Students switch on to elections

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 29/07/2014
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WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
Talking politics: Awatapu College year 10 students Karl Werner, Helen Liu and Andrew Hills, all 14, are taking part in a mock election at school aimed at raising students’ awareness of politics.

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There's no political apathy among a trio of 14-year-olds at Awatapu College.

Year 10 students Helen Liu, Andrew Hills and Karl Werner are clued up on politics and just how this year's general election will work, even if they can't cast an official vote for four more years.

Awatapu is one of more than 300 schools throughout New Zealand taking part in the Electoral Commission's Kids Voting programme this year.

The Palmerston North school will run a mock election where students from year 9 through to year 13 will vote for parties and candidates contesting this year's general election. The students are then able to compare the results of their classrooms' election with the real results.

Helen, Andrew and Karl may still be making up their minds about which policies stand out, which politicians they favour or which party would earn their vote, but the students shared a common view that New Zealand's democracy was important and more young people needed to engage with politics.

"It makes you appreciate the right to vote more. It seems pretty standard when you're growing up that voting is just a thing that happens, but when you compare it to some other countries you realise it's actually a privilege," Karl said.

"It's good we're shown these things so the future of New Zealand is informed."

Helen said her understanding of politics, the voting processes and government had grown tenfold this year and she would be voting when she was old enough.

Andrew said he would be considering his vote carefully after learning more about the inner workings of Parliament.

Social studies teacher Rachel Anderson said students were discussing human rights, countries' voting differences and government systems, New Zealand's Parliament and September's election.

"It's just raising political awareness and getting them to think for themselves about who might offer the best policies," she said.

"I don't think we give teenagers enough credit sometimes for being more aware than they let on."

Chief electoral officer Robert Peden said the mock voting was good preparation.

"It gives students the chance to take part in an election with real parties, real candidates, and real issues, and will help them grow up to become the active, engaged citizens we all want them to be."

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- Manawatu Standard

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