Nesta Democracy Pioneers

Democracy Pioneers is an award for innovations that are experimenting with ways to re-energise civic participation and everyday democracy in the UK. This series shares the experience and work of 19 Pioneers and what they hope to see change for their impact to go mainstream.

Shout Out UK is a youth-led education network that aims to strengthen our democracy by teaching young people how our political system works and by giving them the tools to critically engage with the media.

Political engagement for all young people

Political engagement in the UK has been falling for the last 20 years. The gap in electoral turnout levels between 18-24-year-olds and those over 65 is higher in the UK than in any other liberal democracy. In the 2019 General Election results - polling data suggests that turnout ranged from 47% among 18 to 24-year olds up to 74% among over-65s.

Our founder, Matteo Bergamini, was shocked at the lack of opportunities in school to learn about UK democracy. Despite taking A-Level politics, Matteo found that there was still a lot that had not been taught in school, even the basics such as how to register to vote. After working on a project with Channel 4 Youth Leaders’ Debate, he developed the political literacy course as a way to plug what he considered to be an urgent gap in democratic education.

Shout Out UK now runs political literacy and media literacy programmes in schools and youth clubs. Our flagship political literacy programme aims to get more young people participating in democratic life by teaching them about political processes, public speaking, media literacy and debating. Since 2015, we have worked with over 1,000 schools and youth clubs across the country and engaged over 30,000 young people, aged 11-19. To track our impact, all participants fill out pre and post-course surveys. One of the statements we ask our young people to rate is ‘I don’t get involved in politics’. In the 2018/2019 academic year, we had 74.3% of participants ‘Strongly Agree’ and ‘Agree’ with the statement before participating in the course. After the course, only 2.7% of all students ‘Strongly Agreed’ or ‘Agreed’. These results demonstrate that our work helped students to better understand democratic life and empowered them to get involved.

The Shout Out UK online portal allows learners to access materials, cartoons and videos on a variety of subjects; testing their knowledge with quizzes and activities, and increasing their understanding of politics and the media. Schools can use the online ‘Student Union’ function to set up their own democratic institutions, elect committee members and poll the student body, representing democracy in action. The online approach is particularly important in enabling us to reach young people across the country, including in places where democratic engagement is the lowest. Our online portal has been introduced in Sandwell, St Helens, Manchester, Wolverhampton and Wakefield, areas where participation levels in local elections are below 50% and amongst the lowest in the country. We are working consistently with over 400 young people in secondary schools and colleges in these areas to support democratic engagement.

A photo of the Shout Out UK team

Media literacy

Media literacy, that is knowing how to critically engage with the media, is absolutely essential to a healthy democracy. The internet has brought many amazing changes, but it has also caused huge problems when it comes to knowing the origins and the trustworthiness of information in the media. The COVID-19 crisis has brought this challenge even more sharply into focus, with an “infodemic” and an enormous amount of misinformation that has been easily circulated.

We have found that young people are really keen to learn about media literacy, how to spot misinformation and how to verify the information they encounter - all they need are the tools. We passionately believe that technology, such as our online portal, provides an amazing opportunity that should be harnessed to support our educators across the country. We have been able to support teachers and youth workers to deliver our media literacy course throughout the current crisis through this platform, funded by Nesta’s Future News Fund. Not only does this give young people key skills, but it also facilitates continued interaction between young people and youth services which we hope also improves the wellbeing of young people.

Mainstreaming political and media education in the UK

We are passionate about inciting positive change and ensuring that our democracy is resilient and vibrant. For this to happen, it’s crucial for our young people to understand the pivotal role that their generation plays within the political system by learning about it and how to engage with it.

At a systemic level, this requires policymakers who pursue political literacy and media literacy as foundational elements of a healthy democracy and educators who are supported to prioritise political literacy and media literacy as vital life skills that result in a well-rounded education. It is enormously challenging for organisations like Shout Out UK to find the funding to make a programme like this sustainable. Mainstreaming is absolutely essential to create the scale of impact needed.

We would like to see politics introduced into the national curriculum as a Government & Politics GCSE subject and for all young people from all schools and backgrounds to be taught about the way our system works. We are currently organising an APPG to this end and have enthusiastic support from Lords and MPs across the political spectrum. To help capture and highlight the importance of this work, we will continue with the delivery of our project with the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust’s Democracy Fund in the next academic year. The aim is to ensure that all young people, regardless of their socio-economic background, remain engaged in our democracy and register to vote.

It is clear we have turbulent times ahead of us, both as a society and globally. In order to navigate this complex terrain, we will need engaged young people who take an active role in citizenship and democracy. As an organisation, we hope that we are able to continue providing engaging and informative educational courses that allow more and more young people to become engaged citizens and contribute to positive change.

Author

Olive Baring

Olive Baring is Education Coordinator for Shout Out UK