an understanding that the most important position is not always the public persona of politics but that backroom staff, advisors etc play an important role and thus this can address confidence issues.

Furthermore, there could be an opportunity to set up a database of participants in the program. This would be available to recruitment personnel in political parties who would pursue potential (real) candidates when age appropriate. Support, mentoring, and in some cases, financial resources would be offered as encouragement to pursue a career in politics.

I believe that it is crucial that young people across all the divides of society are exposed to the importance of an interest in the political system for a more equal, inclusive, democratic society.

We are looking for investment to publish the text books (which would be printed on demand as schools would become participants) and produce the voting instructions DVDs.

These both have the potential to generate decent profit. We do not support the idea of making large profits out of learning resources. Parents and schools cannot afford to pay large sums of money for text books etc. Thus the books would be sold at a reasonable price (yes there would be something in it for you Adrian!). However, the program will need ongoing funding will be met by small profits from the sale of materials. We would also suggest that the DVDs and text books are bought by the schools as needed and would be given to students on a deposit and loan basis.

Further, the database that we anticipate, could come at a later stage when the funding is available, either from government related funding or through profits generated from the sales of the education resources.

The investment we are looking for today will be an investment into the future of our country – socially, politically and economically.

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9 Responses to “Political education idea pitch (pitch for NUIM Apprentices Dragons Den task)”

  1. Colm Duffy Says:

    Please leave a comment here people, much appreciated…!!! 🙂

  2. fitzgeraldrachel Says:

    It is apparant that this idea is abundant in research, knowledge, intellect, tact, and solutions. Fantastic all round 🙂 Best of Luck Guys 🙂

  3. Colm Duffy Says:

    Thank you Rachel, much appreciated…!!! 🙂

  4. Adrian Kavanagh Says:

    Desmond O’Toole (via Facebook): Second pitch, pol educn in schools. Much more modest, concrete and deliverable. Excellent idea, but not too sure of idea of database to which pol parties had access.

  5. johnny Fallon Says:

    I agree with all the sentiments expressed here. I think that the proposal is on the button about the problems in society of not understanding politics, elections or the system we have. There are some problems. It seems to me that the idea is really something that is covered or should be covered within CSPE and before funding this further we need to know why CSPE is not delivering already. My fault with the proposal is that while it identifys the problems perfectly it does not go far enough with the solution. Inevitably, this will be seen as another ‘cute’ little project to pass some time until some serius study is done. In my mind, this area is equally as important as Maths or English and therefore I am tired of it being a poor relation thats thrown to the end of the curriculum.

    The only way people are genuinely going to learn and understand this and the only way students will take it seriously is if it is a proper leaving cert subject that counts for your points. If this idea is to take flight then, for me, it needs to be at leaving cert level and part of your entry to college, Maybe even like the old Matric Maths exam but for political courses)

    Anyway, while it gets to the heart of the issue te solution is not robust enough for me, so on this occassion I’m out.

  6. Tomas Says:

    Great reseach and well written, could work.

  7. larasaysamyno14pres Says:

    Thanks for the interest Johnny. Maybe with a bit of clarity You might reconsider?

    Firsltly, we did consider that this program could form part of the CSPE course. Secondly, we have included it in the Junior cycle, as opposed to leaving cert., in line with the Ruari Quinn’s proposed reforms of this part of the secondary level curriculum. I’m sure you are aware that he asked the NCCA council to come up with a revised curriculum which would involve more active, creative, innovative learning to include more continuous assessment rather than be assessed totally on exam – see link below

    (http://www.education.ie/home/home.jsp?maincat=&pcategory=10861&ecategory=11469&sectionpage=12251&language=EN&link=link001&page=1&doc=55466).

    Further, we reckoned that leaving cert students would be under a lot of pressure and this program will involve require extensive active participation. While they are nearer to voting age and thus the subject would be fresher in their minds, the fact that the program will include all classes (re registering and voting etc) it would be a continuous part of secondary school life. For them (the leaving cert level students), the fun element of it may escape them under other pressures and the idea is to make politics interactive and interesting.
    I totally agree that this is as important as the core modules taken in leaving cert, but the program is designed to create an awareness that involvement in politics at every level (citizen, voter, party participant etc) is crucial in an equal democracy. I believe it is a very good starting point at addressing the lack of interest and awareness among the younger electorate and it is an opportunity for party politicians to engage with the younger generation.
    To take two examples that need to be addressed in Irish politics at the moment – equal gender participation and low voter turnout among the younger members of the electorate – the program we envisage will create a platform from which to mediate these problems.
    You say that you don’t think the idea goes far enough. Have you any suggestions? There is no doubt that this idea needs work – particulary on the practical side- but given the short time we have had to come up with pitches to attract Dragon interest, I believe the initiative has great potential.
    I welcome any further comments

    Lara

  8. RTFM Says:

    You don’t know much about what is actually on the curriculum for schools do you?

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