As things heat up

While we prepare for another summer, or another season of examinations, as the case may be, we are also preparing for another election. Depending on where we live, we are likely to be going to the polls either this month or the next. These elections promise to be (to put it in the most insipid way possible) interesting. There are more issues at play than ever before. People are fed up with the way things are, and want to believe that change is possible. Yet, there is no clear sense of what this change will be and how it will be brought about. The air is thick with both hope and uncertainty. Some will point to the emergence of a much-needed leader while others will highlight the possibility of a new wave. There will be heated debates around dining tables in homes and around cups of tea in workplace and college canteens.

In relation to this country’s politics, yes, we are living in very interesting times.

But very soon after the tumult of voting and counting are over, we will once again lapse into our usual routines.

For many of us, there is very little qualitative change from one election to the next. On a macro level, the differences accumulate very slowly, maybe over decades. Changes in education policy, which defines the nature and direction of education, the content of textbooks and the funding provided to the sector, work very slowly and their effects are often not seen until the next plan cycle rolls around. Once in a while a revolutionary at the local level will attempt to tear down the old walls and introduce new ways of imparting the curriculum.

Despite the slow pace of real systemic change, however, elections are important in so many ways. Of course, for government teachers they also represent a lot of additional work! Apart from our involvement in the process as citizens, they also provide an opportunity for us to bring into the classroom a variety of conversations about democracy, participatory change, issues of integrity, responsibility and representation. We can harness the desire for change, which every election holds, to inculcate in our pupils an awareness of their roles as future citizens.

As adults, we have become cynical and distrustful of the political process. Some of us have shifted our faith from the system and placed it instead in individuals and small communities. But maybe we should help our students nurture a sense of hope about society at large, while also talking about how they can take charge of their futures in the smaller spaces of their lives – in their homes, neighborhoods and communities.