Call for more practical info from civics class that provides electoral system primer


TORONTO — Dasha Metropolitansky is politically minded and old enough to vote, but days away from Ontario’s election, the Toronto high school student hasn’t checked if she’s registered to cast a ballot — and she doesn’t know how to.

It’s the kind of thing the 18-year-old, who is the president of the Ontario Student Trustee Association, said she wishes she’d been taught in civics class.

Ontario is the only province to make civics a mandatory class, but almost two decades after it was introduced, voter turnout among eligible 18-24 Ontario residents has remained largely the same, according to Elections Canada.

Elections Canada numbers also show that while the province saw an uptick in youth turnout in 2015 when 56.2 per cent of young Ontarians voted, it still lagged behind six other provinces.

Metropolitansky said she believes the biggest problem with the civics course — which covers historical and political issues over two months for a half-credit — is that it’s stuck in the past.

“It talks about the history of Canada and its electoral system, the past prime ministers,” she said. “But it does very little to talk about the future, how students can get involved, the advocacy part of civics.”

Jan Haskings-Winner, a longtime Ontario high school civics teacher, said the curriculum’s broad scope gives teachers a great deal of leeway to adjust the class to suit students’ needs.

“The idea of being an active citizen is not just every four years to vote in an election but to make change in the middle,” Haskings-Winner said. “So that’s in the curriculum and I think that’s a very significant part of what the students learn.”

It’s the teacher’s job to make politics relevant to students, said Kevin Winn, a Grade 10 civics teacher at Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto.

Winn said he has tried to encourage his students to develop their own political views by doing a test to see where they fall on the political spectrum.

He and the school also try involving students in politics through Student Vote, an Elections Ontario initiative.

The program’s final activity is a mock election in which students vote for the candidates in their school’s electoral district. This year, 2,767 schools across the province have registered for the mock vote, according to CIVIX, the charity co-ordinating Student Vote.

The process isn’t without challenges, however. Winn’s school has not ordered enough ballots for all its students to participate, he said, and because the vote takes place during the last week of the school year, many teachers are reluctant to have their students miss class.

Still, getting students interested in politics “really is about the teacher, no matter what the curriculum says,” he said.

For Metropolitansky, hands-on activities are key to capturing her peers’ interest. While no initiative is perfect, at least Student Vote brings politics into the present, she said.

“If the content (of a Civics class) is something that inspires young people then it doesn’t matter how much the class is worth (as a school credit),” she said. “They’ll enjoy it and it’ll matter.”


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Nelanthi Hewa, The Canadian Press