Teacher shortage could lead to political illiteracy in students

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Scotland risks creating a generation of "political illiterates" owing to a lack of modern studies teachers, according to government inspectors.

A report by Education Scotland, which was formed last year to raise standards in the country’s schools, found that one in five secondaries had no modern studies teacher, therefore no specialist teacher in geography or history.

It meant young people were struggling to gain knowledge or skills relevant to democracy and political literacy, and pupils generally lacked an understanding of Scotland “developing as a nation” or the role of the Scottish Parliament.

Inspectors from Education Scotland looked into modern studies provision at a time when the SNP is pressing to extend the voting franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds before the 2014 referendum on independence. If it is granted, young voters could join the electorate at future council and general elections.

The EIS union has also argued that such a move would help make teenagers “active citizens”, one of the main tenets of Curriculum for Excellence. However, the report suggests many teenagers are cut off from politics and unsure how the Holyrood Parliament works.

The report states: “In these schools (where modern studies is not taught as a separate subject), it is proving difficult for young people to acquire the appropriate knowledge or skills, for example in relation to democracy and political literacy.

“Across all sectors, staff need to continue to develop planning for the Scottish dimension, since evidence from the visits indicates that most children and young people do not yet have a good enough understanding of Scotland developing as a nation or the work and role of the Scottish Parliament.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives and a former modern studies teacher, said: “There is a big concern about resources in these subjects and how well we are teaching youngsters. All pupils in the upper years at primary schools and early in secondary schools should have a basic education in politics and economics.”

Grant Costello, chairman of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “When the SYP has campaigned for votes at 16 we often hear ‘young people aren’t ready’. If we don’t give them the chance to learn about politics what chance do they have to become engaged voters?”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Under Curriculum for Excellence, political literacy is built into every child’s education and is developed in a variety of ways including through modern studies.”


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