Getting children and teenagers interested in national and local issues and encouraging them to develop self-awareness as members of society will lead to their becoming active voters in the future. Such a viewpoint should be taken seriously in education to cultivate their awareness as eligible voters.
The next House of Representatives election will be held by October next year, when the term of current members is set to expire. It is an important challenge to put a brake on the trend of declining voter turnout among young people.
In the 2016 House of Councillors election, the first national election after the voting age was lowered to 18, voter turnout among 18-year-olds exceeded 50%.
But in last year’s upper house election, it dropped to 35.62%. Voter turnout among those aged 19 and 20 was even lower.
The Science Council of Japan has proposed that each university introduce civics classes and give students credit for taking them. This seems to show a sense of urgency over the current situation.
Kagawa University has incorporated civics education into the courses for freshmen. The students are divided into groups of five or six to discuss solutions to policy issues, such as the burden of educational costs for university students, non-regular employment, gender equality and the gap between rural and urban areas.
The students in the classes do preparatory research based on the campaign pledges of each political party, which are distributed to them beforehand. After that, they hold a mock election using real ballot boxes and voting tables.
This can serve as a useful reference for other universities as a practical approach to deepening students’ understanding of real problems and encouraging them to vote.
Such an effort will also help political parties reflect the opinions of young people in their policies and try to explain their policies in an easy-to-understand way.
Under the new curriculum guidelines, “kokyo” (public affairs) will be introduced as a compulsory subject at high schools starting in the 2022 school year, and civics education will be strengthened at elementary and junior high schools as well. However, what matters is the content.
It is not enough to only explain the significance of elections and their mechanism in school classes or elsewhere, even with officials of election administration commissions visiting educational institutions as guest teachers. It is necessary to build up hands-on learning on a daily basis through dialogue with students.
It may also be helpful for students to read books and discuss news in their morning homeroom sessions before the start of classes. It is also useful to read and compare several newspapers, and let them realize that there are various viewpoints in society.
If problems involving huge fiscal deficits and the social security system are left unaddressed, a heavy burden would be placed on younger generations. If young people have more opportunities to see these problems as their own through school classes and activities, it should increase their interest in elections.
According to surveys by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and other entities, the voter turnout is high among those who have visited polling stations with their parents. It must not be forgotten that parents play an important role in education to develop young people’s self-awareness as eligible voters.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 26, 2020