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Liam White generation vote image 1 nw

Liam White, third year Politics tauira.

Third year politics student Liam White is on a mission to make young people feel like they know enough about politics to meaningfully engage in it.

Liam is the Otago director of civic education trust Generation Vote, which provides non-partisan civics education for youth, by youth.

It was started by Otago students in 2018 and now has teams of interested student volunteers – including politics, law, PPE or economics students – from Otago and Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka teaching the democratic basics to mainly high school pupils in Dunedin and Wellington.

So far Generation Vote has provided its civics courses to over 550 Year 9 high school students, and for the first time this year it is visiting Otago’s residential colleges.

In each session there is a teacher and two supporters. They work from scripts and power-points prepared by the board of trustees – but are encouraged to go off-script when they feel confident enough to try new things.

For Liam, the mission is simple – to provide young people with the information they need to be engaged citizens in Aotearoa New Zealand

“It’s really about trying to get the kids engaged with political ideas.”

The group’s 2022 prospectus says that while schools often acknowledge further education about politics is required for their akonga, they don’t have the funding or infrastructure to design new courses full of specialist knowledge.

This is where the volunteers at Generation Vote come in, he says.

“Our educators have this specialty knowledge and want to work with [schools] to deliver high quality civics education to classrooms.”

The volunteers come from across the University, but are mainly pursuing degrees in politics, PPE, law and economics.

Five key modules are covered in courses: Introduction to politics in Aotearoa New Zealand, policy and law, Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi, local government and, finally, a leaders’ debate and mock election.

One of the most interesting modules to teach, according to the volunteers, is Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

A Logan Park High School student said to former director of Generation Vote, Bella Stuart that it was the most he had ever learnt about Te Tiriti.

“I just had no idea how much it still influenced politics today.”

Liam says while feedback like that is rewarding as director, it’s sometimes concerning as a citizen and reinforces the need for this kind of education.

The part the students seem to like the most is the final lesson, where there is a mock election, he says.

That it is when people start really understanding how everything fits together.

“The kids make up their own political parties, with their own aims and key issues. We’ve had some great ones – the knife party vs the spoon party, the bike party, the road party, the jedi-spartan alliance party.

“It makes it very easy when we are trying to simulate elections because they feel really passionate and involved – much better than trying to get a room full of Year 9s excited about infrastructure or budgets.”

This year Generation Vote has been working with training and recruitment organisation Skillsec as well as in more traditional high school settings, and the experience has been “the most rewarding”, he says.

Every time you arrive to teach a class the kids are doing something “surpising”.

“One week we turned up and they said, today we are building a car! We were like... I guess we will work out a way to teach around that. It’s very cool to see what kinds of things they are doing outside the confines of a traditional curriculum.”

This election year Liam is putting in the mahi to provide resources to Otago's undergraduate tauira.

“We are hoping to run a condensed version of our in-school course for first year tauira, which will provide critical information and resources for them in the run up to the election.”

He wants Generation Vote to be able to provide information about how to register to vote, where to vote, how to find out about different party’s policies and how to select a candidate to vote for.

“So far we have four colleges on board, and we are hoping to get a few more - ideally all of them!”

A message from Generation Vote:

There's no comprehensive policy summaries on as of yet because Labour hasn't released their policies yet. All the other major parties do have policies listed on their websites which can be “a bit of a mission to comb through” according to Liam. He says it can be useful to control-f and look for key phrases voters care about i.e. "environment", "education", "health", "housing" and compare between parties.

In terms of enrollment and education material around voting the electoral commission at is great and people can of course get enrolled to vote there. This page is particularly useful.

Clubs Page

Kōrero by Alice Billington, Internal Communications Adviser.

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